Seniors walk during the commencement ceremony at Sweet Briar College (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Almost 90 percent of freshmen get grant aid from their colleges — an all-time high, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

That money covered more than half of the tuition and fees for those full-time, first-year freshmen, the study estimated, an average of more than 54 percent.

That proves that students and parents should look past the sticker price to determine what school they could afford, NACUBO President and CEO John Walda said in a statement.

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Discounts on tuition continue to rise even though it is affecting many schools’ bottom line — and even though enrollment dropped at about half the schools surveyed. The competitive pricing is intended to lure students who might otherwise choose a less expensive education.

The study concluded that college business officers have significant challenges ahead: Lower enrollments, drops in net revenue from tuition and, at the same time, more demand from students and families expecting large grants to offset college costs.

Projected average net tuition revenue essentially held steady in 2014 — and independent colleges get, on average, a third of their operating revenue that way.

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Last year, the abrupt announcement that Sweet Briar College would close offered a grim warning of the risks of tuition discounting to many college officials; the private college’s then-president and board said declining enrollment and too-generous discounts to students had crippled the school financially. Alumnae and other supporters fought to keep the school open and this year, as students return, their grants remain in place.

While school financial officials are concerned about revenue and a business model that some warn is unsustainable, students keep worrying about the sheer cost.