College Tuition Prices Grow at Slowest Rate in More Than 30 Years

Price increases are slowing, but that doesn't mean school is about to be more affordable.

Tuition at public colleges and universities grew by only 2.9 percent in 2013-14, the slowest growth in more than 30 years.
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The soaring cost of college appears to finally be slowing. A new report shows in-state tuition prices at public four-year colleges and universities grew by only 2.9 percent in 2013-14, the slowest growth in more than 30 years.

[READ: Most States Spend Less Per Student Now Than Before Recession]

That's also a marked deceleration from recent years. In 2012-13, tuition at public four-year schools grew by 4.5 percent and in the previous year jumped by 8.5 percent.

The report from the College Board finds average published tuition at four-year public in-state schools is at $8,893, lower than other types of tuition at four-year institutions. Public out-of-state tuition stands at $22,203, a 3.1 percent increase from 2012-13, and tuition at private institutions is at $30,094, a 3.9 percent gain.

But the slowdown in public tuition prices doesn't herald a new era of greater affordability, warns one of the report's co-authors.

"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 Sandy Baum, a higher education policy consultant and senior fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, in a statement on the report.

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However the report says the slowdown does matter, indicating "the rapid growth of

recent years did not represent a 'new normal' for annual price increases."

A slowdown in tuition hikes will come as welcome relief to many American families facing flat or even falling incomes. The U.S. Median household income stood at $51,017 in 2012, barely changed from the year before, and down from a recent peak of $55,627 in 2007, according to a September Census Bureau report.

Yet published tuition prices are not meaningful to many students, as financial aid can drastically reduce how much a student pays. Those costs have soared alongside full tuition prices. From 2009-10 to 2013-14, the average net price an in-state student paid at a four-year public university grew from $1,930 to $3,120 in inflation-adjusted, 2013 dollars -- a jump of more than 60 percent.

And this year, average net prices continued to grow. At public four-year institutions, the average net price for in-state students jumped by 2.3 percent. The price tag was much steeper at private colleges, where the net price stood at $12,460 for 2013-14, a 4.4 percent jump from the previous year.

[ALSO: 10 Colleges With Cheap Out-of-State Tuition]

One key factor playing into tuition costs at public schools is how much the state is able to help out. Budget-strapped states have had to cut what they spend on higher education. From 2007-08 to 2012-13, total appropriations for higher education fell by nearly 20 percent, according to the College Board, despite growing full-time student enrollment. However, state appropriations cuts are slowing down. The College Board's data show appropriations per full-time student fell by 10.7 percent in 2011-12, compared to falling by only 0.5 percent in 2012-13.

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