Trends in College Costs

With the economy mostly recovered from the recession that began in 2008, things should be looking up for public education funding, right? That’s what I thought, so when I read about the University of Oregon’s proposed 4.8% tuition hike for next year, I thought this deserved some research. Fortunately, Young Invincibles’ Student Impact Project, in their 2016 State Report Card, did that for me. And what they found was a bit surprising.

Their survey grades each state on its support for public education, indexing over 40 variables for each state including per-student spending, average tuition, and state aid programs. What they found was that in general, states have cut per-student spending by 21% from 2008 to 2014, resulting in 28% hikes in tuition and fees at both 2- and 4-year schools. There is of course a great deal of variability from state to state in those numbers, and steep declines in tax revenue in the earlier part of that data have begun to turn around in the recovering economy, but in no state has tuition declined on an inflation-adjusted basis.

One key takeaway: In 2008, students and families at public college paid approximately 36% of the total cost; in 2014, they were paying about half the total cost. According to the report, about 3/4 of American college students attend public schools so this increase is affecting the majority of families of college students.

Is the picture the same at private schools? Similar data from the College Board shows that published tuition and fees increases at public schools increased annually at a rate of 3.4% greater than the inflation  rate over the period 2005-2006 to 2015-2016; those for private non-profits increased at 2.4% over the inflation rate in the same time period.

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