An inside look at the opaque and frustrating pricing system at private colleges

In May, high school seniors are up against deadlines to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. But some students appear to be getting a better deal than others.

The tuition published by colleges in brochures, known as the “sticker price,” should really be thought of as the maximum price a student will pay to attend that school. In reality, colleges, particularly private schools, vary the cost they ask individual students to pay — known as the “net price” — by income, ability, minority status and other characteristics. A new paper, distributed Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing knowledge about the economy, indicates how much a premium some students pay.

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