College tuition growing at historically low rates, report shows

The College Board’s latest report on trends in college prices and student aid shows historically small increases in tuition and fees at U.S. colleges and universities for the 2021-22 academic year. The increases were small enough that, after adjusting for inflation, the College Board found that average tuition and fees actually decreased across all sectors.

The report highlights sticker price trends across several institution types:

  • At public, four-year colleges, average tuition (without adjusting for inflation) increased by 1.6 percent to $10,740 for in-state students in 2021-22 and by 1.5 percent to $27,560 for out-of-state students.
  • At private, nonprofit, four-year colleges, average tuition increased by 2.1 percent to $38,070.
  • At public, two-year colleges, it increased by 1.3 percent to $3,800 for in-district students.

According to Inside Higher Ed, this marks the second consecutive year of historically low growth—and reflects institutions’ response to the strains of the pandemic and ongoing enrollment challenges.

Community colleges have experienced especially large dips in enrollment, “so that’s a really big concern still for many college leaders,” Jennifer Ma, a research scientist at the College Board who co-authored the new report, said. “They’re trying to hold tuition steady, to make college affordable for students,” she added.

Net prices shrink slightly, too

In addition to sticker price, the report looks at net price, the amount students actually pay after accounting for scholarships and grant aid. Net prices also decreased slightly—for instance, to $2,640 for in-state students at public, four-year institutions and $14,990 for students at private, nonprofit institutions. Grant aid appeared to fully cover tuition and fees for full-time, first-time students at two-year institutions, which has been the case for more than a decade.

Looking at student aid, the College Board estimates a 5 percent year-over-year decrease in the total amount of student aid awarded, including federal, state, private, and institutional grants; federal loans; work-study; and nonfederal loans. Zooming in, the report shows a 10 percent decrease in Pell Grant dollars awarded, and a 2 percent increase in institutional grants awarded.

Higher Ed Dive points out that the amount of institutional grants awarded annually has grown by 56 percent across a decade, saying that’s “notable because total federal loans have fallen by 34 percent during the same time frame. Total federal grants fell by 32 percent, including a 39 percent drop in Pell Grants.”

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