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Tuition Is Up, But So Is Aid, Studies Report

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Despite the rising cost of tuition, college can still be affordable with proper financial planning and outside aid, experts said in reacting to three studies of college costs released last week.

Two studies released by the New York City-based College Board show that tuition is rising steadily and that students are increasingly dependent on loans to pay for college.

A third report, released by the U.S. General Accounting Office, found that in-state tuition for public colleges has become an increasingly larger percentage of median household income.

But College Board officials urged parents and students not to be discouraged by such increases.

"In the light of the record amount of financial aid currently available, the fact remains that college is still accessible for most Americans at a range of institutions," Donald M. Stewart, the president of the board, said at a news conference last week.

"Focusing too much on the highest-priced colleges and universities overstates the problems and unduly alarms the public," Mr. Stewart said.

Rising Tuition

"The College Board Annual Survey of Colleges 1996" shows that undergraduates can expect to pay an average of 5 percent more this year than last in tuition and fees at four-year institutions.

That rate of increase, which exceeds the rate of inflation as measured by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, has held steady for four years.

The other College Board study, "Trends in Student Aid: 1986 to 1996," says $50.3 billion in total aid from federal, state, and institutional sources was available to students in 1995-96, an increase of $3.3 billion over 1994-95.

The study notes that most of that increase was in the form of loans rather than grants and that most of the increased borrowing was unsubsidized.

Grants now represent 42 percent and loans 57 percent of total federal, state, and institutional aid, compared with 10 years ago, when grants and loans represented 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively, of total aid, according to the College Board.

John Joyce, an associate director of the College Scholarship Service, the financial-aid arm of the board, cautioned that too many families and students focus only on the "sticker shock" of college tuition.

The most difficult way to finance a college education is to pay for it out of current income, as opposed to spreading the cost out over time, Mr. Joyce said.

"Saving for [college] education should begin sometime between the maternity ward and the middle school," he added.

Tuition and Income

The new GAO report follows the congressional investigative agency's August report that said public college tuition was rising faster than household income and those colleges' costs.

In response to the August report, U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., had requested more information on average tuition at state colleges and universities as a percentage of median household income, and comparative increases in tuition at those schools since 1980.

The new report shows that the average tuition for in-state undergraduate students at public four-year colleges and universities was about 8.9 percent of median household income in the 1995-96 school year.

Statewide averages ranged from 3.6 percent for Hawaii to 15.4 percent for Vermont.

In addition, the GAO found, from 1980-81 through 1994-95, tuition charges for in-state students at public colleges and universities increased nationally by 234 percent.

But one financial-aid expert, Tally Hart, the director of financial aid at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, warned that by looking simply at tuition vs. current income, families would not get an adequate picture of college affordability.

Such a comparison does not take into account the potential effect of financial aid, she said. In addition, she said, it looks at current income without considering the effect of saving or borrowing to pay tuition.

"It sets an expectation that is absolutely unrealistic," Ms. Hart said

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