In recent years, public university fees have continued to rise even though family incomes have been in a decline. In a recent study, this rise in fees was small, but the college affordability gap remains as a considerable burden to lower-income and middle class families.
According the annual College Board report on trends in pricing and aid, tuition and fees at public universities increased less than 3% this academic year, the smallest rise in three decades.
“This does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable, but it does mean that the rapid growth of recent years did not represent a ‘new normal’ for annual price increases,” the report on pricing said.
Increases in grant aid from 2009 to 2011 have slowed and have not kept pace with rising tuition. As a result, the amount students and families actually pay has risen as well. According to Tamar Lewin of The New York Times, the average published annual tuition and fees for in-state students at public universities total $8,893, up 2.9 percent from last year. But most of these students pay far less as the net amount they pay is about $3,120 when grants and deductions of tax credits are taken into account. The full published fee is paid by only a third of the students who have no assistance from grants.
Additionally, most students from families with incomes below $30,000 received enough aid to cover their tuition and fees, although they still have costs for room and board, which adds an average of over $9,000.
“The news is not as bad as it has been,” said Sandra Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the reports. The new data, she said, should calm fears that college costs are spiraling out of reach: “It does seem that the spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating.”
Tuition and fees averaging $22,203, a 3.1 % increase from last year, is paid by out-of-state students. The average published tuition and fees are $30,094, up 3.8 % from the year before, in private four year institutions.
The economic recovery has benefited mostly those in the highest income brackets first. Higher education policy analyst Jane Wellman said the trend reports showed that many public institutions have made serious efforts to rein in their spending to help especially community colleges, whose spending has declined sharply over the last decade, to help make higher education more affordable and accessible.
“A lot of them are starting to really restructure their spending, getting to tricky areas like scheduling, distance-based technologies, re-examining their academic offerings and getting students through more quickly,” she said.