The rising cost of college tuition has been an issue of concern in the United States for some time, but with estimates putting the lifetime income of college graduates at $800,000 more than those of high school diploma recipients, it's worth a closer look at some of the figures and how the tuition increases are being put to use.
Average College Costs
According to the College Board, the cost of attending a public 4-year college or university for the 2008-09 school year was just above $6,500, up 6.4 percent from the previous year. To attend a private 4-year college or university for 2008-09, students paid an average of more than $25,000, which was up almost 6 percent from the year prior. These figures take into account tuition as well as room and board, food and materials costs.
Global economic factors have decreased the amount of state funding that public schools have received since 2002, and the increased need for services other than those provided in the classroom has also added to the financial burden at these schools. According to a 2009 report by the Delta Cost Project, the amount of money spent on administrative costs and student services such as security, counseling and career advisement and maintenance has increased by as much as 23 percent since 2002, whereas spending on classroom instruction per student has topped out at 9 percent. Overall spending per student has kept pace with inflation since 2002, so the rise in tuition at public schools can be mostly attributed to the decreased state funding levels.
At private universities, tuition increases have been accompanied by an increase of 10 percent in per student spending. Increases at private schools are attributed to increased competition amongst the schools for highly prized faculty and incoming students. The increased level of competition has forced private schools to offer ever-increasing amounts of grant and scholarship money to attract students, and fewer students paying full tuition has led to tuition increases across the board in efforts to subsidize the scholarships.
The Rise Compared to Inflation
A comparison of inflation statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the College Board reveals that since 1978, the cost of attendance at community colleges and 4-year public and private colleges and universities has tripled, with tuition increases rising at an average of double the general inflation rate.
Financial Aid Options
For the 2008-09 school year, more than $143 billion was available to students attending colleges ranging from 2-year community to 4-year private university. Many schools award grants to students demonstrating high academic achievement and financial need. This is money that is simply subtracted from the overall cost of attendance. It never has to be paid back. There are also thousands of scholarships available for students, some of which are offered directly through the school, and others that are offered through various charitable and academic organizations. State and federal money are also available to students in the form of loan and work-study programs. Students wishing to obtain financial aid for school must fill out the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) before each year of school.