Understanding Real vs. “Sticker Price” Tuition

A common misconception in debating higher education funding is that the posted rate of tuition, or “sticker price,” is what students actually pay. This is exemplified in a commentary by State Sen. Jake Corman, who contends that Pennsylvania’s state-related universities are discounting tuition for in-state students by $10,000 (far more than they receive in state aid per student), and that private universities charge far more, based solely on the posted rate of tuition.

However, few students actually pay the “sticker price”—in fact, most pay far below that amount, as universities grant students financial aid and merit scholarships.

Using data universities report to IPEDS, we can look at the actual amount of tuition and fees collected per full-time equivalent student at schools (medical school and law school tuition, which are much higher than undergraduate rates, are included).

For example, Temple and Pitt collect $16,000 and $13,000 in tution and fees per student, respectively, far below their posted tuition for out-of-state student. That amount would go up if schools chose to replace state aid with higher tuition, but by far less than the sticker price implies.

Further, Sen. Corman cites the sticker price at a number of private universities, including Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon, Drexel, Duquesne, and Lebanon Valley College. Yet these schools receive $10,000 to $15,000 less per student in tuition and fees than the posted tuition rate.

Finally, while Sen. Corman looks at some of the costliest private schools, I’ve also included a couple of the least expensive four-year schools, including the for-profit University of Phoenix and Grove City College, which accepts no federal or state aid (even financial aid for students). These schools receive less than $12,000 in tuition and fees per full-time student.


School Posted Tuition/Sticker Price (Out-of-State Rate) Revenues from tuition and fees per FTE Revenues from government grants and contracts per FTE Revenues from private gifts  grants  and contracts per FTE Other core revenues per FTE Total Revenue per FTE
Bucknell University $40,816 $24,232 $1,025 $6,180 $960 $32,397
Carnegie Mellon University $40,920 $30,450 $26,488 $10,216 $9,009 $76,163
Drexel University $31,835 $21,601 $4,793 $3,751 $6,718 $36,863
Duquesne University $26,468 $17,897 $1,166 $1,445 $362 $20,870
Grove City College** $12,590 $11,776 $0 $0 $187 $11,963
Lebanon Valley College $30,490 $15,978 $1,120 $1,574 $0 $18,672
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus $25,946 $25,627 $11,271 $7,511 $10,835 $55,244
Temple University $21,634 $15,673 $4,315 $2,108 $6,211 $28,307
University of Pennsylvania $38,970 $25,574 $23,956 $12,778 $9,021 $71,329
University of Phoenix-Pittsburgh Campus* $11,400 $11,028 $644 $909 $0 $12,581
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus $23,852 $12,753 $22,177 $4,062 $12,855 $51,847
Villanova University $38,820 $24,389 $736 $2,031 $1,523 $28,679
* For profit university
** Accepts no government aid, including financial aid for students
Source: IPEDS: http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Data.aspx