Private vs. public colleges: Think net cost

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

Fact or Fiction: All public colleges and universities cost less than a private college education? Fiction. The simple fact is that students who receive scholarships and grants often realize a lower net cost than their friends who attend public institutions.

In today’s higher education marketplace, only a small percentage of students pay full price, the so-called “sticker price” or, in vehicle shoppers’ lingo, the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” This is a direct result of students receiving non-repayable scholarships and grants.

You should apply to every college or university that you feel has what you are looking for. Then, once you receive the institution’s decision on your admission and you view your financial aid package that includes scholarships, grants and eligible loans, you can make an informed decision on where to attend.

Do not eliminate a college or university because of a sticker price found on a college search database. By excluding a school simply because the published price is too high, you risk never seeing thousands of dollars in potential aid that might have made it affordable. Kelly’s Rule of Thumb: net cost is all that matters.

Case in point. According to the Association of Independent College & Universities of Ohio’s (AICUO) 2019-2020 Independent Tuitions and Fees Guide, the highest private college tuition and fees in the Ohio is $58,570, while the average tuition and fees among all private colleges in Ohio is $31,804. Wilmington College’s published tuition and fees — it’s sticker price — is $26,775.

Indeed, 96 percent of all freshmen that attend private colleges in Ohio receive aid assistance in the form of scholarships and/or grants, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The average private college aid award totaled $24,496. You do the math. Private schools are often more affordable than their public counterparts.

I realize navigating financial aid from published price to net cost might seem daunting for those unaccustomed to the process. Wilmington College is interested in making this important component of the college search easier to understand by hosting Financial Aid Help Night on

Tuesday (Nov. 19), from 6 to 7:30 p.m., in Room 148 of the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture, located at the corner of College and Elm streets.

The Enrollment Management area will have representatives explaining the financial aid process colleges and universities use to determine a student’s award and how families can prepare for this process.

All students and families with an interest in any college are welcome to attend the information session. Light refreshments will be served. I plan to attend.

Dennis Kelly is senior vice president/chief enrollment officer at Wilmington College. A nationally known enrollment administrator, he has consulted and presented extensively on higher education and post-graduation career choices.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist