Students at public universities are due for another round of sticker shock as analysis by the College Board shows that in-state public college tuition saw an uptick of nearly 5% this year over the year before. Although small compared to increases in years past, it still represents another hurdle on the path to college education for middle- and lower-income families.
Tuition isn't the only thing that's pinching the wallets of both students and parents. The cost of room and board at public colleges has gone up by about 5% as well. This means that in-state students who are attending a public college – typically considered one of cheapest ways to earn a college degree – will now be paying, on average, $17,860 in tuition and fees a year.
Still, the numbers provide a glimmer of hope. According to the data, only about 33% of students are on the hook for the full retail price. The remainder rely on a combination of grants, tax credits and scholarships to bring the cost down to a more reasonable $12,110 including tuition, room and board.
But after several years when a wave of student aid from Washington held net prices mostly in check, real costs for students have now jumped two straight years, as that wave washes back from its high-water mark.
At private colleges, enrolling about one-quarter of four-year college students, list prices remained substantially higher: $39,518 on average, including room and board. During the previous three years, net prices at private colleges had declined. But this year net tuition and fees increased about $780. Including room and board, but factoring in aid, the typical student at a private college is paying $23,840. At public two-year colleges, tuition and fees increased $172 to $2,959. On average, those costs are entirely covered by aid.
Even with an increase in prices, college education remains one of the best investments in students' future, as more and more industries now see having at least a bachelor's degree as a mandatory criterion for obtaining employment.
Although the rate of tuition growth is slowing down, it is still increasing much faster than American incomes, which have actually declined since the 2008 recession. The slowdown in growth is being interpreted by some as the beginning of a long, slow pop for the "higher education bubble" that brought about a complete decoupling of tuition from family income due to increased levels of financial aid and easy access to student loan money.
Prices were up this year, though at barely half the rate of the past two years. Enrollment, after surging nationally for several years after the economy collapsed in 2008, has leveled off. Partly as a result, federal aid is also now declining slightly after several years of double-digit increases. Even student borrowing, the source of much anxiety, declined last year by about 4 percent. Borrowing remained 24 percent higher than five years earlier, but the annual decline was the first in at least two decades.