Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Colleges say federal database listing prices doesn't provide full picture of institutions

The site is easy enough to use. Pick a school type, pick a cost category, and, voila: a list of the most or least expensive schools in the country.

The U.S. Education Department database released late last month, a piece federal lawmakers ordered up, is intended to give families a more transparent look at rising college costs. But a few schools, notably Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and Florida State University in Tallahassee, balked at their inclusion.

With a menagerie of so many different kinds of schools, is it fair to compare them solely by price?

Education Department spokeswoman Sara Gast said that was never the intention. Rather, "it's one of many tools," students can use as they consider college costs, part of an effort to quell excessive student loans.

"On the front end, we want students to have an idea of what they're getting into," Gast said. "As far as a sort of direct influence on college decisions, we want this to be one of many things considered."

When students go to the site, they can choose a school category based on whether it's four years, two years, or less, whether it's for-profit or not-for-profit, and whether it's public or private. They then must narrow down the search with options for highest or lowest tuition and highest or lowest net prices. Net prices are calculated by adding up tuition and fees and subtracting the average grant and scholarship aid.

Eckerd was upset after being posted among the most expensive not-for-profit private colleges. Donald Eastman, president of the St. Petersburg school, said the net price did not include students' scholarships from private organizations or earnings from part-time employment, among other sources.

The day the database went live last month, Eckerd released a seven-item list disputing the national cost rankings, in which it was tallied at $31,359. The site lists the national average for that type of institution as $19,000.

Eastman said because of other sources of aid, that average cost should be closer to $23,000 or $24,000.

Plus, Eastman wondered, how are students looking at the database expected to know about Eckerd's stellar graduation rate, its small, personal environment or that its tuition includes room and board?

"I don't think, frankly, people are going to look at a (public) university on the list and see it costs $10,000 and look at our school and see it costs $30,000 and not make a comparison," Eastman said. "And it's not apples to apples."

Florida State University was uncomfortable that FSU was the only public university in Florida included on a list for fastest rising costs, since all the state's 11 public universities have increased tuition prices by the same rate — 15 percent — the last few years.

The online list shows that FSU's tuition and costs, minus financial aid, went up by 36 percent from 2008 to 2010. Of the 32 schools listed with the fastest rising costs, FSU is second to last.

It's not that other schools' costs didn't increase, it's just that FSU's costs went up a smidge more. Unlike tuition, fee increases across the universities varied. At the request of students, FSU recently tacked on $22 for a new campus health center.

FSU officials were quick to point out that even with the increase, all Florida's public universities' costs remain among the lowest in the nation — still 15 percent below the national average.

Gast acknowledged the colleges' concerns, and said that the Education Department doesn't want students to consider only price when evaluating institutions. That's why the department took its legislative mandate a step further and linked each listed school to a more detailed description on the department's College Navigator site.

Pat Callan, president of the independent National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, agreed that the database, albeit limited, still offers a good service.

"I do not believe the message that many families get out of this is, 'Pick the cheapest price,' " Callan said. "If that's all they wanted to do, they wouldn't need to consult this list. … This just puts some burden on colleges to justify the added value."

Now more than ever, students are taking costs into account when exploring colleges, he said. Still, "Americans price shop all the time, but they don't always go out and buy the cheapest car of the cheapest food.

"This is just one more piece of information," Callan said. "I see it as a constructive, but not a radical change."

Reach Kim Wilmath at or 813-226-3337.

How do Florida schools rate in costs?

College seniors who graduated in 2009 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6 percent from the previous year, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization. State averages for debt at graduation from four-year colleges ranged widely in 2009, from $13,000 to $30,000, according to the institute, which also estimated the average graduating student debt for a Florida student at $20,766. To help college students curb excessive student loan debt, the Higher Education Act of 2008 mandated that the U.S. Education Department develop a database — — listing the most or least expensive schools in the country by a number of categories. Here are the Florida schools that made the different lists:

• Private, not-for-profit, four-year schools with the highest net costs: Eckerd, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota.

• Private, for-profits with the highest net costs: Argosy University in Tampa and AI Miami International University of Art and Design.

• Two-year private, for-profits with the highest net costs: Florida Career College in Clearwater.

• Four-year, public colleges with the most rapidly rising costs: Florida State University and Florida State College.

• Public, four-year colleges deemed least expensive in net costs: St. Petersburg College, Broward College, Edison State College.

Colleges say federal database listing prices doesn't provide full picture of institutions 07/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 11:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  2. Minors also a training ground for umpires with big-league dreams

    The Heater

    Umpire Tom Fornarola, 23, left, and Taylor Payne, 24, facing, talk before the start of the Gulf Coast League game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla. on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.
  3. In Florida, nation's only lightning center closes after DARPA cuts funding (w/video)


    University of Florida professor Martin Uman usually spends much of this summer at an old Army base about an hour northeast of Gainesville, shooting rockets at thunderclouds, then measuring the bright flashes of lightning that followed.

    Rocket-and-wire triggered lightning at the University of Florida's International Center for Lightning Research and Testing, which recently lost federal funding. A rocket trailing a grounded wire is launched toward an active thunderstorm at the ICLRT. One launch is from a tower, one from ground. When the wire is about as high as the Empire State Building, lightning is induced to strike the top of the wire, much as it strikes tall objects like the ESB. Interestingly, the cloud charge source is about 3 miles high, so a 300 yard-long wire can cause a 3 mile or more long lightning.  After that, there are several normal tortuous strokes ( downward leaders from the cloud charge/upward return strokes) which can be seen as the wind blows the individual strokes to the right. The time between strokes is about 50 thousands of a second. Between some strokes, continuing current can be seen. Continuing current is what generally starts forest fires. [Photo by Dr. Dustin Hill]
  4. Editorial: Reasonable clarity on gambling in Florida


    Gambling expansion strategies — and misfires — are nearly an annual ritual in Florida. There were the eight counties that voted to allow slot machines but were blocked by the Florida Supreme Court. There was the governor's $3 billion deal with the Seminole Tribe in 2015 that was never approved by the …

    Gov. Rick Scott agreed to a much simpler deal with the Seminole Tribe that embraces the status quo instead of expansion. And that’s a good thing.
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]