Saint Peter’s University turned into Cinderella by dancing into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It cemented its spot as belle of the ball Friday by upsetting No. 3 seed Purdue and making a historic run to the Elite Eight.
The tiny Jersey City, N.J., school is using the spotlight to brag about itself.
An advertisement that aired during its games, including Friday’s win that makes it the first No. 15 seed to go this deep into the tournament, highlighted one word not often associated with higher education: affordable. A quick check by The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. Education Department’s College Navigator website found that the Peacocks’ pride is justified.
Compared with other private colleges that made the 2022 tournament, Saint Peter’s is a relative bargain. Its average net price for one year of school—the cost to families after scholarships and grants are factored in—totaled $16,487. Several of its Catholic brethren, including Seton Hall, Gonzaga, Villanova and Marquette, charged families more than double that, on average, according to government data.
The figures the Journal accessed from the College Navigator reflect full-time, beginning undergraduates from the 2019-2020 school year who received scholarships or grants.
Even more heavenly for Saint Peter’s fans: the school was more affordable than it was for an average in-state student at the University of Kentucky, the No. 2 seed that the Peacocks upset in the first round. The average net price at Kentucky was $19,831 for state residents. Though it could take on any private university in the tournament when it comes to cost, Saint Peter’s actually would have lost to its second-round opponent, a public university, on that measure. Murray State, a Kentucky school out of the Ohio Valley Conference, was even more of a bargain, with an average in-state net price of $11,628 annually.
The Journal looked at all the teams in the men’s and women’s tournaments to determine which would be the national champions of affordability, based not on their published tuition rates, but rather the more meaningful net price. The teams were given the same seedings that they were assigned in the actual tournament brackets. The Journal’s 64-team bracket includes schools that would have won their play-in games if those matchups were based on price.
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In our version of the men’s bracket, Cal State Fullerton ultimately beats Duke, Michigan State, Texas Tech, New Mexico State, North Carolina and finally San Diego State to cut down the nets. Cal State Fullerton’s average net price was a mere $8,322 annually.
“We congratulate our Titans for taking us to the Big Dance, and we’ll celebrate winning the affordability challenge,” a Cal State Fullerton spokesman said.
Public universities dominate the recalibrated men’s bracket, making up the entire Sweet 16. Those schools, however, aren’t required to report average net prices for out-of-state students, only for local residents. (Their published rates can be two to three times as high as the respective figures for in-state students. Therefore, even with scholarships the tab for students from farther afield can still be hefty.)
Curious how any other team stacks up, even if it didn’t make the tournament? For step-by-step instructions on finding a school’s average net price, and how to dig into the net prices for students from particular income bands, check out “The WSJ Guide to Student Loans: Navigating the Myths and Misunderstandings About College Debt,” here.
On the women’s side, four private schools had lower net prices than at least one public school.
While the public University of Massachusetts, Amherst, cost an average $22,505, Brigham Young, Princeton, Stanford and Mercer universities—all private—ranked as less expensive. That is perhaps surprising since many private schools have higher sticker prices than do their public counterparts. It is a good reminder that how expensive a college is for any particular family often has little to do with the school’s published prices.
BYU would make it into the women’s Final Four in our model, but the University of South Florida would ultimately beat both the Cougars and the University of Florida Gators to take the crown. South Florida’s average net price was $10,004. (Four of the five teams with the lowest average net price are in Florida.)
A South Florida spokeswoman said that the school hadn’t raised tuition and fees in nearly a decade, and that the university was “proud to be recognized for delivering a high-quality education at a great value.”
Write to Melissa Korn at Melissa.Korn@wsj.com
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