Student aid is rising 7 percent in the 2011-12 academic year, perpetuating a recent trend toward aid rising more swiftly than tuition and fees among private colleges.

The annual survey by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities found tuition and fees rising an average 4.6 percent. Tuition hikes have averaged about 4 percent in each of the three previous years. That compares to average 6 percent gains in the 10 prior years.

Student aid has risen faster than tuition in each of the two previous years.

 “In response to the economic downturn, private colleges have worked to slow down tuition increases, while increasing institutional student aid at a faster rate,” said David L. Warren, president of NAICU, in a statement.

Bottom line: The net price of college, after accounting for aid, is flat or even declining slightly, despite the appearance of steadily rising prices.