National trends in college costs, aid

Costs are up, but how long will aid be?

Today saw the release of two College Board reports: Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid.

Various media outlets, such as National Public Radio, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, have stressed different angles and statistics.

But the overall picture they paint is this:

Tuition continues to climb just as state funding continues to drop — forcing much of the financial-aid burden onto the back of the federal government. Under President Obama’s tenure the feds have picked up a lot of slack, causing the total cost to students to actually be a little bit lower than it was five years ago. But with federal stimulus funding set to expire, it looks like costs may once again outpace aid.

I’ve collected findings from them and the reports, and I offer some of the highlights in a little more detail:

  • Public four-year price increases since last year: Average in-state tuition and fees have risen 7.9 percent over the past year to $7,605, or $16,140 with room and board included
  • Private nonprofit four-year increases: Tuition and fees have increased 4.5 percent to $27,293, or $36,993 with room and board.
  • 5-year increases: For public four-year institutions it was about 24 percent; for private nonprofits it was 17 percent; for public two-year colleges it was 11 percent.
  • Two-year public colleges: Tuition and fees rose 6 percent to an average of about $2,700. The average full-time student there received $3,400 in aid, but that may cover costs for room and board for those not living at home. USA Today reports that lower-income students receive enough aid to attend essentially for free.
  • For-profit institutions: Tuition and fees rose 5.1 percent, to an average of $13,935.
  • Lower net costs: But after you add in student aid and factor in inflation, the average yearly net price of four-year college tuition and fees is actually lower now than five years ago. At public four-year institutions the tuition decrease was from  $2,080 to $1,540. If you add in room and board, the total price has decreased a few hundred dollars to about $10,000. At private four-year institutions the tuition decrease was from $12,750 to $11,320. Adding in room and board, the total price has dropped a little to about $20,000. Report co-author Sandy Baum told the Washington Post: “The tuition and fees that people are being asked to pay hasn’t gone up any faster than inflation. It certainly puts those rising prices into perspective.”
  • Higher aid: Much of that student aid was due to a massive influx of federal aid, some of it in the form tax credits, or through Pell Grants for lower-income students. Pell Grant funding, which amounts to about $3,600 per student, increased 50 percent in the past year. Also, colleges also boosted aid by about 10 percent.
  • Uncertain future. Adjusted for inflation, state spending on higher education for each student dropped almost 5 percent last year, and almost 10 percent the year prior. And federal stimulus money, which helped boost aid to students, is set to expire.