The New Math of College Financing

Anne Marie Chaker:

For a lot of students and parents, college costs are about to get much more confusing.
In recent months, some of the wealthiest and most prestigious schools in the country have made their financial aid more generous. Many have replaced loans with grants — money that doesn’t have to be repaid. Some are waiving tuition entirely for families below a certain income threshold. Others are capping costs at a certain percentage of family income.
So far, only a relative handful of colleges are taking these steps — about 50 out of the nation’s more than 2,500 four-year colleges. But some experts think at least some of these programs will spread further as schools compete for top students.
It’s easy to be baffled about what this all means, for now and for the future. Do these offers come with hidden catches? Will you still need to borrow some money to cover tuition? Are there even better deals coming down the road?