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As if American families don’t have enough to worry about, the College Board just released an unfortunate report showing that college tuitions skyrocketed this year due to the bad economy.

According to the report, colleges across the country have suffered from a decline in state funding and endowments, forcing them to ask for more money from students and their families. The average tuition at private colleges increased by more than $1000 (4.4%) raising their average cost to $35,636, while public schools saw a tuition hike of nearly $500 (6.5%), to $15,213.

To make matters worse, this tuition increase comes after universities imposed heavy cost cutting measures. In other words, families are paying more to attend schools that have cut staff and limited campus resources.

The silver lining for tuition, as the New York Times notes, is that families don’t always end up paying the published tuition rate. Families have been leaning more heavily on financial aid to help offset the bigger burden. With financial aid factored in, average private school prices drop to less than $12,000 and public schools drop below $2,000.

The key to increase your chances for financial aid is to do research on the school policies in advance because certain universities may view your background and family finances differently. You want to find the one that is most likely to be favorable to you before you apply. And be sure to pick schools that want you as much as you want them; they may be willing to dish out more money.

It may be necessary to take your bargaining skills to the next level. Jerry Slavonia can show you the way. Slavonia is the CEO and founder of, a Web site that promotes higher education by matching students with the school of their dreams through an easy-to-use college search engine.

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Slavonia pitches a three-step plan for bringing your college tuition down.

1. Choose Wisely
As with financial aid, the trick is to research schools in advance and pick them based on how well they meet your overall criteria. “People need to think about more than what the party scene will be like and what the ranking of the school is,” Slavonia says. Some questions Slavonia recommends you ask yourself: Do they have a big enough course menu for your desired field or to help you decide on what your field should be? Is the school in the best location for you?

2. Don’t Just Focus on Brand Name Schools
Schools like Harvard, Stanford and Boston University are unlikely to bring down your bill because they are always in such high demand. But the trick is to focus on private non-profit schools that are mostly tuition dependent, like Loyola Marymount University, Seton Hill and the University of San Francisco, to name a few. Here is a list of other non-profit schools.

According to Slavonia, these schools are struggling to fill their student ranks because of the bad economy and are therefore more open to deal making.  “These schools need to make up for lost tuition somewhere,” he said. “They’d rather have you paying what you can to offset the situation where you aren’t paying at all.”

3. Make Sure You Include a Public Option
No, we’re not talking about health care. Public schools are still the most affordable higher education options by far. But they serve an additional function in the tuition negotiation process. According to Slavonia, if you are accepted to both a public school private school, you can use your acceptance to the former to help leverage the price of the latter.  “Mention that there is a big tuition difference between that private school and a cheaper public school you’re considering,” he said.  “The [private] school can offer you scholarships or grants unique to that school to reduce their out of pocket expense.”

Ultimately though, Slavonia cautions against picking public schools solely based on this tactic. You should only apply to schools you actually would like to attend.

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