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Archive for Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Economic woes fuel big tuition increases nationwide

October 21, 2009

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The recession helped push up the cost of college this year, with students facing bigger bills because of reduced state spending on higher education and diminished campus endowments, according to a College Board report released Tuesday.

Tackling severe budget problems, four-year public colleges in the U.S. raised annual tuition and fees by an average 6.5 percent, to $7,020 this fall, the board found in its annual survey. That figure does not include room, board and other expenses.

Private colleges saw the value of their investments drop in the same period but were worried about pricing recession-battered families out, officials said. So tuition climbed a more modest 4.4 percent at four-year private schools this year, bringing the average to $26,273.

The increases came at a time when the consumer price index actually declined about 2 percent, prompting some criticism about higher education’s inability to control spending. In contrast, for the school year that began in fall 2008, the increases in college costs at four-year schools was about the same as annual inflation.

However, officials urged students not to be scared away from enrolling. About two-thirds of all college students receive grant aid and on average such financial aid reduces the bills by more than half, according to the College Board study. Federal tax credits can cut the costs even more.

Sandy Baum, a College Board senior policy analyst, urged families to apply for as much grant aid as possible before borrowing and then to seek lower-interest federal student loans before tapping private ones. “There is a lot of student aid that can help make this expense more manageable,” she told a news conference Tuesday.

The survey showed that 65 percent of 2007-08 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with student loan debt, with the median loan burden $20,000. Baum said she was “concerned about the growing number of students who are borrowing an extraordinary amount of money.”

Patrick M. Callan, president of the San Jose, Calif.-based National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said it was “hugely disappointing” that colleges continued to raise fees during the recession, even as other sectors of the economy are freezing costs.

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