College net price is rising


In this April 30, 2012, file photo, students walk across campus at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. Net price for public four-year schools is up 4 percent since last year, to $12,110. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
October 24, 2012

What the average student pays to go to college is rising significantly after some recent years of stability, the College Board reported Wednesday.

Net price for public four-year schools — adding up tuition, fees, room and board, factoring in financial aid and adjusting for inflation — is up 4 percent since last year, to $12,110 per year. For private nonprofit four-year schools, it is also up 4 percent, to $23,840.

The private net price had been declining or flat each year since 2007-08. The public net price, up notably in each of the past three years, had been stable from 2007-08 through 2009-10.

The sticker price of college, without counting financial aid, has long risen faster than inflation. Federal Pell grants and direct aid from colleges have lowered the burden for many students. About two-thirds of full-time undergraduates receive grants.

But the College Board report signaled that financial aid is not keeping pace.

“Colleges and universities, along with state and federal officials, share the concern of students and families grappling with the rising price of a college education,” Sandy Baum, an independent policy analyst for the College Board, said in a statement.

The report singled out the University of Maryland as a leader in holding down prices.

Tuition and fees for in-state students at College Park rose less over five years, the report found, than at any other state flagship university in the country. The $8,908 charge for tuition and fees at U-Md. this year is up 2 percent compared with five years ago. Those figures are inflation-adjusted but do not factor in financial aid.

The comparable $12,006 in-state charge at the University of Virginia, by contrast, is up 28 percent in that time. The biggest five-year jump was at the University of Arizona — up 81 percent.

Others with five-year increases exceeding 60 percent were the University of California at Berkeley (63 percent), University of Florida (66 percent), University of Georgia (70 percent) and University of Washington (77 percent).

Many states have slashed funding for higher education. The report found state appropriations per student dropped 10 percent in 2011-12, a fourth straight year of decline.

Some university advocates suggest those policies are short-sighted. Governors “almost always think of their big public universities as being a key engine for the economy,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Higher education funding is “not just an expenditure for the state. It’s fostering the kind of jobs they want,” he said. Lawmakers, he said, “have got to step up if they want their states to develop.”

As college prices rise, there has been growing concern about student debt. But the College Board found that total education borrowing declined 4 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12. That was the first such drop in 20 years. Still, the total borrowed in 2011-12 — more than $113 billion — was up 24 percent compared with five years earlier.

“This is a laser focus for all of us,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. But she said many students are graduating with a reasonable debt load. “Let’s get the numbers right so we don’t scare the American people. It’s a manageable issue, and it’s one we need to keep our eye on all the time.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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