While many liberal arts colleges are small, private, elite institutions with a reputation for high tuition and other fees, liberal arts institutions are not actually as expensive for students as they might appear. First, different colleges have different fee structures. Some of the less well-known private, religious, and public colleges in this category have substantially lower tuition fees than some of the better-known ones, while still offering the same high-quality student-centered experience. Even more important, though, is the fact that scholarships and other forms of student aid are widely available, and so even when colleges have high tuition fees, many students actually pay considerably less for their education than the full tuition. Many institutions have a strong philosophical commitment to ensuring that no student is deprived of the education she wants and deserves simply due to financial factors.

Ranking: 30 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the West, Ranked by Return on Investment (ROI)

Types of Colleges

Although some of the best-known liberal arts institutions are private, there are also many public colleges which follow this model, focusing on small classes, individualized instruction, faculty mentoring of students, and education which focuses on developing well-rounded citizens rather than technical experts ignorant of everything outside their field. These institutions typically have fees in line with other public institutions. The leading United States military academies, for example, consider themselves liberal arts institutions and are committed to making education free for those dedicated to serving their country. Many smaller religious colleges also have the goal of affordability built into their missions. In fact, several excellent liberal arts institutions of various types are completely tuition-free according to CNBC.

Liberal Arts Philosophy of Pricing

Just as important as the variation in tuition prices is the fact that not all students pay full tuition costs or fees. Most of the top colleges in the United States are either public or non-profit, meaning that they have a commitment to providing education rather than just to making money. According to U.S. News & and World Report, many elite liberal arts institutions offer need-based financial aid to almost half their student body. Some of the most exclusive colleges with the highest tuition rates have endowments valued over a billion dollars, and rather than relying on tuition for their income, instead use revenue from their endowments to subsidize students who could not otherwise afford to attend. In fact, some have a strong commitment written into their mission statements to fully fund all students they admit who demonstrate need.

Conclusion: Liberal Arts Institutions Are Affordable

Although liberal arts colleges might look expensive if one only considers the full tuition fees of the most expensive institutions, the reality is that many are quite affordable. Students can choose to attend less expense or even free liberal arts institutions. The federal government provides Pell grants and other programs to help students make higher education affordable. Many scholarships are available from private foundations, often targeting first-generation students or underrepresented groups. Colleges themselves offer many forms of need-based aid and work study programs. According to the U.S. News & and World Report, liberal arts colleges, because of their student-centered approach, stand out for their high graduation rates, and thus are a good investment of tuition costs, providing excellent value for tuition money.