By now you probably have read in the news  that, according to the Bay Area News Group in San Francisco, an average Harvard University education for a family earning $130,000 annually is less expensive than a California State University education.
As an individual who spends a great deal of time delving into the world of higher education finance, I feel compelled to clarify this very misleading report. The published report stated that due to Harvard’s vast $30-plus billion endowment and substantial tuition discounting practices, a student from a family earning an average of $130,000 per year would pay only $17,000 to attend Harvard, not the listed tuition cost of $36,300. This was compared to the overall cost of a Cal State education, which was listed in the report at $24,000 per year, and to a University of California education, listed at $33,000 annually.
Now for the facts. Despite the fact that we have had to rapidly increase Cal State tuition fees due to unprecedented state legislative budget reductions in previous years, Cal State and CSU-Long Beach remain among the most affordable universities in the nation.
At Long Beach, for example, students in 2011-12 paid $6,240 annually (Cal State average: $6,519) for Cal State system and campus-based tuition fees, plus an additional $10,658 for full campus-based room and board. This means that a full year at CSULB (with room and board) for a student from a family earning $130,000 annually actually costs $16,898 as opposed to the reported $24,000.
Furthermore, when comparing the cost of two different universities, it is common practice to compare tuition and fees of one campus to the tuition and fees of another campus and not to include the additional cost of room and board for only one of the institutions in the report. In fact, in making the basic assumption that a Harvard student also has to eat and sleep and therefore pay room and board, as does a CSU resident student, Harvard’s full price jumps to over $56,000 -- not the $36,300 listed in the report and published in newspapers throughout California.
Additionally, according to recent Delta Cost Study data, when assessing the average tuition and fees, excluding room and board, collected by both Harvard and CSU campuses for students from all family incomes, CSU institutions actually collect around $5,000 for educational purposes while Harvard collects over $20,000 per student -- despite having the world’s largest university endowment of $30 billion.
Finally, do not fall victim to misleading and inaccurate reports regarding actual college and university costs. For students and families making difficult college and university cost comparisons, it is important to find out what the average family pays to attend, the “net tuition” charged per family. It is also important to find out the average student debt load upon graduation and the percentage of students graduating in debt.
As a national leader in making this information available, CSULB and the entire CSU have developed websites as part of our College Portrait and “Public Good”  pages where this information can be viewed by all prospective students and families. The CSU and CSULB are proud to be among the nation’s best in having the lowest student loan indebtedness upon graduation, and we hope that all Californians will invest in our students to keep it that way.
Good information in the hands of all consumers will prevent them from falling victim to sensational headlines that have more power to mislead than to educate.
F. King Alexander is president of California State University at Long Beach.