For students and parents, it’s the first sliver of good news about college costs for several years: price increases slowed this year, growing at the lowest rate since 2001.
But the bad news is the 7.1 percent increase at public four-year universities remains well above the general inflation rate, and drove the “list price” of tuition and fees at those schools to an average of $5,491, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the College Board.
Prices at two-year public colleges, which educate nearly half of American college students, rose 5.4 percent to $2,191. At four-year private, nonprofit colleges, costs rose 5.9 percent to $21,235.
Most families don’t pay the full list price, thanks to grants from the government and other sources, as well as tax breaks. Typical net costs: $11,600 at private four-year schools; $2,200 at public four-year schools, and just $400 at community colleges.
Yet students at four-year public colleges are paying an estimated $750 more than just two years ago. And while total financial aid is increasing, loans accounted for more of the growth than grants for the third consecutive year, the College Board said. Students have to pay back loans, but not grants.
James Boyle, president of the group College Parents of America, said schools and policy-makers aren’t working hard enough to hold down costs. “The beat goes on with increases in colleges costs, and parents are growing weary of the same old tune,” he said.
Average debt for undergraduate borrowers is now $15,500 — a figure experts consider manageable for most students, given that college graduates can expect to earn nearly $20,000 more per year than high school graduates. Still, increases in borrowing raise concerns that some students will be priced out of college, drop out, or graduate but stay away from low-paying public service jobs so they can repay debts.