Financial Cost of a College Degree: Penn State and the Big Ten

What does a Penn State Bachelor’s Degree really cost?

8 ball hazy

As most students (and their parents) are aware, there is a lot of obfuscation with regard to the actual cost to finance a college education.


While all Universities clearly publish their
“sticker price” rates for tuition, that really is just the starting point:

1) Many universities distort the actual cost by adding on various “Mandatory Fees” – charges that are not included in their published Tuition rates, even though they have to be paid by the student in order to attend.

2) Many universities also charge higher rates of tuition for upperclassmen, or for specific majors….. which increases the costs above the published tuition rate.  The published tuition rate is usually the base rate charged to freshmen students.

Just as importantly:

3) Each University also may reduce the net cost to students by providing either Need-Based Grants or Merit-Based Scholarships.
Each University awards these grants to individual students, at different levels, and the grants reduce the net price – and the financial burden – placed on the backs of their students.



What is the actual cost of a four-year degree at Penn State?


And what does it cost at other BigTen Universities?


We have the data from each of the Big Ten universities – for the 2018-2019 academic year – so lets take a look:

In each case, to keep things apples-to-apples, we will look at the costs for an In-State student, enrolled full-time, in the University’s college of business.

We will start with the base tuition rate….

And then add in any mandatory fees, and any surcharges for upperclassmen…..

And then reduce the costs by the average University-provided grant money.


True Cost of 4 Year Degree

What do we see?

With respect to Penn State, we see that the total cost to finance the four-year degree is $73,992.

We also see that the average cost for the other 12 Big Ten public universities is $37,040.






Penn State not only has the HIGHEST base tuition for In-State freshmen….

Penn State also has among the highest surcharges for  upperclassmen….


Penn State has the LOWEST rates of University-provided grants.


That is a “perfect storm” combination – and leads to outlier costs like this:


4 Year Degree Costs Graph

The Penn State Board of Trustees will meet later this month (July) to approve the budget for the 2019-2020 Academic Year.   Included in that budget will be Tuition and Fee Rates for next year.

One can expect declarations that “Maintaining Affordability” is one of the most important issues facing the Board.

One can also expect – unfortunately – that those declarations will be paired with a gigantic pile of nothing wrt actually acting to rein in the skyrocketing costs.

In fact, we are likely to see even more INCREASES to administrative costs, adding to Penn State’s already incredibly high administrative burden – as outlined in this Blog:

Costs that continue to make Penn State an UNAFFORDABLE option for so many Pennsylvania students, and costs that are completely out of control relative to Penn State’s peer institutions.






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