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.
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.
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.
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.