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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Eckerd balks at Department of Education cost ranking



The U.S. Department of Education just rolled out its new, relatively user-friendly database of how expensive it is to go to college. While the cost comparisons for various types of institutions probably won't shock you, Eckerd College was quick on the defense about its inclusion on a list of most expensive not-for-profit private colleges.

Eckerd President Donald Eastman put it this way: "The first thing that came to mind was Mark Twain's Line. There's lies, damn lies and statistics."

The St. Petersburg school released a seven-item list of responses to the rankings, explaining that the way the Department of Education came up with its net costs doesn't accurately reflect how cognizant Eckerd is of students' financial needs. The department calculated net cost of attending the institutions by calculating tuition and fees and subtracting average grant and scholarship aid. It says Eckerd's net cost is $31,359.

Eastman said because the college spreads financial aid broadly among its students rather than giving larger lumps to the most needy students, the ranking unfairly skews Eckerd as more expensive. He said that average cost, which includes housing, should be closer to $23,000 or $24,000.

He said he shares the department's commitment to transparency and the concern for students taking on too much debt, but he feels Eckerd was not treated fairly.

"If we don't like the way the Department of Education is saying it, we need to say it our way," Eastman said. "The calculation is pretty arbitrary."

Plus, Eastman said, Eckerd offers a different educational experience than the larger, less expensive public universities included on other lists. Even though they don't appear side by side, it's naive to think parents and students won't compare them, and "it's not apples to apples," he said.

Eckerd was one of five schools from Florida on that particular list, which also includes Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota.

Two private, for-profit colleges in Florida made their list for most expensive net costs -- Argosy University in Tampa and AI Miami International University of Art and Design. Six public Florida colleges were deemed least expensive, including St. Petersburg College.

Florida State University appeared among the colleges with the most rapidly increasing costs, with a 36 percent increase in the net price of attendance after grant and scholarship aid. It is worth noting, however, that Florida's public universities remain the cheapest in the country.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 3:10pm]


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