White House places GW in middle of pack for affordability

by Jeremy Diamond

Based on its sticker price, GW is one of the most expensive colleges in the country. But GW’s average cost to families is thousands less than most of its peer schools, according to the College Scorecard released by the White House Wednesday.

The online cost comparison tool pegged GW’s cost of attendance at $27,793, including students’ typical grant and scholarship offers. Without aid, a degree would cost about $58,000 a year.

The University was in the middle of the pack, with prices similar to schools including Boston, Tulane, Northwestern and Emory universities – all schools which GW considers its peers. At the pricey end of the spectrum, students pay about $36,834 including scholarships at New York University. Students at Vanderbilt University landed on the other end of the pay scale with a typical yearly rate of $18,993.

President Barack Obama launched the scorecard the day after he asked lawmakers in his State of the Union address to offer incentives, like tying a university’s federal funding to its affordability and value, to keep costs down. He demanded that colleges be held accountable for skyrocketing costs so taxpayers are not forced to “subsidize” higher education.

The scorecard also shows the average students’ debt, graduation rates and employment prospects for each school. Students’ federal borrowing at GW was on the higher end of the scale, with graduates owing an average monthly payment of $256.63 over 10 years. But GW’s loan default rate is just 1.5 percent, compared to the national rate of 13.4 percent, White House data showed.

During his address, Obama also asked lawmakers to hold institutions accountable and offer incentives, like tying a university’s federal funding to its affordability and value, to keep costs down. He pitched the idea as an amendment to the Higher Education Act, which Congress must reauthorize this year.

“Kudos to the administration for putting that out there," said David Soto, content development director for The Princeton Review. “We think that the more data is out there the better."

The higher education powerhouse published its 2013 “Best Value Colleges” rankings last week – a list of 150 public and private universities that best combine academic quality with affordability. GW didn’t make the cut to stand among the 75 private colleges delivering the best bang for the buck. Of GW’s peer institutions, only Northwestern University broke into the list.

"Most of the schools on this list do the near impossible and they bring that sticker price down to a number that is good for parents and students," Soto said.

“Using this list of best value colleges is certainly a good starting point for students and parents concerned about paying for college,” Soto said, urging parents and students to go beyond a school’s listed price in considering affordability.

Cutting costs has been a focus for University President Steven Knapp, who has stepped up fundraising for scholarships cutting down on the burden to students. Under Knapp’s tenure, and since it first broke the $50,000-a-year threshold in 2007, GW mostly shook off its reputation as the most expensive school in the country. It skimmed out of the top 10 on Forbes magazine's most expensive colleges list in 2010 by just $25. Now, GW sits at No. 40, just $1,270 less than the No. 10-ranked school.

The College Scorecard is similar to information collected by a financial aid “shopping sheet” launched by the Obama administration last summer. GW officials are still mulling the shopping sheet’s merits.

Delivering the Republican rebuttal, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., echoed the president’s calls for increased transparency.

While both commended federal programs that make a bachelor’s degree more affordable, Rubio and Obama called for new approaches to college affordability.

- Sarah Ferris contributed to this report

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