By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Higher education in the United States is not cheap but Sarah Lawrence College in New York, with total costs of $58,334 a year, is the most expensive college in the country, according to a new ranking.
For the second consecutive year the small liberal arts college in Westchester County north of New York City, with 1,300 undergraduate students, topped the Forbes.com list of priciest colleges.
It is followed by the University of Chicago with a yearly price tag of $57,590 and the New School in New York, which costs $57,199 a year.
Forbes.com estimates that the all-in price at Sarah Lawrence would cost nearly $240,000 for a four-year course of studies if current inflation continues.
"Just about all of the top 10 schools are in very expensive urban areas. I think you just have to pay your employees more to live and work in a place like Bronxville, New York," said Daniel Fisher, a senior editor at Forbes, referring to the city where Sarah Lawrence is located.
"It also has a very low student to teacher ratio. That combined with an almost non-existent endowment means they basically have to finance the operation through tuition."
Washington University in St Louis, where total costs are $56,930 and Columbia University in New York, at $56,681, rounded out the top five costliest colleges and universities.
The total costs include extra expenses such as travel, books and supplies and computers.
But Forbes noted that many U.S. colleges and universities discount their costs depending on the parents' ability to pay, and that more than half the students at the priciest institutions pay significantly less than the full price tag.
"They (the colleges) are figuring out which students they want in the schools and what their parents can actually pay," Fisher explained.
Unlike many other schools which have very large endowments such as Harvard, Sarah Lawrence has very few full scholarship students.
Fisher said only one college, the University of Chicago, captured a top 10 spot on Forbes.com's most expensive college list and its ranking of America's best colleges.
Forbes.com compiled its newest list with information from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, a non-profit group that researches the costs of education using data from the government's National Center for Educational Statistics.
The Commonfund, a Connecticut based non-profit group that studies educational inflation, says the higher education expenses in the U.S. rose 2.3 percent this year. Salaries for faculty are estimated to increase 1.4 percent this year, except in some parts of the south and southwest of the country.
The Forbes.com complete list of the most expensive colleges can be found at http://tinyurl.com/3gnp7sh