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College costs increase faster than inflation

Public college tuition increases by 7.9% and private by 4.5%, the College Board reports. But federal aid and tax credits enable many students to remain in school despite the recession.

October 28, 2010|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

State budget cuts and declines in philanthropy and endowments helped push the cost of college tuition up much higher than general inflation across the country this year, amounting to an increase of 7.9% at public campuses and 4.5% at private ones, according to a new study by the nonprofit College Board.

Tuition and fees for the current school year average $7,605 for state residents at public four-year colleges and $27,293 at private institutions, according to the report released Thursday. Room and board added an average of $8,535 at public campuses and $9,700 at private schools.

However, significant boosts in federal grant aid and the use of tax credits provided so much relief that many families, particularly low-income households, were shielded from those price increases, the report found.

"That doesn't mean families aren't struggling to pay — they are struggling to pay," said Sandy Baum, a policy analyst for the College Board. But she noted that "extraordinary increases" in federal Pell grants for low-income students and education benefits for military veterans allowed many to enroll and stay in school even as unemployment rose.

The average undergraduate last school year received $6,041 in various grants and $4,883 in loans, the study said. About 55% of recent graduates at public colleges borrowed some of the cost of college and their debt total averaged $19,800, the College Board said. At private nonprofit colleges, 65% of graduates borrowed money and on average owed $26,100.

With general inflation only 1.2%, the sticker price of college without financial aid sped past other consumer costs, as it has for three decades, officials said. The biggest jump came at state institutions, including UC and Cal State, which saw state revenue decline as a result of the recession. Both systems are expected to take action in the next few weeks to raise fees again for next year.

Public universities that offer doctorates, such as UC, now average $8,503 for tuition and fees, up 8.9% from last year, the College Board said. UC approved a 32% increase in basic undergraduate fees for this school year, bringing those well above the average to about $11,300, not including living costs.

The report showed that state universities such as Cal State that mainly offer bachelor's and master's degrees averaged $6,588 in tuition and fees this year, up 6.5%. Undergraduates at Cal State pay about $5,100, after a 5% increase that still kept them below the national average for this year.

The study noted that California's community colleges, where a student taking 30 units a year would pay $780, charge "unusually low" fees compared with the average $3,076 at two-year public colleges in other states.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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