Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 27.
Reports released by the College Board found that in the post-Great Recession economy, student loan borrowing had declined but the price of tuition was on the rise. The Board, best known for administering the standardized SAT test taken by college-bound high school students, released two reports on Wednesday, Trends In College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid.
Borrowing in 2015-16 was still higher than it was a decade earlier, even though the College Board study reported a decline for the fifth consecutive year, when it dropped from $124.2 billion in 2010-11 to $106.8 billion in 2015-16.
The College Board found that average tuition and fees grew across all higher ed sectors in 2016-2017--2.7% at private non-profit four-year schools between 2015-16 and the current academic year (2016-17) to $33,480. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges grew 1.6% to $9,650.
"The reports document that, despite the moderate increases in average published prices, there were considerable increases in net tuition and fees over the past few years," said Jennifer Ma, policy research scientist at the College Board and co-author of the reports. "These increases, combined with stagnant incomes for many families, raise concerns about ensuring educational opportunities for low- and moderate-income students."
The College Board found that average published tuition and fees in private, non-profit four-year schools was about 2.3 times higher this year than in 1986-87, adjusted for inflation. It is 3.1 times higher for four-year public colleges and 2.4 times higher for two-year public colleges.
The neutralizing impact grants and tax breaks that reduce actual expenses was also noted in the study. Full-time undergrads at private non-profit four-year schools got an average of $19,290 in aid and tax benefits this year, roughly 58% of their average published tuition and fees. Full time students at public four-year colleges received an average of $5,880 in grants and tax benefits—about 60% of instate tuition and fees.
Some observers note that net price and net tuition, which the College Board uses as bench marks, are not etched in stone and vary by school. Costs for an entering freshman are likely to change four—or more—years later come graduation. And these are only estimates.
What's more, the reports are limited to tuition increases as the major indicator and ignores the total cost of attendance, which takes all other costs into account in addition to tuition, such as the cost of living in a dormitory, having meals on campus, buying books, clothes, gymnasium and other activity fees associated with student life.
An industry source who spoke on background suggested that the emphasis on Net Tuition and Net Price as benchmarks amount skews the College Board's findings to the downside, making the cost of college seem less than it really is. "They try to minimize the relationship between tuition and college affordability," the source said. "They try to use the terms Net Tuition and Net Price interchangeably, arguing that people would need food and housing even if they didn't enroll in college, so the living expenses are not really part of college costs. Financial aid is based on the full cost of attendance, so it is misleading to subtract the gift aid from tuition only" and not other expenses.