Negotiate Tuition Before You Pick a College

The founder of says it's easier than ever to haggle with colleges.
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) -- As winter approaches, so do deadlines for college applications.

Whether you're a high school student or an adult looking to return to academia, there's a strategy that can reduce sky-high tuition costs. Simply put: haggle.

That is the strategy suggested by Jerry Slavonia, founder of


, a site that offers searchable reviews and advice for prospective college students. His site aims to offer as much detail on the 8,000 schools and educational centers in the U.S. as popular college guides.

"You can search a beauty school in Lincoln, Neb., or you can search on Harvard. It's really going to be based on your profile and your needs," he says. Slavonia and his team started the site after past successes with (purchased by


(EBAY) - Get Report

in 2005 for more than $400 million), and Citysearch.

While consumers usually comparison shop and negotiate when buying cars, they rarely apply that approach to education. Slavonia says anyone selecting a college should weigh the value of a school versus the cost to attend. He says it's easier than ever to negotiate lower tuition costs.

"The 'echo boomers' are graduating from high school," he says. "So there's actually going to be a decline in the number of students enrolling in college. There is overcapacity, so to speak, in the post-secondary system. It's a perfect storm."

Complicating matters for these institutions is that the average high school student applies to as many as 10 colleges. This skews the ratio of students accepted to students enrolled.

"It makes it really hard for them to predict enrollments, and this is another leverage point that you have," he says.

Colleges are also grappling with the rising popularity and legitimacy of for-profit education chains, such as

Apollo Group's


University of Phoenix and




"You've got these proprietary schools, the private for-profits, who have been around long enough to have invested millions of dollars in their curriculums," Slavonia says. "They actually have really good programs. They're making it real easy to decide to go there versus a lot of the tuition-dependent private universities."

Slavonia says smaller schools might be more inclined to lower their prices to thwart competition from for-profit education centers. He suggests that students make a case for a financial break at the admissions offices of the colleges they're considering. Schools won't discount the tuition directly, but will often defray the cost through scholarships and grants.

"They may call them scholarships, grants or work study, but these are subsidies that reduce the out-of-pocket expense for the student," he says. "There has never been more pressure on them to find those opportunities for students than right now. If you are not going to talk about tuition with them, then you are going to get charged the published rate."

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.