The high cost of higher ed: Pitt is one of the nation’s priciest public universities for local families

Ciara Gordon, a University of Pittsburgh student with ambitions of being a pediatrician, sits for a portrait in a Pitt classroom on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Oakland. Gordon, originally from Homewood, received enough scholarships and grants to make her education at Pitt possible. She was involved in some of Pitt’s advocacy efforts to maintain its in-state tuition discount last year. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Even with financial aid, Pitt families pay more than those nationwide who send their children to their university next door.

by Emma Folts and Betul Tuncer, PublicSource

For Aaron Conrad, being able to attend the University of Pittsburgh as an in-state student meant having to work full time on top of his full-time studies. Some months, it even meant going to food banks. 

Conrad, who lives in Bridgeville, graduated from Pitt this spring. Before he enrolled, he had done “as much money-crunching” as possible to reduce his cost of attendance. He participated in an early college  program while in high school, allowing him to earn an associate’s degree upon graduation in 2019. 

Still, Conrad, who enrolled at Pitt in fall 2021, feels that the debt he has accumulated from his Pitt education is “daunting.” Over two years, he took out about $14,500 in federal loans.

“Multiple times throughout my college experience, I’ve had thoughts where I’d have to drop out because I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he said.

Public universities provide lower tuition for in-state residents, but that discount doesn’t go as far at Pitt. The university’s average price of attendance for local families is one of the highest in the country, partly because of downward-trending state investment in public higher education.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, PublicSource and The Pitt News compared the cost of attendance at Pitt to the 34 other leading public research universities in the nation. Pitt’s estimated in-state tuition and fees were the most expensive, totaling $21,080 in the 2022-2023 academic year. That excludes the additional costs of textbooks, supplies, housing and food, which brought the total price to, at most, $37,028. 

Kimberly Casella, of Bridgeville, took out a private loan to afford a semester at Pitt. (Photo by Alexis Wary/PublicSource)

While roughly half of Pitt families receive financial aid to reduce that sticker price, they’re still shelling out more than most. The university’s average net price of attendance – which factors in aid – was the second-most expensive of that group of leading public research universities as of the 2020-21 academic year, the most recent year for which data was available. The Pennsylvania State University was the most expensive.

These numbers can add up over four years. Families at Pitt pay, on average, about $23,000 a year. Those at other top public research universities pay less — at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for instance, families pay around $17,360 a year, on average. 

Public universities are regional economic drivers and gateways of opportunity, but rising tuition costs threaten that public good. They can prevent low-income students from enrolling or saddle them with debt. They can burden middle-class students, who must cover particularly high costs in Pennsylvania while typically receiving less need-based aid. They can leave the region searching for qualified, college-educated workers if residents choose not to pursue a degree due to the cost.

Nearly every public university is cheaper than Pitt for middle-class families looking to send their children to a college close to home. 

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