Families often overestimate the cost of college tuition for four-year public institutions, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report recently released.

The NCES based its findings on a 1999 National Household Education survey of 7,900 parents and students. It found that parents’ estimates of tuition ranged from $5,400 to $5,800. In reality, the 1998-99 costs for one year of in-state tuition for undergraduates at public universities were approximately $3,200.

The NCES used the 1999 survey findings to carry over into current times, concluding that these estimations may discourage some students from attending college. It also concluded that families are in need of better education and more realistic information about college costs.

Chris Chapman, author of the study, said 54 percent of parents with children in grades six through 12 either obtained cost information or felt they could estimate tuition costs. For the number for students in grades 11 and 12, 71 percent of parents felt they could accurately estimate tuition costs.

Chapman, however, said these estimations are not completely accurate.

“One part of the report that was not picked up well that should be mentioned is the broader inability to accurately estimate tuition costs,” Chapman said.

In addition, 29 percent of parents of college-bound juniors and seniors did not even provide a cost estimate, and another 40 percent of parents either overestimated or underestimated tuition costs, Chapman said.

Steve Van Ess, director of student financial services for the University of Wisconsin, said he agrees with the study’s findings, adding that highly ranked schools may contribute to inaccurate estimations.

“I think it’s true nationally and locally as well. The media tends to focus on elite Ivy League schools that cost a lot more. It sort of gives the impression that college is more expensive than it really is,” Van Ess said.

Van Ess said when people estimate college costs, some include just tuition, while others include room and board, books, travel or other personal expenses. This can lead to wide discrepancies in cost estimates, he said.

“We have not been effective because so many people don’t know the costs of tuition at younger ages,” Van Ess said. “[Those of us] here at the financial aid office think of this as important for people to know — if college is affordable, how do I prepare academically, etc.”

For many families, financial aid can assist in funding college choices and help to contribute to proper education on actual college costs. UW gave $218 million in loans, grants, and scholarships in 2001-2002, Van Ess said.

“Virtually everyone qualifies for financial aid, and it’s free to apply. Our office is a resource for current students and future college-bound students,” he said.

UW sends admissions counselors across the nation and hosts a variety of programs to inform college-bound students and their families of the costs of tuition.