Average tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose 6.6 percent this year, again outstripping increases in financial aid and pushing students into more borrowing. Community colleges once again did the best job keeping the lid on prices.
In-state students at four-year public schools are paying $6,185 this year, up $381 from last year, according to the nonprofit College Board's annual survey of college costs, released Monday. At four-year private colleges, tuition and fees rose 6.3 percent to $23,712.
The published price is not the real price for many students. On average, accounting for grants and tax breaks, full-time students are actually paying $2,577 this year to attend four-year public universities. That's $209 more than last year.
However, even the net price is still rising much faster than overall inflation. The net price at public universities is $560 higher, in 2007 dollars, than a decade ago. The five years have seen prices rise 31 percent above and beyond the general inflation rate for other goods and services — the worst record on college prices of any five-year period covered by the survey dating back 30 years.
Prices at two-year colleges, which educate about half of American college students, rose 4.2 percent to $2,361. Accounting for aid, their average net cost is only $320 per year.
A companion report released on trends in student aid shows that over the last decade, increases in grant aid — money students don't have to pay back — have covered only about one-third of the increases in private college tuition and half the increases at public four-year schools.
While borrowing from the government is still far bigger, students are footing more and more of the bill with private loans from banks and student loan companies. Undergraduate private borrowing grew 12 percent to $14.5 billion in 2006-2007. The rate of increase in total private borrowing for education has slowed, but borrowing has increased tenfold over the last decade.
Including room and board for students living on campus, charges for public four-year colleges were $13,589, or 5.9 percent higher than last year. At private four-year schools, total charges rose by the same percentage to $32,307. George Washington University in Washington, D.C. recently attracted attention for becoming the first major university with a published price, including room and board, of more than $50,000.
However, the percentage of college-goers who pay such large sums is fairly small. Fewer than 10 percent even attend colleges with tuition and fees higher than $30,000, according to the College Board, and many of those students receive financial aid. About 56 percent of students at four-year colleges attend schools listing a price under $10,000, and about one-third attend schools charging under $6,000.
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