Trends in College Pricing

The College Board’s 2014 Trends in College Pricing report highlights some interesting points about the cost of attending college.

One item stood out in particular to me: While average published prices increased from the 2013-2014 to 2014-2015 school year in all higher ed sectors (by 2.9% for four-year public in-state, 3.3% for four-year public out-of-state, and 3.7% at four-year private non-profits), average net prices– the price students actually pay– is on a slight downward trajectory. (Unfortunately, the data for this is slightly less current because accounting for scholarships and tax credits takes more time than does surveying published prices.)

While that’s good news, it’s important to look at college pricing not just in terms of its own inflation, or CPI inflation, but in terms of household income. It may be good news to say that public in-state tuition rose by less than 1% more than the CPI from 2013-2014; however, the long-term trend of income gains versus tuition increases shows a disturbing trend: for all but the top 20% of families, average income was lower in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2013 than it was in 2003. As the College Board says, “Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,324 (in 2014 dollars) between 1983 and 2013– 71% of the increase in income ($8,936) of the middle 20% of families” and far more than the $578 increase for the lowest quintile. Similarly, the average net price paid by in-state students at public four-year colleges increased by about $1,000 in just the last five years. This is the actual amounts paid, net of aid, not just the published prices.

Obviously, we have a long ways to go to make college accessible to qualified students.

The entire report is available here.

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