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Misunderstood Tuition: Amherst College and Financial Aid as a Case Study

If all you knew about the cost of attending Amherst College were its published numbers, you’d think that it had become vastly more expensive in recent years. No doubt, most Americans assume an elite college like Amherst has become a lot more expensive.

For the coming school year, Amherst says it is charging students almost $58,000 in tuition, fees, room and board. By comparison, it charged $43,300 in 2000-01, in inflation-adjusted dollars. So even after Amherst’s prices have been adjusted for economywide inflation, the cost has jumped 34 percent in only 14 years.

But appearances can be deceiving. Amherst has been among the most aggressive selective colleges in the country at recruiting an economically diverse student body, and it has substantially increased its financial-aid budget as part of the effort.