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College Price Tags Run the Gamut

With families stressing out over the cost of college and money increasingly affecting high school students' choice of college, it's good to remember that tuition varies—widely.

There is too much emphasis on "average" tuition, and many schools are more affordable than students might think, writes Andrew Gillen, in an analysis for Education Sector. As research director at the Washington-based think tank, Gillen examined the range of tuition costs at four-year public, private nonprofit, and for-profit schools in a blog post Tuesday.

Here's a quick wake-up call for parents and students stunned by the headlines about college costs:

• Although the median tuition at four-year colleges is around $15,000, half of colleges charge less than $15,000, and about half charge more.

• Twenty-five percent of four-year colleges charge less than $8,500, and a quarter charge more than $23,500.

• At private, nonprofit colleges, the difference in tuition among those in the middle 50-percent cost range is almost $17,000 (compared with around $3,300 at public colleges and $5,500 at for-profit colleges).

Other higher education groups, such as the American Council on Education have encouraged some perspective on the assumed high cost of college, emphasizing how financial aid makes school more affordable to many and community colleges offer low-cost alternatives.

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