Cost of college education and the rise in college tuition

The job market has always been competitive—now, even more so in this strained economy. When you begin your job search, you’ll need every edge possible to leap to the top of the resume pile, and a college degree might just be your ticket to rising above the competition. Even though times are tough for everyone, studies show that college grads consistently earn more than those without a degree.

However, the cost of college education and the rise of college tuition are making many potential college students wonder if going into debt is worth a better paying job. We won’t get into that debate here, we just want to examine the rising costs and give a few tips on finding affordable college degree programs.

The rising costs
In an interesting Q&A with Marguerite J. Dennis, the Vice President of Enrollment and International Programs at Suffolk University, entitled “Higher Education – Increasing Tuition Cost..”, she states, “…over the last decade college tuitions have increased on average by 51% at public four – year institutions and 36% at private universities. College costs are rising faster than consumer prices and health care costs. During this same time, median family income increased by 14%.”

The 2010-2011 academic year alone saw a jump in the number of colleges charging $50,000 or more per year for tuition and fees, including room and board. One of these schools, the University of California, Berkeley, was the first public institution to make the list by charging $50,649 for nonresidents—California residents will pay $27,770 to attend.

Finding affordable programs
At The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, parents and students can search for affordable degree programs. Every year, The Board conducts a survey of colleges, gathering information on tuition, fees and financial aid. The Board organizes its findings into a categorized report that includes data on published and net prices.

Sometimes called the “sticker price,” published prices include tuition, fees, and room and board costs posted by colleges. In other words, this is the price you’ll pay if you have no financial aid. According to The Board’s report, about one-third of all full-time students pay the published price; however, many may qualify for tax credits and deductions to help offset costs. The net price is what students pay after subtracting any aid money they receive from the published price.

Published prices
During the 2010-2011 academic year, published prices averaged $7,605 for in-state tuition and $16, 140 for in-state tuition that included fees, room and board at public four-year institutions. Out-of-state students paid, on average, $19,595 and $28,130 in comparison. Published fees at private non-profit four-year institutions averaged $27,293 for tuition and $36,993 for tuition that included fees, room and board.

Federal Aid softens the blow
Fortunately, the effects of rising tuition have also helped to raise the amount of federal aid available for students. The Board report for 2009-2010 showed a 64% increase in grant aid, from $25.2 billion to $41.3 billion. The Pell Grant program alone, which serves low-income and military students, increased its spending by 58%. This increase in the maximum grant amount opened the way for an additional 1.5 million students to qualify for grants.

The good news
Published prices have increased by as much as 24% at public four-year institutions in the past five years. However, after adjusting for inflation, the average net price paid by full-time students has declined, largely due to the increase in federal grant aid and tax benefits.

Generally, college freshmen will find the most affordable tuitions at a public two-year college, where the average cost for tuition and fees is $2,713. Many two-year schools don’t offer housing, however. When considering a four-year college, don’t dismiss a private institution thinking that you can’t afford the higher costs. The private college of your choice may receive a large endowment or grant aid that can offset your total costs and bring them in line with similar public institutions. Researching a variety of different colleges and financial aid options will always be your time well spent.

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