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Monday, February 7, 2011

Paying for Grad School: "Discounted" Tuition

There was another mediocre article today in the Wall Street Journal, this time about paying for graduate school. I'm not going to get into the usual discussions about should you or shouldn't you? or are humanities degrees worthless?

I just want to point to a tuition trick I've seen before. Trick is probably a harsh term. Scheme? Whatever.

When 24-year-old Kristi Roybal was choosing between graduate programs in social work and international studies, she picked one at the University of Denver, which offered her a $20,000 annual scholarship.

But with a $53,000 total annual tab, she had to figure out how to cover the rest.

About 5-6 years ago, a friend/student/neighbor suddenly decided that she wanted to get a Phd in Food Studies. At the time, I thought this was a bad plan because the person was clearly not cut out for academic life, though she was smart enough for anything. Anyway, she applied to the Anthropology Program at the University of Chicago, an august institution.

In reply, she received not a rejection, but an invitation to the MA Program in Social Thought or something like that. The letter had a perky tone: (paraphrase) "It must be strange to get into a program different from the one you applied for and with a scholarship at that!" She was offered $15,000 off of $35,000 tuition. And she actually thought about it for a long time, even though it would have involved a loan for AT LEAST $20,000.

I looked into the program and discovered that there were no designated faculty; there was no department. Students took various courses from various social science departments. In other words: a no cost program from the school. No wonder they could be so generous.

As for the young woman in the WSJ article: instead of thinking of the big discount from U of Denver (a private school), why not get your social work degree from your state school. You may not get a discount of $20,000, but you will be paying in-state tuition.

There are some cases where the prestige of the institution really matters: if you are seeking an academic career, the better the school (and that may even include undergraduate), the better your chances of being hired at a similarly prestigious gig. Law schools MAY be the same.

But social work? That's a vocational degree and I imagine that it's more important to emerge with few loans for what is likely to be a rewarding but low-paying job.

The scholarship tactic reminds me of stores: $100 off! I was thrilled by a scarf at an on-line catalog: reduced from $119 to $9 (!!!), I was swooning with desire. But I hesitated. And the scarf was removed from my cart. It had sold out. I realized that I already had scarves in the offered colors.

As always, it's not what you save, but what you spend.



Shelley said...

I think 'trick' is the right word. Imagine struggling to work through a degree, struggling to pay for the darn thing and then getting no financial return whatsoever in the world work for all that academic effort and financial sacrifice? A prospective student might not see that future coming, but I'd bet anything the university knows fine well the value of what it's offering. How about 'dirty trick'?

Duchesse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duchesse said...

Sorry, too many typs.

Why did another dept. try to recruit her? Did anthro dept. know? What do people with MAs in Social Thought do after graduating?

Any program that does not concretely result in advancement of a student's career plan(s) is not thousands of dollars, despite a scholarship (unless the student is independently wealthy.)

SewingLibrarian said...

This is why very few private schools have graduate schools of library science. The pay we get as librarians isn't enough to justify paying a lot for the MLS. It's interesting that the U. of Denver still has a library school, however. U Chicago closed theirs long ago. When I was there, my school, the University of Illinois, always ranked in the top two or three library schools. It was due, in part, to the wonderful library that we could use, the third largest university library behind Harvard and Yale. I'm not sure if that statistic is still valid, but there's no denying it's a fabulous collection.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley-- I wonder if tuition is artificially inflated so students can get scholarships? Kind of like clothing in the dept stores: fake sales.

@Duchesse--Anthropology REJECTED her and sent application over to Social Thought. Their website has (or had) lot of testimonials from students on the value of the degree. I question it!

@Sewing--My state college just eliminated the MLIS degree. A student just got into U of Pittsburgh, which I think is private. I just hope she can pay for it!

Cheap Social Worker said...


I happened to run into your post while looking up social work blogs. As a social worker, I agree that unless one places high value in going to a prestigious university, it's better to get a social work degree from a state school. I work with a number of social workers who received degrees from private schools, and the only thing that differentiates us is the amount of student loan debt we have to repay.

Education is an investment. If you can, I definitely advocate getting as much financial aid possible. seFor me, a masters degree is not worth having to repay student loan debt until I qualify for Medicare. I'm an advocate for following your passion in life, but at the same time being mindful of the risks, financial or otherwise.

Cheap Social Worker said...

I actually wrote a post a while back related to this topic, if you want to see: