College & Workforce Readiness

College Prices: ‘Moderate’ Annual Rises, But ‘Dramatic’ Increases in Past Decade

By Catherine Gewertz — November 04, 2015 2 min read
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Students who attend public four-year colleges and universities are paying an average of 38 percent more in tuition and fees than they were a decade ago, according to new data released Wednesday. Those increases are far greater than those at two-year public colleges or at private, four-year institutions.

The College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2015" shows that while net tuition and fees—the amount students pay after grants, scholarships and tax credits—rose 38 percent in public four-year institutions between 2005-06 and 2015-16, it rose an average of only 1 percent in private four-year colleges and universities, and actually declined by $1,140 in two-year colleges.

Here you can see the changes in the public four-year sector, both in the fees that higher education officially charges (the “published” fees) and in the net prices students actually pay.

Here are the dollar figures to go with the graph. They show that in public four-year institutions, net tuition and fees have risen 38 percent since 2005-06, and net tuition, fees, and room and board have risen 28 percent. Published prices for tuition and fees are up 40 percent during that period. In private four-year institutions, by contrast, net tuition and fees rose by only 1 percent, and published tuition and fees rose by 26 percent.

This chart shows how the price increases in public four-year colleges and universities have outstripped those in the four-year private and two-year public sectors.

The College Board report notes that net prices in all higher-ed sectors declined between 2005-06 and 2010-11, but have risen since then. Recent annual increases are “moderate by historical standards,” according to report author Sandy Baum, while the rise in published tuition and fees over time has been “dramatic.” Student aid has not kept pace with those rises, she said, sparking concern about college access and affordability.

The companion report, “Trends in Student Aid 2015,” shows a continuation of last year’s trend: a decline in student borrowing for college. Total student borrowing declined by 6 percent in 2014-15. Average federal loans per student declined by 6 percent as well. Grant aid increased 56 percent in the decade ending in 2014-15, but only a small slice of that growth occurred in the last four years.

A report released by the Urban Institute earlier this week documented big variations in college cost from state to state.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.