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College Costs, Student Aid Continue to Rise

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By Daniel de Vise and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The economic slump has not slowed the upward spiral of college costs, the College Board reported Tuesday. Tuition and fees now average $26,273 at private colleges and $7,020 at public four-year institutions, with prices rising faster in the public sector.

Compared with the past school year, tuition and fees rose 6.5 percent at public four-year colleges and 4.4 percent at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions, according to the report. Those were steeper rates of increase than in previous years, after adjusting for inflation. Over the past decade, annual increases have averaged 4.9 percent at public colleges and 2.6 percent at private colleges.

The good news for students is that most do not pay full price. Those at private colleges received, on average, $14,400 in grant aid and tax benefits this year, leaving about $11,900 in tuition and fees to be paid out of pocket. Public students reaped about $5,400 in grant aid, on average, leaving a net cost of about $1,600.

The "net price" of a college education is not much higher now than 10 or 15 years ago, College Board officials said. The figures do not include room and board.

Locally, tuition and fees at the public University of Virginia rose 4 percent, to $9,872, this year. At the University of Maryland, where tuition is frozen, fees increased less than 1 percent, to $8,053. Georgetown University, a private school, raised tuition alone by 2.9 percent, to $38,616.

Higher education has taken a beating during the recession. Private, nonprofit institutions have seen endowments wither and aid requests swell, and public colleges and universities have been hit by reductions in state funding of 10 to 30 percent.

In this climate, higher tuition "comes as no surprise," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, an association of higher education institutions based in the District. As state budgets continue to shrink, Broad said, she is concerned that "we may soon face a period where significant tuition increases may be necessary to counterbalance the current fiscal instability."

The College Board's report "Trends in College Pricing 2009" shows that sticker prices are rising across the board. Because the consumer price index declined 2 percent between July 2008 and July 2009, the increases look larger after adjusting for the change in the cost of living.

Total charges, including room and board, reached $35,636 this year, on average, at private colleges and $15,213, on average, at public institutions. Nearly two-thirds of students attend colleges that charge tuition and fees between $3,000 and $12,000.

The companion report, "Trends in Student Aid 2009," shows that financial assistance is rising at a similar clip, contributing to a widening gap between the published price of college and the amount students actually pay.

On average, undergraduates received $10,185 in grants and loans during the 2008-09 academic year, the latest data available.

That sum has risen sharply in the past decade, in inflation-adjusted dollars. In the 1998-99 academic year, the average was $6,688.


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