At Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., building new computer labs, meeting demand for financial aid, and keeping faculty salaries competitive have pushed undergraduate tuition up 1 percent to $16,450 this year.
These investments by the private liberal arts school overlooking the Gulf of Mexico mirror the causes of tuition increases by private colleges nationwide over the past three years, a study released last week concludes.
The survey of 425 private institutions by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities found that costs of technology, student aid, and salaries--not less federal aid--are the main reasons for tuition hikes.
“It’s an impressive study that gives support to what a number of us have been saying for years,” said Peter H. Armacost, the president of Eckerd College, who is active in the national debate over rising tuition costs.
In recent years, institutions have relied more on tuition to generate student aid for those who need it, said Frank Balz, NAICU’s vice president for research and policy analysis. Two-thirds of undergraduates receive institutional aid, according to the survey.
The loss of federal aid played a role in that shift to more aid, but was not one of the major causes of tuition increases, he argued.
And the study answers the charges of some critics, Mr. Balz added, that colleges have raised tuition without providing adequate aid to their students. “Our colleges have been working hard to maintain a real diversity of enrollment,” he said.
Nearly half the respondents said they had cut their budgets across the board, 39 percent had restructured debt and postponed maintenance, and 37 percent had fired administrators in the three years covered by the survey.
“It’s hard to offer a fair price for tuition and be very good at what you’re doing,” Mr. Armacost said.
A second NAICU report released last week that analyzed U.S. Department of Education data confirmed many of the survey’s findings. Educational costs are the biggest factor associated with tuition growth, the report says.
The average tuition at a four-year private college this school year is $11,112, according to the College Board, a 5 percent increase over the previous year.
Arthur Hauptman, an independent higher education consultant based in Washington, said that more ambitious spending and a legacy of higher tuition and increased revenues that institutions began collecting in the 1980s can’t be discounted as factors in recent tuition increases.
“It’s a two-way street,” Mr. Hauptman said. “Revenues more or less determine how much they spend, and I don’t think the study paid much attention to that.”