"We spent a ton of money, which kept net prices low for a bit. But the increase in federal spending has been completely eroded by rising tuition prices," Kelly writes in a blog post on the College Board reports. "Now the flood of federal cash has plateaued, and sticker prices remain high and growing (albeit more slowly). Hence, net prices are rising."
But continuing to push for an increase in state and federal support isn't necessarily the answer, Kelly writes.
"Endlessly subsidizing the price of college is like bailing out a leaking boat with a pint glass when it's taking on water by the quart," Kelly writes.
While it's possible that as states recover financially, they may fund colleges more generously, Baum says it is likely that net prices will continue to increase.
"You can stay afloat for a time, but eventually the leak's going to swamp even your best effort," Kelly writes. "Instead of trying to keep up with the leak, a better strategy is to fix the hole in the boat."
Plugging that hole, which Kelly describes as spending by colleges, policymakers and college leaders need to address the issue of the overall cost of providing a college education and how to reduce that cost.
Still, the national averages are only part of the picture, as tuition prices vary widely both within states and across the nation and every student pays a different price for college, Baum says.
"The real issue is that it's complicated," Baum says. "The averages hide a lot of differences both among students within individual institutions and students in different states ... [They] don't tell the story for individual students."