The University of Pennsylvania campus

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The University of Pennsylvania, ranked as the 10th most expensive private university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, is getting more costly. The school’s board of trustees announced a 2.9% price increase this month. When you add up tuition, room, board, and fees, a student’s annual tithe to Philly’s Ivy League institution can come close to $81,000.

That’s pretty pricey. But some other colleges in the Philadelphia region come close.

Yearly student costs at Villanova round out near $71k. Attending Drexel undergrad runs $73k for three quarters, while St. Joe’s costs $63k. An academic year at Temple can be as low as $29k if you’re a Pennsylvania resident, but can top $51k for out-of-state students.

Several of these schools have billion-dollar endowments. And most do not pay property taxes.

Over the years, there has been a push for the universities located within city limits — which are tax-exempt as nonprofits despite their high price tags and nest eggs — to start to put money in public coffers.

The idea is known as a PILOT program, which stands for payments in lieu of taxes, and it’s been active in Philly before. In the 1990s, Philadelphia government had more power over whether an organization could operate as a nonprofit, and that leverage prompted participation in the PILOT program. For a time, Penn was paying into the fund, which collected roughly $9 million annually. When state law gave nonprofits more room to operate, PILOT payments plummeted.

In recent years, students, faculty, and staff at the city’s rich universities have joined with neighbors and residents to push for reigniting the program. Groups like Penn for PILOTs, Penn Pay PILOTs, and Drexel for PILOTs have organized protests and written opinion pieces urging the academic institutions to give back to their city by voluntarily restarting payments.

Where would the money go? The chronically underfunded School District of Philadelphia, which relies heavily on property taxes, is often cited as a suitable destination.

“Nonprofit tax exemptions acutely affect Philly’s ability to provide public services. The public school district is particularly impacted,” explains the “Disorientation Guide,” a popular document kept updated by anonymous members of the Penn community. “The consequences that schools face due to lack of funding are glaring.”

On that note, Penn announced a $100 million gift to the school district two years ago, set to be given over the course of a decade. The gift was the biggest private donation in the district’s history, designated specifically to reduce asbestos and lead in Philly schools, which was deemed a $125 million job in 2020.

The donation was massive, but some advocates say smaller, regular payments are much more helpful. “If every child in Philadelphia is to receive a quality public education,” Penn for PILOTs wrote on their website, “the school district needs a reliable, significant stream of revenues every year, not time-limited gifts targeted to acute crises.”

When Penn’s board of trustees approved the recent rate hike, it did also increase funding for financial aid, boosting it from $259 million to $288 million. Per the university, close to half of all undergrads use some kind of financial aid.

What do these stats look like at other four-year liberal arts colleges in Philly? Read on for a comparison of approximate undergraduate tuition, endowments, and financial aid for students at prominent universities in the region, from most to least expensive.

Note: The below list was compiled from the latest available information for each school, and should be considered an estimate that is subject to change.

University of Pennsylvania (~$81k)

3535 Market St., Philadelphia

Endowment: $20.5 billion
Tuition (2022-23): $63,400
Room + board:  $17,300+
On financial aid: 44%

Villanova University (~$78k)

800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova

Endowment: $1.12 billion
Tuition (2022-23): $61,600
Room + board:  $16,000+
On financial aid: 80%

Bryn Mawr (~$76k)

101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr

Endowment: $1.2 billion
Tuition (2022-23): $58,000
Room + board: $18,000+
On financial aid: 77%

Drexel University (~$73k)

3141 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
*costs below are for three quarters, the system used instead of semesters

Endowment: over $1 billion
Tuition (2021-22): $57,600
Room + board: $15,500+
On financial aid: 72%

Saint Joseph’s University (~$63k)

5600 City Ave., Philadelphia

Endowment: $305 million
Tuition (2021-22): $48,000
Room + board: $14,500+
On financial aid: 61%

Arcadia University (~$60k)

450 S. Easton Rd., Glenside

Endowment: $81.5 million
Tuition (2022-23): $46,430
Room + board: $13,700+
On financial aid: 99%

La Salle University (~$41k)

1900 W. Olney Ave., Philadelphia

Endowment: $80 million (in 2020)
Tuition (2022-23): $32,640
Room + board: $7,990
On financial aid: 96%

Holy Family University (~$39k)

9801 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia

Endowment: $21.2 million (in 2019)
Tuition (2022-23): $32,500
Room + board: $6,700+
On financial aid: “Close to 100%,” per the university

Temple University ($29k to $35k in state; $38k to $51k out of state)

1801 N. Broad St., Philadelphia

Endowment: $873 million
Tuition (2021-22): $16,500 to $23,200 for Pa. residents; $29,700 to $38,500 out-of-state students
Room + board (2021-22): $12,000
On financial aid: 82%

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...