Tuition at the nation’s public and private colleges has increased over the past year, but so have financial-aid dollars, concludes a group of reports released last week by the College Board.
The three reports—released by the New York City-based sponsor of the SAT—show that tuition at public colleges and universities is up 10.5 percent since the 2003-04 academic year, and that at private institutions it has increased by an average of 6 percent.
At the same time, one of the reports notes that the 2003-04 school year saw a record volume of financial aid, $122 billion, which was an 11 percent increase from the previous year.
But Gaston Caperton, the College Board president, emphasized that the country still has a long way to go in making college more accessible to low-income students. “We need to work aggressively to close the gaps in college access,” he said during a press conference held in Washington last week to release the reports.
One of the three reports, “Education Pays 2004,” specifically addresses the overall benefits of a college education for individuals and for society, such as lower incarceration rates, higher tax revenues, and greater levels of civic participation. The other two reports are “Trends in College Pricing 2004” and “Trends in Student Aid 2004.”
Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst for the College Board and one of the authors of “Education Pays,” said that in recent years there has been a movement away from need-based financial aid in favor of merit aid. She said that trend has made the college-access gap worse.
Clinton Bristow, the president of Alcorn State University in Mississippi, who attended the press conference, agreed with Ms. Baum.
“Need-based aid is a very important component of decisionmaking,” he said. “Students will often opt out of higher education because of the cost.”
In a statement released last week, David Ward, the president of the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella group for higher education, said that while the positive financial-aid totals from the College Board were a “welcome development,” he was far more concerned about the “very serious, long-term issues in financing higher education.”
Mr. Ward said that “no amount of effort by our institutions to raise revenue and cut expenses will be able to preserve affordable tuition formulas, particularly at public colleges and universities.”
He also raised the issue that was a major topic of conversation at last week’s press conference: making students aware of all of their financial-aid options.
According to a study released this month by the council, 50 percent of college students in the 1999-2000 school year did not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA.
“It is deeply troubling to think that students may have missed the opportunity to receive needed assistance simply because they failed to fill out a federal form that is available on the Internet and in almost any high school or college financial-aid office,” Mr. Ward said in his statement.
Ms. Baum of the College Board said that students also are afraid of being in debt following college graduation. But she said the typical college graduate owes $20,000, an amount that she believes is “entirely manageable.”
‘Worth the Risk’
Mr. Caperton said during last week’s press conference that while higher education has many benefits, two stand out from the rest.
First, he pointed out that the preschool-age children of college graduates are more prepared for kindergarten than those of parents who aren’t college graduates. The “Education Pays” report shows that 73 percent of 3- to 5-year-old children of parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher could count to 20 before entering school, compared with 48 percent of children whose parents had just a high school diploma.
Second, he said that the children of college graduates are more likely to attend college.
It all comes down to the availability of information, Ms. Baum said.
“Need-based aid is extremely important, but we also have to emphasize information to students to tell them it is worth the risk, and the [financial] stretch, to get a college education,” she said.