College & Workforce Readiness

Encouraging Trends Seen in New Reports on College Pricing and Debt

By Caralee J. Adams — November 13, 2014 3 min read
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The average published cost of tuition and fees for in-state students entering four-year public colleges rose just 2.9 percent to $9,139 this year—a hopeful indication of a slowing down in price hikes.

The news comes in the College Board’s annual report on college pricing released Thursday, which for years has tracked bigger increases, including a price jump of 9.5 percent for public colleges in 2009-2010. This year and 2013-14, when the increase was also 2.9 percent, are the only two years since 1974-75 when increases have been less than 3 percent, according to the New York-based nonprofit’s report.

“College prices are still rising and rising faster than the average prices in the economy, but not rising at an accelerating rate,”, says Sandy Baum, co-author of the report and research professor of education policy at George Washington University. This counters fears that the dramatic increases could continue forever, yet the cumulative effect of years of tuition increases does add up and remains a cause for concern, she adds.

College Board notes that about two-thirds of full-time students pay for college with the assistance of grants and federal tax credits and deductions.

That means the bottom-line price that families actually pay is usually less than the advertised sticker price. For instance, in 2014-15, the average net price for tuition and fees at a four-year public school was $3,030 for in-state students, a slight decline from $3,150 the year before. This year, private nonprofits raised published prices 3.7 percent to $31,231, yet the average net price was $12,400, according to this year’s report.

The College Board provided another report on student aid that reveals total college borrowing for undergraduate and graduate parents and students is down nearly 8 percent compared to the previous year. Families borrowed $106 billion in 2013-14 to pay for higher education, down from a high of $122 billion in 2010-2011.

The decline is “quite dramatic,” according Baum, who also wrote the student aid report. Part of the decline may be linked to a drop in enrollment in the for-profit sector, where students are likely to borrow more, although borrowing declined in each sector. The trend also could be traced to worries among undergraduates about taking out too many loans, she said.

The Project on Student Debt, which analyzes individual student borrowing patterns, released its annual report on Thursday showing that 69 percent of seniors graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree from public and private nonprofit colleges left school with debt. Of those who borrowed, the average amount was $28,400—up 2 percent from the previous year. The project, which is part of the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for College Access & Success, noted wide variations by school and region, with students in the Northeast and Midwest borrowing the most.

Other highlights in the College Board reports include:

•Two-year public colleges increased, on average, published tuition and fees by $106 (3.3 percent), from $3,241 in 2013-14 to $3,347 in 2014-15.

• For-profit schools raised average tuition and fees by $190 (1.3 percent), from $15,040 last year to $15,230 in 2014-15.

• Full-time students enrolled at public four-year institutions received average grant aid and federal benefits of $6,110; the amount was $5,090 for those at public two-year colleges and $18,870 for those attending private nonprofit institutions.

• Grant aid for full-time undergraduate students increased by 39 percent between 2007-08 and 2010-11, and by 8 percent between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

• The number of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants increased from 5.1 million in 2003‐04 to 9.2 million in 2013‐14. The government spent $16 billion (in 2013 dollars) on Pell Grants in 2003-04; $38 billion in 2010-11; and is estimated to give an estimated $34 billion by 2013-14.

• In 2013, 40 percent of undergraduate and graduate borrowers with outstanding education debt owed less than $10,000, another 29 percent owed between $10,000 and $25,000; and 4 percent borrowers owed $100,000 or more.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.