Late last month, the College Board released its annual data on the cost of college. Although it is private schools that often get a bad rep for their hefty price tags, the average price increase at public four-year colleges and universities was higher than the average price increase at private not-for-profit colleges and universities for the fifth year in a row.
Roughly 80 percent of American college students attend a public school, which means that most students have firsthand experience with college price hikes.
The average tuition and fees at public colleges for 2011-12 was up more than 8 percent from the year before, reports USA Today. Four-year universities charged in-state residents an average of $8,244—an increase of 8.3 percent—and two-year colleges charged an average of $2,963—an increase of 8.7 percent.
An 8 percent increase may not seem exorbitant to those not directly affected, but educators urge the public to keep in mind it’s more than double the rate of inflation between July 2010 and July 2011. Family earnings have also dropped at all income levels across the board, and state funding for higher education has declined nearly one-quarter over the past decade. Even so, the worst rate increase of the decade was in 2004 when college prices were up 11 percent from the year before.
College Board officials point out that the not-so-small national average college tuition increase at American colleges is partially due to California’s double-digit price rate hikes. According to The Los Angeles Times, California’s public universities’ drastic 21 percent average tuition increase was the highest of any state. California enrolls ten percent of the country’s public four-year college students.
As reported by ABC News, the College Board states that “Nationally, the increase for the public four-year sector was 8.3 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12 including California but only 7.0 percent excluding it. Similarly, the national increase for public two-year institutions was 8.7 percent including California and 7.4 percent excluding it.”
For comparison, in-state tuition and fees at public institutions in Arizona and Washington increased 16 and 17 percent, respectively, while Connecticut and South Carolina’s average increase was roughly 2.5 percent.
On a brighter note, the College Board’s study found that increases in federal financial aid, including grants and tax credits, is helping many students weather the storm. “As the states have stepped back, the federal government to some extent compensated for the higher prices,” Sandy Baum, a policy analyst for the group, was quoted by The L.A. Times.
And even with “drastic” price increases, Baum and other experts have pointed out that most students pay far less than a college’s published sticker price. (Learn how to estimate what you’d really pay at a particular college or university here.) That could be why Judith Scott-Clayton of The New York Times’ Economix blog writes that College Is Cheaper Than You Think.
Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, reports that the average full-time public college student pays less than half of the published price while full-time students at private colleges and universities pay less than one-third. Research even shows that many students are paying less for college now than they would have paid five years ago.
The College Board’s latest report found that from 2007-08 to 2010-11, both grant aid and federal loans per student increased by approximately 30 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.
“In an era of persistently high unemployment, family incomes that fail to keep up with inflation, and savings that have been eroded by declining stock market values, colleges are relying on tuition for an increasing share of their revenues. At a time when students and families are ill-equipped to manage additional expenses, student financial aid is more important than ever,” the College Board’s Sandy Baum stressed.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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