Public University Tuition Rises Sharply Again for '04
October 20, 2004
By GREG WINTER
Tuition at the nation's public universities rose an average
of 10.5 percent this year, the second largest increase in
more than a decade, according to the latest annual survey
by the College Board. Last year's rise, 13 percent, was the
Private universities and community colleges also increased
tuition, by 6 percent and 9 percent, in a year when
inflation has been about 2.5 percent. The tuition increases
at private and community colleges were also among the
steepest in a decade.
It is the first time that the average tuition at the
nation's postsecondary institutions has surpassed $20,000
for a private college, $5,000 for a public university and
$2,000 for a community college.
The survey of nearly 2,700 colleges and universities,
released yesterday, did not try to determine the reasons
for the steep increases. But among the many factors cited
by its authors and other higher education experts were
shrinking endowments, large increases in health insurance
costs for campus employees and anemic spending on higher
education by states.
"Until we publicly debate the quiet cost-shifting from
state support to tuition that continues in far too many
states, no amount of effort by our institutions to raise
revenue and cut expenses will be able to preserve
affordable tuition formulas, particularly at public
colleges and universities," said David Ward, president of
the American Council on Education, which represents college
Despite the increases, the survey found, students are not
necessarily paying all the extra costs. Financial aid has
been increasing as well, and though it has not always kept
pace with rising tuition, it has often softened the blow.
As of last year, for example, the impact of grants and
federal tax credits meant that students at private colleges
actually paid an average of $9,600 a year in tuition and
fees, about $1,000 more than they did a decade earlier,
after adjusting for inflation, the survey found. At public
universities, students ended up paying only $1,300 a year
in tuition, about $200 less than they did a decade before,
with adjustments for inflation. And at community colleges,
grants and tax credits took care of the typical student's
The authors said, however, that this year's increases in
tuition were so large that they did not expect grants to
keep up. Students are also becoming increasingly dependent
on loans instead of grants, according to the College Board,
an association of more than 4,500 schools, colleges and
educational organizations. About a decade ago, there was
almost as much grant money available to students as there
were loans. But by last year, loans had become a much
bigger piece of the financial aid puzzle, making up almost
50 percent more of the total pool than grants.
Moreover, the nature of grants themselves has changed. The
growing prominence of merit-based aid among many
institutions, coupled with broader definitions of who
qualifies for financial aid in such a costly market, has
meant that by 2000 middle-income and wealthy students
typically received larger grants from their colleges than
did their low-income counterparts.
Some of that may be because wealthier students tend to go
to the wealthiest, most expensive institutions, which, in
turn, can afford to give bigger grants than the colleges
that poorer students usually attend. Nonetheless, the
survey's authors said, the grants to wealthier students
underscore a larger shift, echoed in many state programs,
away from awarding financial aid on the basis of need.
"It's absolutely true that the biggest increase in
institutional aid has been to the upper-income families,"
said Sandy Baum, who analyzed the data for the College
In recent years, the issue of college affordability has
increasingly become a political one, at times giving rise
to Congressional campaigns to penalize colleges that raise
tuition too quickly. But what the colleges say they fear
most is that some prospective students, especially those
who are wondering whether to attend, will choose not to go
because of the cost.
To that end, the College Board survey included data showing
that graduates with bachelor's degrees could expect to earn
73 percent more than a high school graduate over their
lifetimes. Those with master's degrees can expect to earn
twice as much. Those with professional degrees can expect
nearly three and a half times as much.