College Tuition Keeps Rising
The cost of a year of college rose by about 6 percent in 2006, outpacing wages, inflation, or financial aid, the College Board reported today.
In fact, the cost of obtaining a degree is rising even faster because students are taking longer to graduate. Instead of paying for four years of college, the average public university student pays for more than six years of tuition before marching off to "Pomp and Circumstance." Private school students finish quickertaking 5.3 years on average.
The sticker price for an academic year at a typical public university is $16,400: $5,836 for tuition and fees, almost $7,000 for room and board, and an additional $3,500 or so for books, travel, and entertainment, the College Board estimated. About half of students get scholarships or tax breaks to reduce their out-of-pocket costs, however, bringing the average net price paid to about $13,000.
If prices keep rising at the current rate, students who don't receive any grants will most likely pay more than $115,000 to reach graduation day. Those who do receive scholarships or other assistance will most likely pay about $87,000. Thirty years ago, when the total sticker price of a year at a public university ran less than $3,000 and students took less time to graduate, the total cost of a degree was closer to $12,000.
Though some high-priced private colleges now ask more than $50,000 a year, the average annual cost at private universities for 2006 is just over $33,000. But about three quarters of private school students receive financial aid to reduce their out-of-pocket costs. The average net price those students pay is only about $22,000. So while a degree for today's private school freshmen paying full sticker price will very likely cost about $200,000, a degree will cost private students receiving financial aid about $124,000.
Two-year community colleges remained an educational bargain, however. In some states, such as California, community college tuition actually dropped this year. On average, tuition at the nation's commuter schools rose an average of only 4.1 percent this year, to $2,300. That means even students who don't receive any financial aid but live at home and attend a community college could finish their freshman and sophomore years for as little as $8,000, including textbooks and transportation to and from classes, the College Board estimated.
University officials said one reason they were raising sticker prices was to counterbalance reductions in the subsidies governments (in other words, taxpayers) provide for higher education. The Pennsylvania State University's main campus, for example, received the same state grant this year that it received five years ago, said spokesperson Bill Mahon. So the school raised tuition 5.6 percent this year to cover increased salaries, benefits, energy, and other operating costs, he said.
Also, school officials say that the costs of running a university are rising faster than the consumer price index. University officials have compiled their own inflation gauge, which they call the higher education price index, to track the things they buy, such as lab equipment, scientific journals, professor salaries, and the like. This index rose 5 percent in the 12 months that ended June 30, 2006. The CPI was up only 4.3 percent during that period. Driving college inflation are factors like a 200 percent increase in the prices of scholarly journals over the past 20 years, said David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. In addition, many colleges are feeling pressure from students and parents to upgrade dorms, gyms, and other facilities. Some surveys report that most incoming freshmen, for example, have never shared a bedroom, and are choosing colleges that offer them more expensive single apartments.