Tuition increases slow, but that doesn’t mean college ‘suddenly more affordable’

Tom House Contributor
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The latest rise in the average published price for in-state students at four-year public universities rose 2.9 percent, the smallest in three decades, according to a new report from the College Board.

The average sticker price rose to $8,893 for the 2013-14 academic year, up from $8,646 from the year before. Last year’s increase, reported at 4.8 percent, was the smallest in more than a decade, but was still higher than the increase in average published tuition and fees at four-year private institutions. This year, the sticker price for private colleges rose by 3.8 percent.

Yet, the smaller rates of increase this year are undercut by recent declines in federal aid, the report says.

“This year’s slowing of the price spiral does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable, that concerns about student debt will be set aside, or that low and moderate-income students will no longer face financial hurdles as they pursue their educational ambitions,” said economist Sandy Baum, co-author of “Trends in Higher Education,” released by the non-profit College Board.

“But it is good news, and we hope it will allow more focus on helping students to access the available financial aid and to enroll and succeed in college,” Baum said.

Between 2007-08 and 2010-11, the net prices paid by many students were held down by large increases in grant aid and tax benefits, particularly from the federal government. However, between 2010-11 and 2012-13, federal grant aid has declined.

According to the “Trends in Student Aid” report, about “60% of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011-12 from the first public or private nonprofit college in which they enrolled graduated with debt.” Among those who borrowed, the average debt was $26,500.

“A college education is an unparalleled investment,” said College Board president David Coleman. “But there is no college opportunity without college affordability.”

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