easing the pain for PARENTS
By Frank B. Merrick Assistant Managing Editor

(MONEY Magazine) – If you haven't already, sit down before you read this column. When chief of reporters Holly Wheelwright enrolled at Sarah Lawrence 31 years ago, tuition, room and board cost her parents $2,800 a year -- a whopping sum in those days. Today, one year at Sarah Lawrence sets parents back $24,380. After adjusting for inflation, Sarah Lawrence, like the average private college, now costs two and a half times as much as it did in 1962. (Public college prices have doubled in that period.) Worse yet, there are more hikes ahead. Tuitions are expected to rise 7% to 12% this academic year and by that much again in each of the following five years or more. Those escalating prices are the reason why parents of college-bound children need this MONEY Guide: Best College Buys. The articles that follow explain how to save and invest for college (page 30), get the best deals on financial aid (page 42) and slash the cost of a B.A. as much as 40% by starting out at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college (page 52). To make sure your money isn't wasted, we devote about a third of the Guide to MONEY's exclusive value rankings of 100 public and private schools nationwide (see page 64) as well as in each region (pages 68-69). ''The rankings are essentially a report card on how colleges handle their resources,'' says senior editor Eric Gelman, who supervised the Guide staff. ''Do they spend more money on golf courses than on honors courses? Are there more seats in the football stadium than books in the library? The schools that focus their resources on education do best in the rankings.'' Our 100 top values are an eclectic mix, ranging from Hanover (1,071 students) to the University of Washington (25,092 undergraduates), from rural Grinnell to urban Columbia University, from science and engineering powerhouse Caltech to liberal arts bastion William and Mary. ''The list is not just another rehash of well-known elite schools,'' says Jersey Gilbert, MONEY's editor of statistics. ''We don't bog down in pointless arguments about whether MIT is better than Caltech. Both are exemplary. But it's important for parents to know that Caltech is delivering its quality education for almost $3,000 a year less than its rival MIT.'' And that neatly sums up the purpose of this guide: to help you secure the best possible education for your child at the most reasonable price.