College Board Report Finds Tuition, Grant Aid Increasing

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The price of going to any type of college was up again this year, but the actual cost went down for many students thanks to an increase in financial aid for students.

Postsecondary school tuition has increased since the previous academic year, yet the after-aid price students ultimately pay has risen slower than has the Consumer Price Index (CPI), according to new reports on college pricing and student aid released by The College Board.

This slower increase, coupled with an influx of available federal grant aid, has allowed students to cope with higher tuition levels – despite static or declining family incomes – and to continue the increase in enrollment of students across all types of institutions.

For the 2010-2011 academic year, students paid the following average prices:

Public, in-state, four-year schools: $7,605, a 7.9 percent increase from the previous year.

Public, out-of-state, four-year schools: $19,595, up 6 percent.

Public, two-year schools: $2,713, up 6 percent.

Private, non-profit four-year schools: $27,293, up 4.5 percent.

Private, for-profit schools: $13,935, up 5.1 percent.

Most students pay less than these published prices, however. According to the report, the average student receives $6,100 in grant aid at public institutions, $16,000 at private nonprofit schools, and $3,400 at public two-year colleges.

Though institutional, private and employer, and state grants decreased in 2009-2010, the total amount of available aid increased from $74.8 billion to $84 billion. The study suggests that the change in figures is largely due to an increase in available Pell Grants, which provided an additional $10 billion of aid to students. Federal grant money now accounts for 44 percent of all student aid; last year, it accounted for 34 percent.

It’s good news for students who qualify for federal and state financial aid, although families above that threshold are seeing tuition increases well above CPI . But if Congress cuts back on the increase in Pell grants, affordability could quickly become an issue for more middle- and lower-income families and students.

Despite the influx of federal money, student debt continues to be high. Debt levels vary greatly across types of postsecondary institutions. Independent students who received their diploma in the 2007-2008 academic year accrued an average median debt of $20,000 at public four-year institutions and $24,600 at private non-profit schools.

Students at for-profit four-year schools, nearly all of whom borrow money for tuition, carry the highest amount. According to the 2007-2008 data, students from middle-income families ($60,000 to $89,999) who graduated from for-profits had more debt than other income groups. The majority of the student body (88 percent) are classified as of independent (not dependents of their parents or guardians), and those students had accumulated an average debt of $32,700.

The College Board reports are part of the larger “Trends in Higher Education Series,” which aims to provide information about issues related to college affordability.