One of the best-kept secrets in the college admissions process is the fact that tuition sticker prices rarely tell the whole story. After accounting for grants and scholarships, the overwhelming majority of low and middle-income families end up having the option of paying far less than the prices quoted in glossy admissions pamphlets and on school’s websites. Unfortunately, this secret is so well kept that many families—too many families—don’t even know about it.
This maddening lack of cost transparency has undoubtedly contributed to the dual challenges of rising tuition rates and swelling student loan debt. Just as troubling, research suggests it has deterred some students from attending college altogether. In a study conducted this year by student lender Sallie Mae, nearly one-third of respondents said cost concerns had caused them to consider not attending college at all. For students with the most limited financial means, that figure shot up to 61%.