The estimated first-year costs for a Columbia MBA have risen by over $40,000 in under ten years.
That’s just for the first year of your MBA, which for this year’s entering class, is expected to set them back a cool $111,000 . JUST FOR THE FIRST YEAR. That’s a 50% increase from 2007, where the first-year fully loaded cost was estimated at $73,464.
That’s absolutely nuts.
A fifty percent increase?!???
We used to scoff at questions from BSers about ROI and the MBA. The MBA has long been an excellent investment, in terms of the increase of earnings you’ll get from it. But seeing this change in the published 2018-2019 estimates really gave us pause.
What business can get away with annual increases like this without customers balking?
Well, apparently businesses which have seemingly limitless demand, like business schools have seen in recent years.
Contrast that to law schools where they’re practically begging for students to attend.
Now, before we get too far into this rant, we do have to mention that it’s in your favor for a school’s cost of attendance estimates to be higher at least from one perspective: These are the figures that are used for all financial aid calculations. If you’ll be applying for a student loan, the lender will use the school’s published estimates in order to determine the highest amount that they might fund you.
If the school underestimates the actual costs you’ll incur, not just for standard school stuff like the books and fees and all that nonsense they’ll be hitting you up for, but for the price of just living in that town, then you’ll be stuck and living a much more frugal life than perhaps you expected to be.
Pro Tip: All of this is why it’s so important to be looking at these numbers NOW and evaluating your finances NOW and understanding what it will feel like to live for nine months at a time with NO INCOME.
You need to be saving today for this expense, and you need to recall what it felt like to be a student.
Double caramel macchiato with an extra shot?
Not every day, you won’t.
But coming back to this issue of inflation:
The U.S. economy has been in a period of incredibly moderate inflation — so much so, that some economists are worried. It’s not a state of the environment that we’ve seen many times before and there are all sorts of theories about what’s happening, how long it may last, and what might happen as we start to move out of it.
Moderate inflation is quite nice as a consumer. Starbucks prices stay consistently the same. You’re not surprised by the increasing bill each time you go grocery shopping.
It’s not nice for the worker, as it also means that wages have been suppressed, which is a main concern of many of those economists.
But in an era of moderate inflation, we still have seen these universities jacking up their prices every year.
Every damn year.
There’s nobody telling them they can’t. So they do.
This holds true at public and private universities alike.
At least for public universities, there’s additional pressures on the school administration in trying to rein in spending.
Here’s a quick comparison of some figures from just two schools, Tuck and Columbia, over the past four years:
Whenever we log these values in our own tracking systems, we always capture the actual tuition figure, plus any fees that the school is reporting as mandatory for all, so that’s what those first columns are reporting. Often schools have other fees that end up being mandatory for many students, such as health insurance fees, but we don’t count those since they’re not technically mandatory for each and every person. However, don’t overlook it in your own budgeting: at most schools, if you don’t prove you already have sufficient medical insurance coverage, they force you to buy into their plan.
We don’t have complete records on all schools but just for comparison purposes, UCLA Anderson — a state school — for the Class of 2020 entering this fall has an estimated first-year tuition and loan fees of only $61,302 and a total first-year cost including living expenses of $98,699. Los Angeles is a pricey city so you can expect to pay nearly as much in rent as you might in Manhattan. The difference in full-year cost is from the lower tuition charges from the school. We don’t really advocate using tuition prices as a determining factor in choosing your schools, as we do believe there still is a good ROI on the MBA even from what some would call a “lower ranked” school like UCLA (we don’t see them as “lower ranked” but we know many shrug off our recommendations to try for a place like that as below them). We do recommend looking at these important considerations now, though, and we also really want to call the schools out for this ridiculous racket of forever increasing the charges.
Another problem when you’re digging in try and make sense of these estimates is that these schools aren’t reporting their data on an apples-to-apples basis. You’ll soon notice this when, for example, you see a fairly wide variation in estimates for books at different schools. We’ve seen this range from around $900/year to more like $1,500/year. Wouldn’t you think that books would cost nearly the same at any top-tier school? It’s even worse when you see the variance in actual categories being reported.
We look at those Tuck totals, and from what they’re saying, it’s only going to cost a first-year less than $4,000 more a year to go to school in Manhattan as it will in Hanover.
That just doesn’t make any sense.
You look closer and you’re like, “What is a $15k ‘miscellaneous and health’ charge?” Like, you know the U.S. healthcare system is a mess, but it’s not gonna cost you $15k a year!!
It’s confusing. And the way the numbers are broken out is just not standardized.
Either Columbia is unfortunately keeping numbers like room and board artificially low — which is likely — or Tuck is playing sneaky with how they’re allocating things out to those categories.
But the issue is that the way they’re breaking their figures down just doesn’t let us do a natural comparison.
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re looking at these estimates: The figures for living expenses (housing, or room and board; they’re listed in different ways by different schools) are almost always only for the school year. These are not full-year estimates. Most people are off somewhere else during the summer in their internship where they’re actually earning money, so that certainly helps, but you’ll need to pay rent in whatever city you’re interning in, and those costs are not estimated in these charts. When you’re planning out your own budgets, you’ll need to keep these things in mind.
And if you like 99.9%* of other BSers want to intern in Silicon Valley then remember it’s one of the most expensive housing markets in America right now. You’ll likely end up in a roommate situation both for convenience but also because of the price. Be prepared for some sticker shock. Even those coming from Manhattan may be dismayed.
And in the Valley you’ll need a car… or maybe not “need” but it sure is convenient. If you target SF then no.
All these things will need to be considered. And of course you need to look seriously at what your earning potential will be in your planned future profession. For many people it’s still a no-brainer, and the MBA is well worth it (and the EXPERIENCES you’ll gain in bschool cannot be discounted even if you cannot put a price on them) — but we can no longer issue a blanket recommendation that the MBA will pay off financially for everyone.
*OK maybe it’s only 97.3% who want to work in tech.