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An Ivy League education can be surprisingly cheap

Updated On 2016-04-01 09:37:34 Exclusive

With tuition at Ivy League colleges costing upwards of $60,000, those schools may seem unattainable for low-income students.

For example, Yale's website lists total costs at a whopping $68,230. Harvard's total cost is $66,900. But that's the sticker price - the cost you see listed on a school's website, which includes tuition, fees, room, and board.

When you're applying to schools, it's more instructive to look at the net price of attending, or what families actually pay after factoring infinancial aid, and federal grants like the Pell grant.

In 2015, the average need-based scholarship at Yale was a generous $43,989, knocking off a substantial amount of that school's sticker price. At Harvard, 65% of students receive scholarships, and the average need-based scholarship is $46,000.

These schools, along with the other Ivies, can offer such generous financial aid packages because they have extremely large endowments. Harvard's endowment alone is worth $37.6 billion.

The New York Times explained in 2013, Colleges generally spend 4 percent to 5 percent of their endowments per year on financial aid, prompting some administrators to cite this rough math: Sustaining one poor student who needs $45,000 a year in aid requires $1 million in endowment devoted to that purpose; 100 of them require $100 million. Only the wealthiest schools can do that, and build new laboratories, renovate dining halls, provide small classes and bid for top professors.

But while the net price of attending an Ivy might be really low for low-income students, those students are still not enrolling at any college in very high numbers.

Only 45.5% of low-income high school students attended college in 2014, compared to 78.5% of high-income students, reports Higher Education Today. One reason low-income students may not enroll in large numbers is that many schools don't do a good job of publicizing the difference between the sticker price and the net price.

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