Cost of college rising as increases slow

Students make their way across the campus of

Students make their way across the campus of Suffolk County Community College in Selden. (April 12, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Students are paying more to attend colleges and universities this year even as increases in the tuition sticker price slowed, in part because many students aren't receiving as much federal aid as in recent years, according to a report out today on college pricing.

Moderate- to low-income students are getting hit the most by the rise in the net cost of college, according to the analysis by the College Board, the Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT exam.

The annual report comes as many students and their families are in the midst of college application season and have increasing concern about higher education costs. The report is one in a series by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center.

"The net cost of college is rising and that means the burden on students is rising," said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development who is an independent higher education policy analyst for the College Board.

Net cost, Baum said, is the amount the student and/or his family pays after all grants and aid are taken into consideration -- not including student loans, which must be repaid.

Federal grant aid and tax benefits that helped cushion the impact of rising tuition prices from 2008-09 to 2010-11 aren't growing enough to help as many students in 2012-13, the analysis suggests.

Student debt -- topping $1 trillion and surpassing credit-card debt -- is up because the number of students who borrow money is growing, Baum said. Individual debt loads are not necessarily increasing, she said.

Nationally, the average published price -- or sticker price -- of tuition and fees for in-state students rose 4.8 percent at public, four-year colleges and universities from 2011-13 to 2012-13. The average published price of tuition and fees for out-of-state students at public, four-year institutions and at private colleges both are up 4.2 percent, the report said.

Cost largely depended on region, Baum said, with colleges in New England asking the most money and colleges in the Southwest asking the least.

In New York, the average tuition increase for a four-year public college was up 4 percent over last year, according to the report. Over the last five years, New York's four-year public college tuition is up 18 percent when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the report.

In July 2011, aiming to keep tuition prices predictable, New York lawmakers passed legislation that caps tuition increases at $300 yearly. The plan, called SUNY 2020, ends in 2016.

Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said the measure ensures that New York's colleges don't experience the drastic increases seen in other parts of the nation.

"More and more students are recognizing that SUNY is a great buy," LaValle said.

Advocates at the New York Public Interest Research Group said steadily decreasing state aid has forced students to take out more loans.

"Policies in Washington and here in New York State have become less about helping students avoid debt by increasing aid and lowering tuition, and more about making sure they have access to more student loan debt," Kevin Stump of NYPIRG said.

The report found that total education borrowing nationally -- including federal student and parent loans, as well as nonfederal loans -- declined by 4 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, the first drop in at least 20 years.

The 2011-12 total of $113.4 billion in student borrowing, however, was 24 percent higher than five years earlier, the report said.

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