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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education on Monday released its rankings of the most and least expensive colleges in the country -- an annual ritual that some lawmakers are eyeing for elimination in the coming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

As has been the case in previous years, many well-known institutions appear on this year’s list, which ranks the top 5 percent of the most expensive colleges based on tuition and the average net price students pay after receiving financial aid.

Based only on tuition and fees, Landmark College was the most expensive nonprofit four-year institution in the country during the 2012-13 academic year. It was followed closely by Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College and Vassar College. The University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University and University of New Hampshire took the top spots on the four-year public side.

Colleges specializing in art or music were among the private four-year institutions with the highest net price (calculated based on information from the 2011-12 year). The Hult International Business School took the top spot, but it was followed by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Boston Conservatory, California Institute of the Arts and the New School.

Miami University, in Ohio, was the four-year public institution with the highest net price.

A spokeswoman for the university, Claire Wagner, pointed to state disinvestment as a big reason why the institution topped the list.

“It’s a telling sign that the states that are not able to spend as much as others are the ones on this list,” she said. “I worry that somebody might stop at just that statistic, but we’re trying to get the word out about outcomes, which is what we find that parents and families want to know: what are my odds of being employed or getting into graduate school.”

College leaders and others in higher education have criticized the lists as reductive and unhelpful for students and families.

When Congress mandated the Education Department to compile the cost rankings during the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, proponents of the lists said the goal was to embarrass colleges to hold down their tuition. It's unclear the extent to which the lists have affected colleges' decision-making, as many of the same institutions have appeared on the lists each year. But as that law again comes up for renewal, some lawmakers are seeking to end the practice.

House Republicans last week proposed legislation that would eliminate the lists as part of their package of three bills to rewrite the Higher Education Act. Their bill would revamp the consumer information that the Education Department must post on its website.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the lists as a useful tool in a statement on Monday.

“These lists support our efforts to make college more accessible and to help families make informed decisions on the single most important investment students can make in their own futures,” he said. 

Most Expensive Net Price: Four-Year, Private Nonprofits

Hult International Business School MA $46,746
School of the Art Institute of Chicago IL $44,838
The Boston Conservatory MA $43,894
California Institute of the Arts CA $42,616
Landmark College VT $41,437

Most Expensive Net Price: Four-Year Publics

Miami University - Oxford OH $24,674
Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus PA $22,560
Colorado School of Mines CO $21,980
University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Campus PA $21,641
University of New Hampshire - Main Campus NH $21,424

Most Expensive List Price: Four-Year, Private Nonprofits

Landmark College VT $49,793
Columbia University NY $47,246
Sarah Lawrence College NY $46,924
Vassar College NY $46,270
Wesleyan University CT $45,928

Most Expensive List Price: Four-Year Publics

University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Campus PA $16,590
Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus PA $16,444
University of New Hampshire - Main Campus NH $16,422
Colorado School of Mines CO $15,654
University of Vermont VT $15,284


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