What college now costs more than $60K a year?

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(MoneyWatch) The cost of college continues to outstrip inflation, led by elite colleges and universities that seemingly can charge any price they want without any push-back from consumers.

During the 2012-13 school year, 149 schools in the U.S. charged at least $50,000 per year for tuition, fees and room/board. That represents an additional 26 schools from the previous year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Almanac of Higher Education 2013" that was released this week.

The "honors" for highest-priced school goes to Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school in Bronxville, N.Y.,  that has previously been ranked as the priciest college. Sarah Lawrence is the first school to break the $60,000 mark, charging a staggering $61,236 annually for tuition, fees and room/board during the last school year.

Because colleges are full of copy-cats, stratospheric costs for higher education hurt all students. When schools like Sarah Lawrence, New York University, Columbia University and Dartmouth College, which rank among the country's most expensive schools, raise their prices it causes reverberations among thousands of other schools.

Schools lower on the academic pecking order judge themselves by what the country's most prestigious and expensive schools are doing. If elite institutions pour hundreds of millions of dollars into building facilities, shrink class sizes and even offer students maid service, the wannabes won't want to be left behind. These schools know they can't match their pricier peers, but they are terrified of losing ground. So they raise their prices, too.

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