Tuition and fees have climbed an average of 10.5%, or $487, this year at the nation's public four-year colleges and universities, the College Board reported Tuesday. The increase was smaller than last year's boost of 13.3% but still among the biggest rises in the past quarter-century.
Officials with the nonprofit group and other analysts said that the latest tuition and financial aid trends were forcing many students to go more deeply into debt than in the past to pay for their education.
Gaston Caperton, president of the New York-based College Board, called the diminishing number of college grants awarded to students based on their financial need a "critical problem."
He said that federal tax credits and deductions since the late 1990s, along with increasing amounts of scholarships focusing on academic merit, have reduced the actual price that many affluent students pay for higher education, but that those benefits have "not reached low-income students in the same way."
At the same time, Caperton said, schools have faced economic pressure to raise tuition and fees. He cited such factors as declining state government support for higher education and colleges' need to spend heavily on new technology and facilities to remain competitive.
The 10.5% tuition and fees increase for the current school year brings the average annual attendance charges at public four-year schools to $5,132. With room and board charges, the overall cost rises to $11,354.
California's public colleges and universities imposed some of the nation's biggest percentage hikes in attendance charges for this school year, but their fees remain relatively low.
Both of the state's four-year systems, California State University and the University of California, approved 14% increases in their systemwide fees for undergraduates. Combined with additional fees charged by individual campuses, undergraduates now pay an average of $2,916 annually to attend Cal State schools and $6,230 at UC schools.
Leaders of both of California's four-year systems in coming weeks will discuss raising fees by an additional 8% for next year, as provided for in a long-term education funding agreement reached this spring with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
According to College Board figures dating back 27 years, tuition hikes at public four-year institutions have exceeded 10% only seven other times.
At four-year private schools this year, tuition and fees rose an average of 6%, or $1,132, climbing to $20,082. With room and board, the overall expense comes to an average of $27,516. Costs vary widely, however, and some top-flight universities quote annual costs of more than $40,000 a year for students.
Still, the College Board research, to some extent, found some bright spots in the college cost picture.
The group found that tuition and fees at public four-year schools cost students an average of $1,300 in the 2003-04 school year after tax breaks and grant aid are taken into account. That is down slightly from a decade earlier after adjusting for general inflation.
The College Board said, however, that the comparable bottom-line figure for what students are paying this school year probably is up from the 2003-04 academic period, because of the big jump in tuition. The group said it couldn't calculate a figure for this year because student aid information was not yet available.
Still, Patrick M. Callan, president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose, said the report was too upbeat on that point. The study should have taken into account lagging growth in family income, particularly among lower wage earners, he said.
Callan noted that a report by his center found that "the cost of college eats up a larger share of family income now in almost every state and for almost all except the highest income groups than it did a decade ago."
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This year's increase in tuition and fees at public four-year colleges is among the biggest rises on record.
College tuition and fees
(in current dollars)
*--* Academic Public % Private % Year 4-year change 4-year change '04-'05 $5,132 10.50% $20,082 6% '03-'04 $4,645 13% $18,950 5% '02-'03 $4,098 9% $18,060 4% '01-'02 $3,766 7% $17,377 8% '00-'01 $3,508 4% $16,072 4% '99-'00 $3,362 4% $15,518 6% '98-'99 $3,247 4% $14,709 7% '97-'98 $3,111 5% $13,785 6% '96-'97 $2,975 6% $12,994 6% '95-'96 $2,811 4% $12,216 4%
Source: The College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges