Some of the nation's most prestigious universities and colleges will pass the $10,000-a-year cost for students for the first time next fall.
Vermont's Bennington College, which prides itself on a low faculty-student ratio (8 to 1), will charge its 600 students $10,560 for tuition, room and board, up from $9,430 this academic year.
A shade behind is Harvard University at $10,540, Brown University at $10,180 and Stanford University at $10,005.
Princeton University will just miss the mark at $9,994.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has increased tuition 19.4 percent from $6,200 to $7,400. It has not set room and board charges for fall, but an estimated 10 percent hike would push its total above $10,000.
Generally, tuition at top colleges and universities is expected to rise 12 to 14 percent.
"Inflation hits colleges just like the family pocketbook," said Joe Paul Case of the college scholarship servicer of the College Entrance Examination Board.
Case, who directs the board's annual survey of student expenses, issued in June, said college costs for students have risen 90 percent the last decade.
"A most conservative estimate will be 90 percent in the next 10 years," said Case, who expects top private universities to reach the $20,000-a-year mark by 1991. But he also predicts incomes will rise and families should not have to pay a greater share of their earnings for college expenses.
Usually half the students in top colleges receive some kind of financial aid package of loans, scholarships and campus work.
Colleges are so high, Case said, that a family with an annual income of $100,000 and two children in college may now qualify for some financial aid if they are enrolled on the most expensive campusues.
Public universities, supported in part by state funds, are able to charge tuition only a fraction of the private institutions. Tuition, room and board generally hover around the $4,000-a-year mark.
University officials say the two main reasons for continuing increases in college costs are inflation and energy.
"Our main priority is faculty compensation because we recognize that faculty members have suffered a real loss in purchasing power," said Robert Reichley, vice president at Brown. "The time is over when faculty can subsidize higher education."
Brown's tuition raise from $6,140 to $7,120 will help meet average faculty pay increases of 11 percent. But energy costs are up from $5 million to $7 million, even though Brown generates one-third of its electrical power and has installed 9,000 storm windows.
A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of Yale, said energy costs there soared 48 percent in the last year from $11 million to $16.3 million, and 800 percent over the last decade.
Paul Edward Gray, MIT president, said its tuition increase is due not only to inflation, but also to the fact that other sources of revenue such as endowment income, unrestricted grants and foundation and federal money are not keeping pace with inflation.
Joseph S. Murphy, Bennington's president, said, "We find once again that in the next year Bennington will be the most expensive college in the country, but we are so because we're determined to maintain and enhance the quality of this college.
"Bennington tries to do today what few places still attempt -- to teach a handful how to live the examined and productive life. This task is not given to mass production. It requires handcrafting not often valued in a world of cheap and shoddy performance."