Is NYU’s Tuition Actually A Bargain?

on 8 September, 2011


In case you hadn’t heard, NYU is expensive. Like, really expensive. We enjoy the dubious honor of attending one of the most expensive universities in the country. Our tuition consistently ranks in the top ten for four-year universities and grows at about 3% per year. NYU’s extraordinary size and huge bottom line costs make it an easy target for the media’s coverage of skyrocketing tuition. But to only look at nominal tuition and related expenses when comparing the price of college is both insular and misleading.

First, nearly all top-tier private universities and liberal arts colleges have tuitions in the same ballpark as NYU, so you can at least take solace in knowing your NESCAC and “Potted Ivy” friends will also be wallowing in non-dischargeable student loans and Ramen noodles for the foreseeable future. But more importantly, in order to compare the cost of colleges, you have to consider what you’re actually paying for.

In addition to an education and a degree, attending a college means choosing a place to live for four years. So while the education one can expect to receive at NYU is comparable to that of our collegiate peers, our location—and everything that comes with that—is far from equal. In short, paying 50k a year to live in Lower Manhattan is not the same as paying 50k to live in Lewiston, Maine. Our location in “the heart of Greenwich Village” is more valuable than almost any place in the country. That’s not just my opinion, but rather a fact of simple economics.

We all know that the cost of living (rent, groceries, transportation, club covers) in New York is staggeringly high. Whether it be for the social environment, income opportunities, or just bragging to their friends back home, people in aggregate prefer to live in New York, over any other major metropolis in the country. So it costs more to live here.

So what does that mean for our tuition? Let’s use the cost of living as a proxy for desirability. If one considers schools of similar academic caliber, and then compares the cost of living of their locations, NYU starts to look pretty cheap. Using the Cost of Living Index (COLI), we can see how much different schools cost when adjusted for their respective locations.

For example, paying the $47,654 tuition of The College of William and Mary (ranked next to NYU according to US News and World Reports) to live outside Richmond, Virginia would be like paying $98,777 in Manhattan. Conversely, paying NYU’s $52,028 tuition for a year in New York is like paying $25,100 outside Richmond. Paying GW’s tuition of $56,625 is like $87,588 in NYC. NYU’s $52,028 is like $33,635 in Washington, DC.  While this method of conversion isn’t a perfect model, it demonstrates the incredible differences in the relative value of tuition—something a nominal figure cannot capture.

The soaring cost of a college education in general can be debated. However, for the time being, take comfort in at least one guy telling you that your tuition is a deal (at least comparatively). NYU is certainly not a cheap school, but considering what it buys, it is a relative bargain.