College costs keep climbing, but financial aid isn't keeping pace

Students and families continue to shoulder higher college costs as tuition sticker prices rise. Associated Press
Students and families continue to shoulder higher college costs as tuition sticker prices rise.Associated Press
Published October 25 2017

The latest look at the cost of college in America paints a fairly bleak picture for students and parents already struggling with the outsized financial burden.

Tuition keeps rising, and financial aid isn’t keeping pace, according to The College Board’s annual reports on the cost of higher education.

Colleges are feeling the pain, too, as they shell out grants and scholarships to students who need help paying the bills.

Florida remains a stark exception to national trends, with the second lowest in-state tuition in the nation. In fact, Florida was one of just three states (along with Wisconsin and Washington) where tuition prices fell at four-year public schools over the last five years.

Consider the University of Florida, the state’s flagship university and the second-cheapest such flagship nationwide, where tuition costs $6,380 for in-state students -- a decrease of 3 percent over 5 years. At the other end of the spectrum, in-state tuition at Penn State University costs $18,440 -- and keeps rising, like at nearly every other public flagship.

Around the country, the rise in tuition "sticker prices" at both public and private institutions spiked during the recession, when states slashed aid to universities and schools scrambled to make up the difference. Since then, price increases have slowed, but they still outpace inflation.

And even though financial aid has seen some positive trends, those increases haven’t been enough to keep the net cost of college from rising.

With grants and tax benefits subtracted, the net cost of tuition and fees rose from $4,010 to $4,140 for in-state students at public four-year colleges. At private, nonprofit four-year schools, the net cost rose to $14,530.

Here are some more of the report’s main takeaways:

  • In-state students at four-year public universities: On average, these students have a sticker price of $9,970 in tuition, an increase from last year of $300. On average, they get $5,830 in grant aid and federal tax benefits. That means 58 percent of their tuition and fees are covered.

  • Out-of-state students at four-year public universities: Tuition costs rose by $800 for these students. On average, the sticker price is $25,620.

  • Students at private, four-year colleges: Tuition and fees rose by $1,220 on average, to about $34,740 this year. With aid, the average net tuition and fees students actually pay also rose, to about $14,530.

  • Students at public two-year colleges: Tuition remains low, though it has risen. On average, the sticker price of tuition and fees is about $3,570, but these students receive significant amounts of public aid, often more than the price of school.

  • Seven out of 10 full-time students receive grant aid.

  • Total borrowing went down for the sixth year in a row, falling from $126 billion in 2011 to $107 billion this year (adjusted for inflation). The borrowing boom hit its peak during and immediately after the recession, and since then, students and families have been warier of taking on loads of debt.

  • To help students with tuition and other costs, colleges are pouring money into financial aid, which hurts their bottom line.

The College Board, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1900 to expand access to higher education. It is best known for administering the SAT and Advanced Placement programs, but also does work in research and advocacy.