Study: College tuition prices on the rise

October 24, 2012

Scott Kanowsky

flickr/UIC Digital Collections
The Science and Engineering South building at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Prices for in-state tuition at public, four-year universities rose nearly 5 percent in the past year--all while higher education researchers and officials say there could be a decline in student financial aid.

A new report released Wednesday from the education advocacy group the College Board shows tuition rates and fees at public colleges nationwide are $8,655, an increase of 4.8 percent over the previous year. But many students receiving state or federal financial aid to attend a higher education institution do not pay that amount.

“You look on average at how much tuition are full-time public college students really paying it’s about $2,900, it’s not $8,700,” said College Board policy analyst and study co-author Sandy Baum in a phone interview Wednesday.

According to the College Board, this net price has been rising each year since 2009-2010. But Baum and other higher education officials said the availability of state and federal aid could be dwindling.

College Board data shows federal grant aid given to some 9.4 million undergraduates in 2011-2012 declined by $3 billion in the past year. 

Meanwhile, Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) officials said state funding to higher education facilities has decreased 6.1 percent in the past year. Baum said she is seeing other states cut higher education funding while the nation's economy "is improving not quickly, and not so dramatically."

"We're spending less of our resources on higher education as well as just having lower levels of resources," she said. 

Meanwhile, IBHE officials said they have been seeing an increase in state tuitions in the past five to ten years.  

Timothy Opgenorth, Director of Financial Aid at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), said he is seeing more parents unable to support their children's higher education. UIC's in-state tuition costs currently stands at $4,604, an increase of almost $200 over the previous year, according to data posted on the school's Website.

“Now we’re seeing more parents saying you know we just can’t help you, we need to take care of things at home. Therefore, then, students are having to borrow more to make up for that difference,” Opgenorth said in a phone interview Wednesday. 

However, Opgenorth said he understands why states are having difficulty securing funding for higher education.

"There have just been cutbacks at the federal and state levels, just because of the current situation with the deficit. Higher education has not been exempt from that. Would I like to see them exempt? Yes, but I also understand that they have a certain amount of funds that they have to disperse accordingly and I trust they make those decisions based upon everything that they know," he said.

Baum, from the College Board, also said the tuition increase is not as large as previous years.

"The rise in college prices is improving, not so dramatically and not enough to eliminate the problem. But they are improving and they never stay very high for a long time," she said.