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Old 05-09-2019, 09:20 AM
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Why are liberal arts colleges so expensive?


I was speaking with a co-worker whose son is a HS senior. She said he just was accepted into William and Mary, to study history, and it might cost $60k/year.

Now William and Mary and other "historic" colleges might have some special cachet warranting an elite tuition. But it made me wonder why there couldn't be low cost liberal arts colleges.

I'm all for folk receiving liberal arts educations. Just wondering why it is so expensive. The essential cost is faculty, correct? Why couldn't you attract a top notch faculty to - well, low cost space, and pass the savings along to the customers/students?

To what extent is it simply that small LA colleges charge "what the market will bear." And are people so ignorant that they think a college that charges less is worth less?

Are there cheap LA colleges such as I describe whose degrees are highly valued?
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Old 05-09-2019, 09:32 AM
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William and Mary is a public school, so the issue there is just that it's out of state tuition.

Private schools in general charge a fortune for the same reason doctors have a default bill of way more than anyone really pays--in the end, they will actually accept the negotiated price with various insurance companies, but they don't want to start the negotiations out too low. Private schools have generous need-based and (for all but the top) merit-based aid; the only people paying full price are generally very wealthy students who are below the academic averages for the institution. So yes, it's basically charging what the market will bear, with very finely tuned price discrimination.

ETA: if he was "just accepted", it was off the waitlist. There's a lot less financial aid for those kids because generally it's all been distributed.

ETA2: I see that William&Mary has an average cost of attendance (after aid) of $19K, which is in the range of public schools.

Last edited by Manda JO; 05-09-2019 at 09:35 AM.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:11 AM
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Thanks. I admit I started this thread following a very brief discussion. And I appreciate my question likely reflects my ignorance. I know very little about William & Mary, and the co-worker said she did not yet know what aid would be available. (My impression - on previous brief discussions, is that they are making the college search A LOT more involved that I ever did personally or WRT my kids, and that they were considering various "top name" out of state colleges. But I have not discussed any of this in any depth.)

I regularly attend a music camp at a VERY SMALL private college. From searching on-line, total costs are approx. $40k/yr, and they assay ALL students receive SOME fin'l aid. So I have no idea what it really costs. But to my eyes, the place is - um - pretty run down w/ meagre facilities.

Also, I attended a state school, as did my 3 kids - so I have no idea what it REALLY costs to attend various colleges. When my kids were in college, our annual household income was somewhere between $75-150k, and the state schools cost around $30k/yr all in. Given that income, do you have any idea what it would cost to send one of our kids to a highly ranked private college?
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:16 AM
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When I started work for city government I was introducing to the concept of dual operating and capital budgets. The operating budget is what most people think expenses are, salaries and supplies. But not just salaries. Health care, pensions, and other benefits add huge percentages to base salaries that outsiders don't include.

The capital budget is everything else and can equal or exceed the operating budget.

Colleges are a collection of buildings, laid out in grounds. All this forms the infrastructure and might as well be paved with dollar bills. Buildings have to be built, to be maintained, to be heated and cooled, to be repaired, to be updated. Dorms are needed, and dining halls, and clinics, and administrations buildings, and libraries, and auditoriums, and athletic facilities, and operations buildings, and garages, and heating plants. Inside the buildings are seats and desks and a library full of expensive books and journals and computers and labs that have to be kept up to date and copiers and projectors and every other amenity needed to fulfill the course work of dozens of majors. Then there are the roads and driveways and parking lots and grassy areas and plantings, also requiring the same maintenance, repair, and upgrading, along with all the equipment needed to do the work.

That's just the basic stuff I think of off the top of my head. You can probably come up with much more. I didn't account for taxes either.

Infrastructure is far more expensive than people realize. Every year our department would make up a list of our top priorities and give them to the budget department to be mixed in with all the top priorities of all the other departments, including fire and police. You can't imagine how few would get included in the final budget. But every one was needed, and pushing it off to the next year made it more expensive when it became too critical to ignore.

Cities can't raise taxes too much. People rebel. Private colleges are in a much better position to do so because they know that only a small and rich minority of parents will have to pay full fare. That makes them one of the few truly progressive institutions in America. You should be cheering at the high price of liberal education. It's fundamentally American
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:24 AM
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First we would have to define what is meant by a liberal arts college. Are we including large public universities where liberal arts are part of what they offer but that may also have a business school, law school, etc?

Letís take the example you gave of of William and Mary. A quick google search shows an enrollment of 8,617 in 2016. Even at a cost of only 20k per student that comes out to around 172 million. I donít know what the salaries break down for full professor, associate professor, grad students that teach, etc., but I doubt that it averages out to more than 100k per year per instructor. This works out to around 1,720 instructors. I donít know how many instructors they actually have, but I highly doubt that itís one for every five students. Of course there is other staff, but I doubt that accounts for the surplus. My guess is that most universities actually overcharge by quite a bit relative to their expenses.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:31 AM
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My nephew graduated from high school last year. He's a brilliant kid, math prodigy, high honor roll, great ACT and SAT scores, the works; he is also an exceptionally talented singer.

He was accepted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (i.e., the most prestigious public college in our state), but was offered zero financial aid. He was also accepted at Valparaiso University, a small liberal arts school; the amount of financial aid which Valpo offered him came very close to covering the substantial difference in tuition costs between the two schools.

Additionally, though he's majoring in computer science, he very much wanted to continue to sing (and take classwork around music). Valpo was happy to let him do that (I think, but don't quote me on this, that he's minoring in music); U of I pretty much told him "it'd be one or the other." So, he's at Valpo, and thriving in both programs.

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Old 05-09-2019, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Dinsdale View Post
Thanks. I admit I started this thread following a very brief discussion. And I appreciate my question likely reflects my ignorance. I know very little about William & Mary, and the co-worker said she did not yet know what aid would be available. (My impression - on previous brief discussions, is that they are making the college search A LOT more involved that I ever did personally or WRT my kids, and that they were considering various "top name" out of state colleges. But I have not discussed any of this in any depth.)

I regularly attend a music camp at a VERY SMALL private college. From searching on-line, total costs are approx. $40k/yr, and they assay ALL students receive SOME fin'l aid. So I have no idea what it really costs. But to my eyes, the place is - um - pretty run down w/ meagre facilities.

Also, I attended a state school, as did my 3 kids - so I have no idea what it REALLY costs to attend various colleges. When my kids were in college, our annual household income was somewhere between $75-150k, and the state schools cost around $30k/yr all in. Given that income, do you have any idea what it would cost to send one of our kids to a highly ranked private college?
Most schools have a estimated-price calculator, where you can put in your information (or any information you want) and it will tell you what they would expect your actual cost to be. They are pretty accurate.

But note--that's for need-based aid. Mid-range private schools also offer a ton of merit aid; they need to have a way to attract kids who would have a better offer elsewhere. So, for example, USC has what I call their "Ivy-eligible" scholarship: they off a LOT of kids half-off tuition and quite a few full-tuition. This is pure merit aid--it's explicitly aimed at very well-off kids who might well get into Dartmouth or Brown, and who could pay the $70k/yr to go there, but might not really want to, and would be willing to "settle" for USC at $15k/year.

So if your kids wanted to attend a private school (LAC or otherwise) where their SAT scores and grades put them in the top 25%, or if they had some other quality the school really wanted (even things like geographical diversity), the offer might be substantial. IME, private schools in an area are VERY aware of what the best state school is likely to cost a particular kid, and will often makes offers that are very close to that. It's business: you pay for the strongest kids to come and raise your average SAT scores so that the other kids--the weaker ones that can pay full price--will want to come and be willing to pay it, because they will be glad they got into such a prestigious school.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:45 AM
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Ha! This:

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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
He was also accepted at Valparaiso University, a small liberal arts school; the amount of financial aid which Valpo offered him came very close to covering the substantial difference in tuition costs between the two schools.
was posted while I was typing this:

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Originally Posted by Manda JO View Post
IME, private schools in an area are VERY aware of what the best state school is likely to cost a particular kid, and will often makes offers that are very close to that.
I also want to mention that financial aid is negotiable: I had a kid haggle a top Ivy to more than double their initial offer (she had a very legit argument AND some very good competing offers).

It's a lot LESS negotiable May 9th. May 1st was decision day, so anyone talking NOW is coming off a waitlist, and that's not a position of strength: they obviously don't want you that badly. They also want to resolve the WL really quickly, so they aren't going to haggle long--they will move on.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:47 AM
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Letís take the example you gave of of William and Mary. A quick google search shows an enrollment of 8,617 in 2016. Even at a cost of only 20k per student that comes out to around 172 million. I donít know what the salaries break down for full professor, associate professor, grad students that teach, etc., but I doubt that it averages out to more than 100k per year per instructor. This works out to around 1,720 instructors. I donít know how many instructors they actually have, but I highly doubt that itís one for every five students. Of course there is other staff, but I doubt that accounts for the surplus. My guess is that most universities actually overcharge by quite a bit relative to their expenses.
Are you assuming that virtually all tuition goes to pay faculty salaries?

"Of course there is other staff"óthere are administrators, advisers, librarians, admissions staff, food service workers, athletic staff, buildings and grounds maintenance and custodial staff, registrars, financial aid staff, mental health and disability assistance counselors, etc. etc. And they all get paid benefits beyond their base salary. That adds up.

Plus there's all the infrastructure expenses that Exapno mentions.

I've tried to do a little googling to see if I could find any real info on the actual budgets of colleges and universities, and how much of their expenses are what. I did find this, that claims "On average, 75% of the total costs associated with a college degree are employee wages, benefits, and etc. College employees include faculty, administration, and staff."

Also possibly useful: this 2012 article about a "new analysis [that] compares the differences and similarities of spending at liberal arts colleges with more wealth (and higher tuition rates) and those without."
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:48 AM
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Thanks all. As I think of it, I think one of my kids was accepted to an out-of-state public school, and another to a private school. Both offered to cut tuition (I don't recall about total cost) to our in-state state school (UofI).

Kenobi - hope the computer program at Valpo is comparable to UofI's. My son studied engineering at UofI, and when his job paid for him to get a master's, he was amazed at how basic the material was compared to what he had previously studied. And my another kid studied microbio at UofI, but was able to sit 2d chair bassoon in the 2d concert band (the highest open to non-music majors).

I guess in my ignorance, I thought LAS education did not require great expenditures in terms of labs/equipment like engineering/sciences. And I imagine that in attracting faculty in business and sciences schools are competing against industry - didn't suspect and liberal arts "teachers" would be as expensive. I perceive that several colleges - large and small - are marketing themselves sorta like spas/resorts - with elaborate rec facilities and such. At this school I go to camp at, the facilities are Spartan.

I guess I thought an opportunity might exist to have a school that occupied the cheapest space available, maybe even as a commuter school in a large city, and put all of its money into the faculty, and passed the savings to the students and family who were primarily interested in the education.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dinsdale View Post
I was speaking with a co-worker whose son is a HS senior. She said he just was accepted into William and Mary, to study history, and it might cost $60k/year.

Now William and Mary and other "historic" colleges might have some special cachet warranting an elite tuition. But it made me wonder why there couldn't be low cost liberal arts colleges.

I'm all for folk receiving liberal arts educations. Just wondering why it is so expensive. The essential cost is faculty, correct? Why couldn't you attract a top notch faculty to - well, low cost space, and pass the savings along to the customers/students?

To what extent is it simply that small LA colleges charge "what the market will bear." And are people so ignorant that they think a college that charges less is worth less?

Are there cheap LA colleges such as I describe whose degrees are highly valued?
Easy money leads to inflation in that market.
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Old 05-09-2019, 10:59 AM
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I guess I thought an opportunity might exist to have a school that occupied the cheapest space available, maybe even as a commuter school in a large city, and put all of its money into the faculty, and passed the savings to the students and family who were primarily interested in the education.
LACs generally have everything but engineering and, importantly, graduate programs. Hard sciences are liberal arts. And they want faculty with research cred.

Much of what a LAC degree represents is things outside the classroom: research opportunities, cultural opportunities (lectures, drama productions, art shows). You're supposed to have a lot of office-hours appointments where you go over your essays and get feedback. All of that takes infrastructure and funding. It also really demands that kids be close, because you aren't going to commute back for a 15-minute essay conference, or to go to a guest lecture, or to attend the art show your room mate is in. You can't have a college radio station if there's no sense of a college.
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Old 05-09-2019, 12:16 PM
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Colleges charge a lot of money because the people who work there like money and they have an in demand product.

Last year almost 70% of high school graduates enrolled in college. This is much higher than it used to be. At the same time it is hard to start a new college and get enough prestige to attract students. When demand is high and supply is limited than prices rise.

The good news is that college enrollment has plateaued at about 20 million students and online universities are expanding. This will cause tuition costs to stop going up so fast.
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Old 05-09-2019, 12:53 PM
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Quote:
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I guess I thought an opportunity might exist to have a school that occupied the cheapest space available, maybe even as a commuter school in a large city, and put all of its money into the faculty, and passed the savings to the students and family who were primarily interested in the education.
Such an opportunity might exist, but it would still compete against the hundreds of established schools with known reputations and a network of alumni who steer students to those schools. Since all those schools also provide bountiful financial aid, it's hard to see the actual rather than the list price tuition being markedly different.

They would also compete with the state school system. Many states do have exactly those commuter schools. They are not prestigious but provide openings to residents. A private school competing against a state-subsidized school would be at an additional disadvantage.

Mostly though, I think the notion of a top liberal arts school being nothing other than teachers and some texts in Latin is delusional.
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Old 05-09-2019, 12:56 PM
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US News and World Report - specifically College Rankings

College rankings created an arms race and their poor methodology made it worse. Typically how they work is not based on the quality of education provided, but rather the 'outcomes.' Outcomes are typically selectivity and graduation rates. What this means is that in order to raise your ranking, you basically have to attract the best students. Graduation rate highly correlates with high school GPA. High School GPA highly correlates with higher socio-economic status and either White or Asian. So rankings basically come down to 'How can we get the wealthy White and Asian kids to come to our school?' That means lots of things, but it typically takes the form of facilities and services. The days of 1970s and 80s cinder-block dorm rooms and group bathrooms are largely over. Residence halls have become resort communities. In the 1980s, the 'rec center' might have been a room in the basement of one of the dorms with a bike and a rack of dumbbells. Now, they are hundred million dollar facilities with climbing walls, multiple pools, hot tubs, indoor running tracks and amenities far beyond what existed 30 years ago. Wealthy White and Asian kids expect country club amenities and services, so universities have to provide them. They expect more tutors and more administrators to walk them through scheduling and there is a need for more hand-holding and that means more administrative staff.

Universities find themselves in the awkward position of not being able to say no. If say Penn State is to build a new 500 million dollar rec center, Ohio State can't say "No, we'll continue to provide a good education cheaply with no frills." What would happen is that the wealthy kids would shift enrollment to Penn State and Ohio State would plummet in the rankings since they would now have to admit lower quality students who would graduate at lower rates. Despite the fact that they might have better professors and provide a better education, they would be a 'worse school' in the rankings just because they failed to attract wealthy Whites and Asians. That lower ranking then has a knock-on effect. Because it's lower ranked, it becomes less prestigious, which means even fewer wealthy Whites and Asians want to attend and it could end up in a death spiral. So what do they do? They have to build the facilities. They have to offer the amenities.

Look at the 'hockey stick graph' of college costs and you'll see that the bend of the stick starts almost as soon as the US News Rankings existed (about 1985, give or take.) If you want to know why college is expensive, that tells a large part of the story.
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Old 05-09-2019, 02:27 PM
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Thanks all for fighting my ignorance.

I think a lot of my misperception reflected my ignorance as to how few students ACTUALLY pay "sticker."

Also, my limited experience where I go to banjo campo (make your jokes - I've heard them all! ).
This dinky little school has a total enrollment less than my HS graduating class.
The campus is teeny, in the middle of bumfuck Michigan.
The dorms are absolute dumps - concrete block cells - only 1 dorm has AC.
The classes are all in 1 building.
The "science department" is 2 classrooms.
Another classroom (history? geography? PolSci?) has maps listing the USSR.
A Natural History room has a couple of moth eaten stuffed animals.
I've seen no signs of significant tech.

Just makes me wonder what someone thinks they are getting for $40k/yr.
But, if few actually pay that...

I dunno, you need more than a gathering of great minds? Seemed to work for Socrates!
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Old 05-09-2019, 02:58 PM
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This dinky little school has a total enrollment less than my HS graduating class.
The campus is teeny, in the middle of bumfuck Michigan.
The dorms are absolute dumps - concrete block cells - only 1 dorm has AC.
The classes are all in 1 building.
The "science department" is 2 classrooms.
Another classroom (history? geography? PolSci?) has maps listing the USSR.
A Natural History room has a couple of moth eaten stuffed animals.
I've seen no signs of significant tech.
If that's a fair description, and there isn't more to the story, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the college you describe is struggling to stay afloat.
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Old 05-09-2019, 03:07 PM
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If that's a fair description, and there isn't more to the story, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the college you describe is struggling to stay afloat.
I really don't know. Having gone to a huge state school, I have a hard time imagining why someone would want to go to such a small school in a small town (Olivet College BTW). At one point, someone told me they graduate a lot of actuaries, or folk related to the insurance biz - but I never looked into it. And several of the smaller schools in the area have religious affiliations - I know there is some kinds of a church, but the influence isn't pervasive.
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Old 05-09-2019, 03:37 PM
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I really don't know. Having gone to a huge state school, I have a hard time imagining why someone would want to go to such a small school in a small town (Olivet College BTW). At one point, someone told me they graduate a lot of actuaries, or folk related to the insurance biz - but I never looked into it. And several of the smaller schools in the area have religious affiliations - I know there is some kinds of a church, but the influence isn't pervasive.
Looks like Olivet has an endowment of $14m. That puts them in the "destitute" column for LACs.

Even a sort of mid-range LAC, like Hendrix or Austin College, generally has an endowment in the $150m-200m range. It is endowments that pay endowed chairs, capital improvements, scholarships. $14M is circling the drain, in a death spiral because they can't do the things you need to do to attract paying students. $14m is like when you go into a store and realize they won't be around long because they can't afford enough stock to make the place seem full.
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Old 05-09-2019, 03:52 PM
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Having gone to a huge state school, I have a hard time imagining why someone would want to go to such a small school in a small town
As for me, having gone to a small school in a small town, I have a hard time imagining why someone would want to go to a huge state school. Or rather, I can see why both have their pluses and minuses. But I can see the appeal of being part of a friendly, close-knit community as opposed to being surrounded by throngs of strangers, and of taking small classes with professors who know you personally as opposed to sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students, being talked at by a professor who will never know your name and thinks of undergraduates as a necessary evil, or by a graduate student with an impenetrable foreign accent.

The nice thing about the American "system" of higher education is that there are a variety of different types of colleges and universities. The kind of school that's a good fit for one person won't be for someone else.
Quote:
(Olivet College BTW)
You inspired me to look it up online. It looks a little nicer than you made it sound. (For instance, Wikipedia says there are three classroom buildings, not one. And being in Michigan, there probably isn't all that much need for AC, except during the summer, when you were there but the students weren't.)

Wikipedia also told me that "Approximately 99% of students receive some sort of financial aid." Not particularly surprising. Nor is it surprising that (as I see on their website) they have a big capital campaign going on to try to raise money for the school. I still suspect they may be struggling. These are not easy times for small colleges in areas of the country where the college-age population is declining.
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Old 05-09-2019, 04:21 PM
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Look at the 'hockey stick graph' of college costs and you'll see that the bend of the stick starts almost as soon as the US News Rankings existed (about 1985, give or take.) If you want to know why college is expensive, that tells a large part of the story.
Private schools have always been considerably more expensive than public schools, and a big part of that is because most state schools are/were either endowed by the states or are directly subsidized.

The question is really why there's nearly a 2x price to go to Sewanee vs. the University of Tennessee, and whether that reason is due to state subsidies, or if there's some element of Sewanee charging what the market will bear, and then offering a lot of financial aid to entice more price-sensitive students to attend.

And Dinsdale, a lot of that impersonality is really only in your first couple of years. In most programs, when you're an upperclassman, you're not in classes of hundreds- maybe 30-50 at most, and often with the same professors you've already had. And most people build their own communities, whether it's through their dorm, student clubs, major, church, Greek organization or whatever. Hell, some people created little communities based on their part-time jobs- there was a gang of people who worked for the college IT department, and a group of waiters/waitresses/bartenders, and the RA/RD crowd, etc... It's not uncommon to overlap either.

Last edited by bump; 05-09-2019 at 04:26 PM.
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Old 05-09-2019, 05:10 PM
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I was speaking with a co-worker whose son is a HS senior. She said he just was accepted into William and Mary, to study history, and it might cost $60k/year.

Now William and Mary and other "historic" colleges might have some special cachet warranting an elite tuition. But it made me wonder why there couldn't be low cost liberal arts colleges.
My wife went to William and Mary in Biology. As for the cost, it is the same as the reason hotel taxes are high - those who pay it aren't voters. Many state schools (those in California included) increase the price for out of state students.

However, a quick google came up with this:

The undergraduate 2019-2020 estimated tuition & fees at College of William and Mary is $26,991 for in-state and $46,933 for out-of-state students. For Graduate School, in-state tuition and fees are $15,760 and out-of-state tuition and fees are $32,782 for academic year 2018-2019

I guess food and lodging could be $16K.

I believe W&M has a good reputation for history, for obvious reasons.
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Old 05-09-2019, 07:38 PM
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The undergraduate 2019-2020 estimated tuition & fees at College of William and Mary is $26,991 for in-state and $46,933 for out-of-state students. For Graduate School, in-state tuition and fees are $15,760 and out-of-state tuition and fees are $32,782 for academic year 2018-2019

I guess food and lodging could be $16K.
Dorm housing is $3700 - $4700, per semester, so that's $7400 to $9400 for a year.

A freshman meal plan is $2500 per semester, so that's another $5000 for a year.

Assuming the least-expensive housing, that's about $59,000 for the freshman year (and I suspect that's still not counting books). So, the OP's mention of "it might cost $60k/year" seems to be spot on.
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Old 05-09-2019, 08:39 PM
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Just for context, I applied to colleges in 1968. Being from a really poor family I couldn't go at all unless I got a free ride. The University of Rochester offered me one, tuition, room and board that would supplement other scholarships I had. The year's cost: $3400.

On the flip side, costs went up the next year and they lowered my benefits. Once your fish is on the line ...
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Old 05-09-2019, 08:53 PM
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Banjo camp, eh?

Well, I suppose there’s lots of kindling for the campfires.
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Old 05-10-2019, 12:58 AM
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(Olivet College BTW).
Olivet College is a private Christian liberal arts college affiliated with the United Church of Christ. The hundreds of tiny religiously-affiliated liberal arts colleges in the US are generally quite different in focus from secular academic institutions like William and Mary, and tend to serve a different demographic.

If you look at the list of majors offered by Olivet, you'll notice that about half of them are in quasi-vocational subjects like Actuarial Science, Business Administration, Business Analysis in Insurance, Criminal Justice, Exercise Science, Financial Planning, Fitness Management, Insurance and Risk Management, Sports/Recreation Management, etc. These are not traditional liberal arts disciplines; this is a curriculum that's a hybrid of traditional liberal arts with business/technical training and certification programs. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it doesn't really make for a meaningful comparison with what we usually think of as a "liberal arts college" in the US.
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Old 05-10-2019, 07:49 AM
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Banjo camp, eh?

Well, I suppose thereís lots of kindling for the campfires.
You want kindling? Well, my main instrument is upright bass!

And I didn't mean to dump excessively on Olivet. I REALLY appreciate it for hosting this music camp. I guess a part of my impression was colored by my expectations, experiences, and biases.

I attended UofI as did 2 of my kids. The 3d went to Illinois State. The all-in cost at Olivet was considerably higher than the costs at my state schools, so I tried to assess what that extra $ would get you. Sure, it is smaller, so I imagine there is greater access to faculty and other factors that would come with small size (if you consider those plusses). And for all I know, their faculty are world leaders in their fields (tho I doubt that.) I imagine they are very good teachers, interested in interacting with the students.

My impression of the dorms is undoubtedly colored by my 3-4 post-dorm decades living in far nicer surroundings. And I guess I've seen enough media articles about lavish dorm "suites" and such, that these little, somewhat worn and dated living cubes made an impression on me. The comment re: AC in Mich makes sense.

There may be 3 buildings that they say host classrooms, but believe me that there is one single 4 story building that hosts the vast majority of their classes. Nothing about that building is new or lavish. I admit that as a summer camper, I am familiar only with the dorms, the main instructional building, and the dining hall. I freely admit the food is GREAT! And I have ZERO experience with the student union, the rec facilities, etc. Those might be top notch for all I know.

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The hundreds of tiny religiously-affiliated liberal arts colleges in the US are generally quite different in focus from secular academic institutions like William and Mary, and tend to serve a different demographic.
What is the demographic these colleges serve. Often I will be driving somewhere, and I'll notice signs for a nearby college or university that I've never heard of before. I often wonder what would attract prospective students to attend such colleges - unless there were a specific major that school excelled in. I question whether these small schools would have fantastic reputations, extensive alumni networks, many seem to be in unattractive locations, etc. I guess the religious aspect is important to some people. But in most cases, to my jaded eye, a combination of local community colleges and state schools would generally be at least a comparable option, often at lower cost (at least as far as sticker price goes.)

Sorry I'm so ignorant about this - happy to have my ignorance dispelled.
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  #28  
Old 05-10-2019, 09:03 AM
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Olivet has an average SAT score right at or a little below the national average. So they are attracting students who would not get into their state flagship, but could likely get into their local regional state school or community college. Their "Full pay" kids will be at the bottom of that range--so relatively wealthy kids who can't even get into a regional public 4-year school and for whom the alternative is community college. The kids at the top of the range will likely get financial aid that makes it about the same price or a little less than the local regional, so they will be kids who just prefer the small, private school experience.

In both cases, they will be kids with similar goals to those going to the local regional--getting a 4-year degree that they can use to start a pretty middle-income job--teachers, accountants for local firms, managers for small companies, small-scale entrepreneurs, IT people, etc. A few will be aiming at professional school (Law, Medical, Vet).

There will be an additional population of very religious kids who parents would not consider sending them to a secular school. My sister-in-law graduated from a little women's college like this and almost everyone majored in elementary education or music education because the expectation was mostly just that they would get married. The music major was so they could run the choir at their husband's church; the elementary education was to either work a few years or to run the church daycare.

Last edited by Manda JO; 05-10-2019 at 09:06 AM.
  #29  
Old 05-10-2019, 09:11 AM
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The all-in cost at Olivet was considerably higher than the costs at my state schools, so I tried to assess what that extra $ would get you.
Don't assume a higher price gets you more.
1. As already noted in this thread, the "sticker price" is not what everyone actually pays.
2. What the students who go there pay is not a school's only source of revenue. In particular, state schools get money from the state, so they don't have to depend as much on tuition to cover their expenses.
3. A large school has certain economies of scale.
4. What a small college like Olivet offers isn't objectively better, but it may be better or more attractive to some students than what a huge state university offers.
  #30  
Old 05-10-2019, 09:13 AM
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And Dinsdale, a lot of that impersonality is really only in your first couple of years. In most programs, when you're an upperclassman, you're not in classes of hundreds- maybe 30-50 at most, and often with the same professors you've already had. And most people build their own communities, whether it's through their dorm, student clubs, major, church, Greek organization or whatever. Hell, some people created little communities based on their part-time jobs- there was a gang of people who worked for the college IT department, and a group of waiters/waitresses/bartenders, and the RA/RD crowd, etc... It's not uncommon to overlap either.
That still doesn't compare to the overwhelming community feel of a SLAC. At TAMU, you can find your people, yes--and a huge advantage is that there will be a group of Your People because there's so many of every type.

At a SLAC, you see the same people in your classes that you see in your dorm lounge that you see in the dining hall that you see at the student production you attend that you see at the convenience store across the street that you see in the library that you see at the gym. For some people, frankly, this is nightmareish, because you can't hide, you can't have different versions of who you are and you can't always find "your people"--it's a tiny town. For others, it's amazing, because you make friends/find your place super easily, it's easy to be involved, and you don't fall through the cracks.

PS, your boy was adorable last night.
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Old 05-10-2019, 09:58 AM
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That still doesn't compare to the overwhelming community feel of a SLAC. At TAMU, you can find your people, yes--and a huge advantage is that there will be a group of Your People because there's so many of every type.

At a SLAC, you see the same people in your classes that you see in your dorm lounge that you see in the dining hall that you see at the student production you attend that you see at the convenience store across the street that you see in the library that you see at the gym. For some people, frankly, this is nightmareish, because you can't hide, you can't have different versions of who you are and you can't always find "your people"--it's a tiny town. For others, it's amazing, because you make friends/find your place super easily, it's easy to be involved, and you don't fall through the cracks.

PS, your boy was adorable last night.
I know you know this, but my daughter just finished her first year at Clark in Worcester MA. Its an expensive private SLAC (though for East Coast private SLACs its got a bargain sticker price). And so much this. We knew she needed a place she'd fit it. We knew she needed small class sizes (the average undergraduate class size is 21 - skewed by a few large lecture style intro courses and a few popular majors - most of her courses have been 12 - 16 students - and her major graduated six students last year). We knew she needed to not slip through the cracks and have relationships with professors. We knew she'd do better in seminar courses than in lectures. We knew she needed a functionally secular environment - there is no going to college to major in Music Education so you can sing in the church choir while raising your husband's children for her. Clark was a good fit for her - students are quirky and liberal - she is quirky and liberal. They don't have a football team, the kings of the campus are the Improv geeks. If you look at Niche the complaints about Clark are often that they don't value athletics and don't have a greek life or a party scene (and Worcester is a run down city - Clark is in a run down neighborhood in a run down city - and its COLD in Winter) She isn't a sports loving sorority party girl - she's been in run down neighborhoods (our suburb is economically diverse and inner ring) and she's from Minnesota - she knows what cold is.

I went to the University of Minnesota at a time when it had 40k undergrads. .. 600 person seminar courses. That makes it really difficult to find your spot - you may live on campus and never see your randomly assigned roommate outside of the dorms. And many students are commuters - so there is little opportunity to make human connections. I have no friends from college - I have friends I hung around with during college years but none of them that I met in college

We'd spent years saving for college, when it came down to it, we could pay sticker price for nearly whatever she wanted (she did get - and keep - a merit scholarship - that knocked the sticker price down 30% - warning to parents - evaluate the likelihood that your student will keep that merit aid if that is a deciding factor on your choice, if the GPA is set high and there is a required course completion that is high and the school is academically challenging for your kid - freshman year is TOUGH - you are learning to do college and you are learning to adult and be away from home). So the affordability situation was a lesser concern than making sure she found a school she'd be successful at....at successful is about more than getting the grades - its also about wanting to go back to your dorm and your friends after Christmas.

If we hadn't saved - she'd have ended up at one of the smaller in state public schools - University of Minnesota Duluth perhaps, maybe Mankato State. But she'd also been the victim of horrible bullying in high school and she really wanted to be somewhere where she didn't have to carry along the baggage other people had gifted her with in high school. And Minnesota has limited reciprocity (you can go to school in North Dakota!)
  #32  
Old 05-10-2019, 06:56 PM
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US News and World Report - specifically College Rankings

College rankings created an arms race and their poor methodology made it worse. Typically how they work is not based on the quality of education provided, but rather the 'outcomes.' Outcomes are typically selectivity and graduation rates. What this means is that in order to raise your ranking, you basically have to attract the best students. Graduation rate highly correlates with high school GPA. High School GPA highly correlates with higher socio-economic status and either White or Asian. So rankings basically come down to 'How can we get the wealthy White and Asian kids to come to our school?' That means lots of things, but it typically takes the form of facilities and services. The days of 1970s and 80s cinder-block dorm rooms and group bathrooms are largely over. Residence halls have become resort communities. In the 1980s, the 'rec center' might have been a room in the basement of one of the dorms with a bike and a rack of dumbbells. Now, they are hundred million dollar facilities with climbing walls, multiple pools, hot tubs, indoor running tracks and amenities far beyond what existed 30 years ago. Wealthy White and Asian kids expect country club amenities and services, so universities have to provide them. They expect more tutors and more administrators to walk them through scheduling and there is a need for more hand-holding and that means more administrative staff.

Universities find themselves in the awkward position of not being able to say no. If say Penn State is to build a new 500 million dollar rec center, Ohio State can't say "No, we'll continue to provide a good education cheaply with no frills." What would happen is that the wealthy kids would shift enrollment to Penn State and Ohio State would plummet in the rankings since they would now have to admit lower quality students who would graduate at lower rates. Despite the fact that they might have better professors and provide a better education, they would be a 'worse school' in the rankings just because they failed to attract wealthy Whites and Asians. That lower ranking then has a knock-on effect. Because it's lower ranked, it becomes less prestigious, which means even fewer wealthy Whites and Asians want to attend and it could end up in a death spiral. So what do they do? They have to build the facilities. They have to offer the amenities.

Look at the 'hockey stick graph' of college costs and you'll see that the bend of the stick starts almost as soon as the US News Rankings existed (about 1985, give or take.) If you want to know why college is expensive, that tells a large part of the story.
This is accurate.

And it's not just rec centers. Consider dorms...

When I was in college 40 years ago, a typical dorm room was big enough to contain 2 twin size beds, 2 desks and sufficient space to walk between them. The bathroom and shower facilities were down the hall and served everybody on the floor (probably 100 or so students). In today's dorms, students get suites with 3 or 4 bedrooms, a living room/lounge area, private kitchen and bathroom. Add in cable and high speed internet and probably a gym in the building. That's got to cost a heck of a lot more to build and maintain than what I experienced. Someone's got to pay for it all.

I presume it is similar for every aspect of the college experience.
  #33  
Old 05-10-2019, 07:03 PM
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Gotta say, Manda Jo - thanks for sharing your obvious expertise!
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  #34  
Old 05-10-2019, 10:10 PM
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Why are liberal arts colleges so expensive?

Because inexpensive liberal arts colleges are going out of business.

My daughter graduated from a small, but highly regarded (locally, at least) liberal arts school. The school was originally founded by Roman Catholic nuns (who still ran the high school next door) but it was secularized in the 1960s. It still had some vestige of the classic "small, religious college" feel, though.

My daughter graduated in 2005. By that time the school the school was doing everything possible to shed its reputation as a liberal arts school. The English department had historically been located in a "quaint" old house on campus. By the time my daughter got there, the roof and basement leaked, and of course, it had radiator heaters and window air conditioners. Meanwhile the School of Business was building a huge, multi-million dollar facility and there were plans to build a huge, multi-million dollar library.

William & Mary, Ivy League schools, etc. have a big enough reputation to attract liberal arts students no matter the cost. But (just to focus on St. Louis) Fontbonne (nationally known for music), Lindenwood, Maryville (nationally known for taking students who couldn't get in to anywhere better, -or students who didn't care about college at all - and doing a good job of polishing them,) Webster (nationally known for drama), etc. are shouting, "LOOK AT ME! I'm a business school. Honest!" And that's where their development staff are putting their effort. Does the music department need new stands for sheet music? Write your own grant application.

Last edited by Kent Clark; 05-10-2019 at 10:14 PM.
  #35  
Old 05-11-2019, 12:06 AM
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The bottom line is that the best school for any kid depends on the kid. My daughters, who have very different personalities, went to very different colleges, and would have hated going to the one the other went to. They both got a lot out of them, but that was because they took advantage of the opportunities offered. Both colleges were big enough/famous enough to have those opportunities.
Yeah, large schools have big classes - but many professors are open to working with a motivated undergrad. But the student had to push.
Or the place could be a big high school with dorms and beer and sex.
  #36  
Old 05-11-2019, 03:35 AM
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William and Mary is more than a random liberal arts college. It's a very old college. In fact, it's the second oldest college in the U.S.:

https://www.niche.com/blog/the-25-ol...es-in-america/

It has a good reputation as a college with things like some of the best professors and the best students in the U.S. Those sorts of reputations are self-sustaining though. New applicants look at its past reputation and decide to apply there. People who just got their Ph.D.'s look at its past reputation and decide to apply for jobs there. Children of alumni get encouraged to apply there by their parents. So a college with a good past reputation tends to keep that reputation in the future.

Also, many of the students (at all the top colleges) come from very well off families. If your parents together make $500,000 a year, it's not that big a deal for them to spend $40,000 a year for four years so that you can go to a top college. The $40,000 a year that the students from those families pay helps to allow students from much poorer families to go there. On the other hand, a student from a family where the parents make $40,000 a year can expect, if they can get into certain top colleges, to get scholarships that pay almost all their tuition, room and board, etc. The college will only get a few applicants from such families and will only accept a few of them, but they will pay almost everything for them with scholarships. I know it sounds strange, but if you come from a poor family and somehow, some way, you manage to get accepted at a top college, it's possible that going there will be cheaper than going to a local community college when you take into account the financial aid you'll be getting.
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Old 05-11-2019, 07:06 AM
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William and Mary is more than a random liberal arts college. It's a very old college. In fact, it's the second oldest college in the U.S.:

https://www.niche.com/blog/the-25-ol...es-in-america/

It has a good reputation as a college with things like some of the best professors and the best students in the U.S. Those sorts of reputations are self-sustaining though. New applicants look at its past reputation and decide to apply there. People who just got their Ph.D.'s look at its past reputation and decide to apply for jobs there. Children of alumni get encouraged to apply there by their parents. So a college with a good past reputation tends to keep that reputation in the future.
One thing that's interesting, though, is that the reputation of a school doesn't seem to have much to do with the cost. In terms of pure sticker price, SMU is as much as Harvard and more than MIT; Harvey Mudd is more than either of them. Once you reach "mid-range", the private schools are almost all between $65-75k/year, total sticker price. The sort of little private school Dinsdale is talking about may be more like $40k.

It's a really interesting fact that there is so little correlation between the competitiveness of a university and its sticker price (though again, with aid, actual price is a whole different thing). At the very least, you'd think schools on expensive real estate might cost more, on the theory that cost of living is just higher, but it's not. Dartmouth and Cornell are more than Harvard or USC and the same price as Columbia.

Quote:
Also, many of the students (at all the top colleges) come from very well off families. If your parents together make $500,000 a year, it's not that big a deal for them to spend $40,000 a year for four years so that you can go to a top college. The $40,000 a year that the students from those families pay helps to allow students from much poorer families to go there. On the other hand, a student from a family where the parents make $40,000 a year can expect, if they can get into certain top colleges, to get scholarships that pay almost all their tuition, room and board, etc. The college will only get a few applicants from such families and will only accept a few of them, but they will pay almost everything for them with scholarships. I know it sounds strange, but if you come from a poor family and somehow, some way, you manage to get accepted at a top college, it's possible that going there will be cheaper than going to a local community college when you take into account the financial aid you'll be getting.
It's absolutely true that a poor kid can find a top college cheaper than community college or a state school. I just want to point out that $40k is way, way low for full-pay.

This is why, for wealthy families, state schools ARE a bargain.

Last edited by Manda JO; 05-11-2019 at 07:10 AM.
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Old 05-11-2019, 08:44 AM
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Thanks, Manda JO. I was just guessing when I used a figure of $40,000 for the amount that a top college would give you a full scholarship if your parents make that amount or less. Here's a website that gives some more specific information. It says that the figure is between $54,000 and $65,000 at some selected top colleges:

https://www.collegeraptor.com/find-c...lass-families/

Note though that it calls it a full ride if the financial aid is for all of the tuition and room and board. There are families so poor that if you told them that absolutely everything would be paid for except the cost of the student traveling across the country to get to and from the college, they would say, "Well, we can't afford it then."
  #39  
Old 05-11-2019, 09:44 AM
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Top schools will negotiate, and the number they generally use is "estimated total cost of attendance". It includes an allowance for travel, person expenses, and books. The 65-75k figure I quoted is for that total. Some schools even give a one-time lump sum cash payment to low income students to cover transition costs (generally a laptop and, in MA, a coat). I happen to know Amherst, Harvard, and MIT do this, and I think it's becoming more common.

That said, a lot of schools have the philosophy that even super poor kids to have SOME skin in the game. That may mean a couple thousand in loans/year. Generally, after the first year, kids can use summer internship earnings to cover those. But in extraordinary situations, that's always negotiable.
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Old 05-11-2019, 05:34 PM
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They're paying for the peer group - future business contacts, potential spouses, etc.
  #41  
Old 05-11-2019, 05:41 PM
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In terms of pure sticker price, SMU is as much as Harvard and more than MIT
SMU is the Harvard of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.

TCU is the Yale.

UT Arlington and UNT are U. Michigan and U. Cal.


Last edited by Kent Clark; 05-11-2019 at 05:43 PM.
  #42  
Old 05-11-2019, 08:14 PM
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My nephew graduated from high school last year. He's a brilliant kid, math prodigy, high honor roll, great ACT and SAT scores, the works; he is also an exceptionally talented singer.
Define "prodigy". A lot of old folks are impressed by a kid who scores a 5 on an AP test.

Quote:
Additionally, though he's majoring in computer science, he very much wanted to continue to sing (and take classwork around music). Valpo was happy to let him do that (I think, but don't quote me on this, that he's minoring in music); U of I pretty much told him "it'd be one or the other." So, he's at Valpo, and thriving in both programs.
There will be very specific programmatic requirements for a degree in computer science at a school like Illinois. It will be one of the best educations in the area he could receive. It would be very difficult to squeeze any music hours into a typical 120-hour degree. I highly doubt that (given he was offered no aid) he would be forbidden from doing both. He was probably rightly informed that a student who wants to be competitive in a CS program at a place like UI would be best advised to avoid distraction.

Last edited by Lubricious Integument; 05-11-2019 at 08:15 PM.
  #43  
Old 05-12-2019, 11:12 AM
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There will be very specific programmatic requirements for a degree in computer science at a school like Illinois. It will be one of the best educations in the area he could receive. It would be very difficult to squeeze any music hours into a typical 120-hour degree. I highly doubt that (given he was offered no aid) he would be forbidden from doing both. He was probably rightly informed that a student who wants to be competitive in a CS program at a place like UI would be best advised to avoid distraction.
Music programs are seldom open to dilettantes in college at places where Music is offered as a major - most music coursework - beyond the music appreciation coursework that will fill a general ed requirement, is only open to people who major or perhaps minor in Music or Music Ed. It isn't high school band or choir. Music at that level is hard - its going to require more practice time than your CS courses are going to take, plus you tend to get individualized lessons - there isn't room for "and I want to take a few music courses"....so yes, he'd likely be forbidden from doing both since unless he declares an intent to major in music, he won't get into the music coursework. And they probably won't allow him to double major in two unrelated and time intensive fields unless he shows incredible gifts in both. A smaller private school without a Conservatory (you can't, for example, take much music at Lawrence in Appleton without having been accepted - via audition - to the Conservatory) will have more flexibility - since the music major program - if available - will not have enough students to fill all coursework.

Last edited by Dangerosa; 05-12-2019 at 11:12 AM.
  #44  
Old 05-13-2019, 03:07 PM
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SMU is the Harvard of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.

TCU is the Yale.

UT Arlington and UNT are U. Michigan and U. Cal.

That's like saying that Olivet College is the Harvard of banjo camps.
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