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BC-CMP-COLLEGE-COSTS:LA — national (800 words)

Tuition increases at US public colleges at lowest rate in decades

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 10:59 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES (MCT) — The rise in tuition at public colleges slowed this year to the smallest increase in more than three decades, although financial aid has not kept pace to cover the hikes, according to a College Board study released Wednesday.

At public four-year colleges and universities across the country, the average price for tuition and fees rose 2.9 percent this year — the smallest annual rise in 38 years — to $8,893 for in-state students, the report said. Room and board adds about $9,500.

However, analysts urged students and families to pay closer attention to what they described as the more important figure: the net average cost after grants, tax credits and deductions. That was $3,120, up from $3,050 last year, for average net tuition and fees at four-year public colleges.

“It does seem that the spiral is moderating — not turning around, not ending, but moderating,” said Sandy Baum, a co-author of the College Board study and research professor at George Washington University. Baum said that the relatively small increase, while still above the general 2 percent inflation, was good news and that she hoped it will encourage more students to enroll in college and apply for financial aid.

The tuition hikes at four-year public colleges from 2010 through 2012 had averaged 7.9 percent, 8.5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

At private nonprofit colleges, the average sticker price for tuition and fees was up 3.8 percent, to $30,094. That was a bit less than the rise of at least 4 percent in each of the previous three years. The much lower net cost, what students actually pay, averaged $12,460 after grants and tax benefits, up $530 from last year, the College Board reported. Room and board at private schools average about $10,820.

Both public and private colleges have faced more pressure from the public and federal government to keep costs down, said economist Jennifer Ma, a co-author of the report. “Obviously, they have been mindful of that,” she said. For example, President Barack Obama has proposed a new college rating system that takes pricing and financial aid into account.

Plus, with the recession receding, some state governments have started to restore higher education funding that had been cut after tax revenues shrank five years ago, experts said. California voters last year, for example, approved Proposition 30, which increased some taxes that helped avoid tuition hikes.

A related College Board report tackled the controversial issue of rising student debt as part of the overall aid package. College Board President David Coleman said that too many students may be scared away from college by fears that education loans would be impossible to pay off when, he said, most college graduates are able to manage those payments.

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MCT Information Services

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