College Tuition Remains Flat, But Net Price Continues to Increase

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

Although the published tuition and fee prices at colleges and universities remained relatively unchanged in the last year, students continue to pay more after accounting for financial aid, as only institutional grant aid has grown by a significant amount in the last several years, according to two annual trends reports released Tuesday by the College Board.

According to the two reports—Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid—the average sticker price tuition and fees for in-state students attending four-year public institutions increased by 2.5 percent, or $250, to $10,230 in 2018-19, before adjusting for inflation. This is the first time that the College Board has reported average published tuition and fees above $10,000.

Over the last decade, the published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions has increased by about 3.1 percent each year beyond inflation. That increase is smaller than in previous decades; sticker prices rose by about 4.2 percent each year between 1998-99 and 2008-09, for example. At private nonprofit four-year institutions, published tuition and fees grew by 3.3 percent, or $1,130, to $35,830 in 2018-19, and at public two-year institutions, published in-district tuition and fees increased by 2.8 percent, or $100, to $3,660 in 2018-19. Published tuition and fees, room and board also increased across the board.

Meanwhile, the growth in total undergraduate student aid has slowed, increasing from $183.8 billion in 2016-17 to $184.1 billion in 2017-18. As a result, the net price of what students pay—net tuition and fees, plus room and board—has consistently increased over the last two decades.

“We don’t want to cheer too much about the sticker prices when we know what matters for students most is how much they actually pay,” said Sandy Baum, a coauthor of the reports and a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

The reports also showed that total annual student borrowing—including both federal and private loans—decreased for the seventh consecutive year, down to $105.5 billion in 2017-18 from $107.5 billion in 2016-17. Still, the nonfederal share of all borrowing has increased slightly over the years, making up 11 percent of all annual borrowing in 2017-18, compared with 7 percent in 2010-11. The Institute for College Access and Success has reported that many students with private loans did not exhaust all of their federal loan eligibility, and many did not take out any federal loans.

The report on college pricing also highlighted that, despite some growth in grant aid over time, there has also been a marked increase in family income inequality, as income has grown faster for families from higher income quintiles over the last three decades. Between 2007 and 2017, for example, mean family income for those in the top 5 percent grew by 11 percent. But for those families in the lowest income quintile, the mean family income actually decreased by one percent.


Publication Date: 10/17/2018

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