As the cost of a college education rises every year, more young people, and their parents can hardly afford the expense of attending an institution of higher learning. Although college costs vary widely, with thousands of dollars in the difference between the most expensive to the least expensive schools, the trend over the past several years has been upward.

TUTORIAL: Education Savings Accounts

Currently, however, a plateau seems to have been reached among certain colleges. A stagnant economy and declining attendance has prompted some colleges and universities to cut tuition costs for the first time in many years. College bound students and their parents are urged to diligently and persistently search the internet and other sources for the best college and university deals. There's most likely a school with an affordable tuition, desirable location and an undergraduate program that satisfies a student's needs.

Most colleges, including those with relatively high tuition, offer financial aid, grants and scholarships to help finance a student's education. Keep in mind that most students get some form of financial aid – about $178 billion in 2010-2011 – according to the College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2011 and Trends in Student Aid 2011.(For related reading, see Keeping Up With Your Continuing Education.)

But not all colleges and universities are raising tuition. Among the institutions slashing costs this year are the following five:

Cabrini College
This private Catholic liberal arts college of about 1,300 students, located in Radnor, Pa., has cut tuition and fees by 12.5%. The new cost of attending the school is $29,000. The price will remain in effect through 2015. Merit scholarships will not be cut. The school, which is about a half hour drive from Philadelphia, is open to students of all religions.

Lincoln College
Located in Lincoln and Normal, Ill., this private college with two-year and four-year programs offering associate's and bachelor's degrees, has cut tuition by a substantial 24%. The new price of tuition and fees is $16,500. Financial aid, however, will also be cut, because of the tuition reduction. The new tuition price applies to both new and returning students. Some 1,200 students attend the college, divided between two campuses.

Seton HallUniversity
About a half-hour from New York City, SetonHallUniversity in South Orange, N.J., has cut tuition a substantial 61%. The new cost of tuition and fees at this private Catholic university, with some 5,300 students, is a relatively low $12,154. Student admissions, however, depend on high academic achievement. Students who maintain a 3.0 GPA, finish a minimum of 24 credits annually and are enrolled full-time can lock in the low price for their full four years of undergraduate study. (For related reading, see How Education And Training Affect The Economy.)

Sewanee: The University of the South
This private liberal arts college of some 1,500 students in Sewanee, Tenn., has cut tuition by 10%. The new cost of tuition and fees is $32,292, representing a reduction of $4,600. Vice-Chancellor John McCardell, like many university officials, acknowledges that higher education may be costing more than people can afford. "The reduction in tuition at Sewanee recognizes today's new economic realities and the pressures that families face. Our goal is to make an outstanding liberal arts education more accessible to qualified students," he said in a statement about the school's tuition reduction.

University of Charleston
A 22% cut in tuition for new students to $19,500 was announced by the University of Charleston, of Charleston, W.Va. The new price represents a $5,500 reduction in cost, an attempt by the liberal arts school to attract more students whose families may have not been able to afford the previous price. Financial aid is available, and although returning students are not eligible for the tuition cut, at least $6,000 in financial aid will be available to them to keep their costs in line with the new tuition and fees. The private university, with about 1,400 students, offers fast-track programs for early graduation. (To learn about how education can contribute to your bottom line, see Invest In Yourself With A College Education.)

Most Expensive, Least Expensive
For the purposes of comparison, here's a list of the top five most expensive and least expensive colleges or universities.

Most Expensive by Total Cost:

  1. Sarah LawrenceCollege, N.Y., $58,334
  2. University of Chicago, Ill., $57,590
  3. The New School, N.Y., $57,199
  4. Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., $56,930
  5. Columbia University, N.Y., $56,681

Least Expensive Public Institutions:

  1. University of Nevada – Reno, Nev., $2,682
  2. Florida StateUniversity, Tallahassee, Fla., $2,890
  3. San Diego StateUniversity, San Diego, Calif., $2,936
  4. University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $2,955
  5. Florida AtlanticUniversity, Boca Raton, Fla., $3,092

The Bottom Line
The five institutions mentioned above may be just a handful of schools among others that cut tuition and fees, or intend to in the future. As urged, shop around using the internet and other sources for the best deals. Although the trend in college and university costs has been inching up in recent years, a competitive market in higher education seems now to be emerging and smart consumers can benefit by this latest cost-cutting strategy. (For related reading, see Should You Head Back To Business School?)

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