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Signs That College Tuition Hikes May Ease a Bit


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Parents and students get out your wallets. The College Board says the price of a college education is still going up, although a little more slowly than in recent years. The board is in association of more than 5,000 schools. It released its annual report on college costs today. For many students, Financial Aid is what keeps college affordable.

But as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, student aid has not been keeping up.

LARRY ABRAMSON: After years of major increases, the cost of going to a public college or university went up a mere two and a half percent last year after accounting for inflation. For private institutions, the jump was about two percent.

Ms. SANDY BAUM (Skidmore College): This is good news that it slowed, but published prices are a lot higher than they were five years ago.

ABRAMSON: Sandy Baum who teaches Economics at Skidmore College helped analyze the numbers for the College Board. She says the public focus on the sticker price of going to college gives a misleading picture. The average student at a public university actually paid only about $2,700 a year, less than half the published tuition. For private schools, the average out of pocket price paid is $13,000. A lot of money, of course, but just a little more than half the price in the catalog. Baum says that in general, college prices have remained manageable because most students get a lot of help.

Ms. BAUM: But in the first half of the decade, between 1996 and 2001, we were doing such a good job in terms of giving students grant aid that in fact the average price students were paying was lower than it had been five years earlier. But in the past five years, that's just not the story.

ABRAMSON: James Moeser, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seconds that emotion. He pounded the table, saying that too much focus on lower tuition amounts to a regressive social policy.

Mr. JAMES MOESER (University of North Carolina): Where you have people working the minimum wage, paying taxes to support low tuition for children of bank presidents. What America needs is a much more aggressive approach to need based aid.

ABRAMSON: Indeed a federally appointed commission made the same point, calling for more aid aimed at poor students. College leaders often insist they cannot cut costs without sacrificing quality. But Professor Ronald Ehrenberg of Cornell University says top private institutions have a long line of students waiting to get in. They have no incentive to lower tuition.

Professor RONALD EHRENBERG (Cornell University): That the selective private and public institutions, the question is not what is the size of the class going to be, it's who is going to be in the class.

ABRAMSON: Some of the best news in this survey is that the cost of attending the nation's community colleges has not gone up over the past year. Right now, more than four out of ten college students are enrolled in two year institutions, many of them poor minority students. And whatever the cost of college, graduates still earn a lot more than students who never get past high school. So the most costly choice may be not going to college at all.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.