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Columbia University tops the newest list of the most expensive colleges in America, released annually by the federal government along with a roster of schools that have increased their prices by the largest proportions.

Columbia, with a tuition of $45,290, is followed by its New York neighbors Sarah Lawrence ($45,212) and Vassar ($44,705) among private, nonprofit four-year universities that cost the most, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The national average for such schools is $22,786.

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President Barack Obama proposed last year that withholding some federal financial-aid money from universities that increased their charges the fastest would give them an incentive to slow the rate of growth.

“Let me put colleges and universities on notice,” the president said in his 2012 state-of-the-union address. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”

There’s been little follow-through on the proposal, however, and additional scrutiny of the government’s previous reports of tuition and price increases suggested that there were many explanations for the higher numbers that were not simply the result of runaway pricing.

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Some small liberal arts colleges, for example, charged a fee including not only tuition, but also room and board. That made them appear to be the nation’s most expensive schools when compared to others for which only the tuition was listed.

Those small colleges quickly “unbundled” their so-called “comprehensive fees” and most of them have dropped off the list of the 20 priciest schools.

“The reason was to get this on an apples-to-apples basis instead of an apples-to-oranges comparison,” says Roland Adams, spokesman for Bates College in Maine, which, when the list was first published in 2011, was named the nation’s most expensive because its room and board was combined with its tuition.

Read the list of the most expensive schools here.

Read the list of the institutions with the biggest price increases here.

Read about the president’s proposals and problems with the federal list here.

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Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education correspondent for...

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