Four-year school tuition rising again? Potential education crisis brewing for those most in need? Sound familiar?
The largest nationwide increase in tuition in 30 years has taken students and parents completely by surprise. The National College Board, in its yearly look at tuition and student aid trends, found that the average increase at a four-year public school this fall was 14.1 percent. For comparison, this year, the tuitions at America’s most prestigious private institutions have risen only 6 percent.
• SUNY in NY has approved tuition of $4,350, up 28 percent.
• Oklahoma State University enacted a 24 percent hike.
• Iowa State University elevated their tuition by 22 percent.
• Kansas State University boosted theirs by 18 percent.
• Since 1993-94, four-year public colleges average tuition has risen 47 percent.
• The tuition and fees have risen 42 percent at private colleges.
Potential crisis in higher education
The result, experts worry, may be that many low-income students will be left out of college, departing from America's post-1945 view of public higher education as a key tool for promoting social equality and a broader middle class.
This is significant because today there is much more emphasis for workers to have degrees to aid professional advancement. Over a lifetime, the gap in earnings between those with a high school diploma and those with a B.A. or higher exceeds $1,000,000, the National College Board reports. Yet the traditional college experience is becoming harder to attain for the segments of society that need it the most: first-generation students and racial and ethnic minorities.
A tuition tsunami
Public universities were planning tuition increases in all 38 states that responded to a recent survey by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. Double-digit rises were common; at least 10 universities implemented increases of 20 percent or more.
"For the large public flagship institutions nationwide ... these increases could be as large as any we've seen since 1973," says David Wright, a senior researcher at the State Higher Education Executive Officers, based in Denver.
The reason? Cash-strapped states are cutting budgets. Their 1990s largess toward public higher education has already slowed, and for the fiscal year 2003-04, their support for universities is poised to fall by 2 percent to 3 percent, experts say.
To counter this trend, university systems are raising tuition to help fill the gap. One fortunate side effect of this trend is that they’re also trying to boost financial aid, but rising costs will nonetheless hurt many families. It may even prevent many first-time students from seeking a four-year institution and settle for a two-year degree at a local technical college.
Other notable facts
• The average yearly cost to attend a four-year public institution is 71 percent of the annual income of a family in the bottom economic fifth of Americans.
• Today there are more financial aid opportunities, but they are in the form of loans, not grants. This makes college a risky proposition for many families.
• Nationwide, about half of all students receive some form of grant with amounts averaging $2,400 at four-year public schools and $7,300 at private.
• Of those enrolled in four-year institutions, about 29 percent attend institutions charging less than $4,000 in tuition and fees.
• 70 percent of students enrolled in four-year institutions face tuition charges of less than $8,000.
Yet with two-thirds of high school graduates saying they intend to go to college, some worry that the tuition leaps will keep the most-needy students from going to college at exactly the wrong time.
An emerging problem
"We're going to have the biggest high school graduating class in 2009 the nation has ever seen, bigger than the baby boomers," says Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose, Calif. "And what are we doing? We're reducing college funding and making it harder to afford."
"We're tying to promote achievement for all children in K-12, and at the same time, we're now slamming the door on higher education," says David Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. "What if the No Child Left Behind program succeeds? What will we tell all those city kids who want to go to college but can't afford it?"