School Choice & Charters

Tuition Keeps Rising, But Some Students Pay Less

By Sean Cavanagh — October 29, 2003 2 min read
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Annual tuition and fees at the nation’s colleges and universities jumped once again last year—14 percent at public institutions and 6 percent at private ones. Those figures offer fresh evidence of the sticker shock that has angered students, their parents, and federal lawmakers alike.

“Trends in College Pricing 2003" and “Trends in Student Aid 2003" are available from the College Board. (Require Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Yet the new data on tuition, released last week by the College Board, also show that many students are helped by grant money that has held down—and in some cases, reduced—the net price of a college education over the past decade.

For the first time, the New York City-based organization’s annual, two-part study of college costs, “Trends in College Pricing” and “Trends in Student Financial Aid,” includes a look a “net charges"—the average amount that undergraduates pay, after their awards in state, federal, or institutional grant aid are included.

The college-pricing report says that students at public two-year colleges paid less in net price for their educations in 2002-03 than they did in 1992-93. A decade ago, students paid an average net price of $306. In 2002-03, students received enough average grant aid to cover all their tuition and fees and give them an extra $285 for other expenses, according to the study, released Oct. 21.

At public four-year institutions, the net price—unlike tuition and fees themselves—rose only modestly over that 10-year period. In 1992-93, the average annual net price was $1,339, compared with $1,682 in 2002-03. All figures were adjusted for inflation.

At a press conference here, College Board officials said they were not trying to discount the impact of tuition increases on families, particularly low-income ones. But they suggested that college continues to be affordable for many students, partly because of grant aid provided by universities.

“It’s a problem,” said Sandy Baum, an economics professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and a co-author of the reports. “It’s not an unprecedented crisis, and I think we should think in a calm way about a solution.”

The reports came just days after U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., offered a bill that would allow the federal government to remove the direct subsidies of colleges and universities that failed to control tuition hikes over time. College lobbyists have strongly opposed the legislation.

‘Selective’ Focus

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the College Board reports had let colleges and universities “off the hook” on costs.

The reports “selectively” focused on how declines in state funding had influenced tuition hikes, he said, rather than probing colleges’ poor choices in spending money—a major theme among Republican lawmakers this session.

“The higher education establishment doesn’t want to talk about this, but parents and taxpayers do,” Mr. Boehner said.

According to the College Board, tuition and fees increased by 14 percent from 2002-03 to 2003- 04, to $4,694, at public, four-year institutions; those costs also climbed by 14 percent, to $1,905, at two-year public colleges. Tuition and fees at private four-year colleges increased by 6 percent, to $19,710, in the same period.

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