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Three Claremont Colleges make CNN’s ‘Most Expensive’ list

Harvey Mudd College has nabbed the top spot on CNN’s “10 Most Expensive Colleges This Year” list. It’s the second year in a row the Claremont College has topped the charts.

The list—published last Friday, November 11—also includes Claremont McKenna and Scripps College, which came in at number five and six on the list, respectively. Its rating is tabulated according to each college’s published sticker price, comprised of tuition, fees, room and board. For HMC, it all adds up to a yearly $69,717, according to CNN. 

Harvey Mudd College website actually ups that number when it itemizes the cost of attendance (COA), adding in expenses like $800 in books and supplies and $1400 in personal expenses. The total is $71,917.

The number is certainly cause for sticker shock, but as in any school, it’s important to take what’s known as return on investment (ROI) into account. Not only does Harvey Mudd offer a top-notch education. Attending HMC all but guarantees that graduates will be gainfully employed. Very gainfully.

Like the other five undergraduate institutions flourishing in Claremont, Harvey Mudd is a private, liberal arts college. It’s set apart from neighboring institutions by its STEM-oriented curriculum.

Fledgling Mudders find themselves in a highly competitive learning environment. Only 23 percent of applicants make it into the school. The average SAT score for a HMC student is 1520 out of 1600. Faculty members tend to be distinguished in their fields and the odds, a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, are ever in the favor of college attendees.

Courses in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math are particularly rigorous. Newly-graduated students, however, land some of the highest paying gigs around, taking jobs with exciting startups as well as with established tech players like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Intel.

That Harvey Mudd College students have bright futures is borne out by the numbers. The median starting salary for gradates of the class of 2016 was $105,555.

Largely due to the efforts of President Maria Klawe—an accomplished mathematician and computer scientist as well as a painter—and the school’s many inspiring female professors, HMC is becoming known as one of the best colleges for young women looking to make their mark in STEM fields.

The number of Harvey Mudd students that are women was 46.6 percent in 2015. That same year more women graduated with computer science degrees than men, a first for the school, according to the digital global business news publication Quartz.

There’s another factor mitigating Harvey Mudd’s status as the nations priciest college. HMC may cost a lot, but that doesn’t mean students are graduating with the most debt in the country. There is a lot of financial aid available.

Seventy-five percent of HMC freshmen are there with the help of scholarships and grants from the school, as well as from the state and federal government. Admission to the college is need-blind for US applicants, which means school officials don’t deny students who have no means to pay for their education. 

The average financial aid award for students is about $36,775, some $28,657 of which comes from Harvey Mudd itself, as opposed to government sources. Some students get much more.

The average debt of 2015 graduates was $27,483, according to collegedata.com. It’s not bad, and exemplifies a paradox in higher education. Attending a “cheaper” school like a CSU or Cal State University is not necessarily cheaper than going to a more costly and prestigious institution like HMC.

For one, higher-paid graduates yield bigger alumni donations. A college with a large endowment—HMC’s was 289 million in 2015—can afford more financial aid.

For this reason, a student may find their education at Cal Poly Pomona, for instance, costing virtually the same as four years at Harvey Mudd College.

The yearly cost for an undergraduate to attend Cal Poly while living on campus is an estimated $24,056. The average indebtedness of Cal Poly grads is $22,224. This amount is only a little more than $5,000 greater than the average indebtedness of an HMC grad.

What’s more, the students must pay off their CSU loans with a considerably smaller salary. According to the Cal Poly website, the school’s alumni earn an average of $52,000, but that figure comes 10 years after graduating.

And so it is that, even with a growing reputation as being some of the priciest in the nation, the Claremont Colleges are emphasizing their ROI as well as the strength of their academic programs.

Claremont McKenna came in at number seven on the CNN’s “Most Expensive” list, with a sticker price of $66,685. About half of its students receive financial aid.

Scripps College comes close on the heels of CMC, taking eighth place on the list with a total annual cost of $66,665. Fifty-seven percent of freshmen at the women-only college get financial aid.

—Sarah Torribio