The College Board recently issued its annual report on the pricing trends for getting a college education.
The cost to attend keeps going up — often faster than inflation. And the amount of loans taken out to pay for tuition, fees, books, and room and board continues to rise.
This year it was more of the same. The published prices at private four-year colleges in the U.S. rose by an average of 4.4 percent. Tuition increased by an average of 6.5 percent for in-state students at public four-year colleges.
If prices are going up and it’s tougher for people to save, is there anything students and parents can do to keep college costs down?
There is, but it will require a shift in what we’ve come to believe is central to the college experience — staying away from home for four years. Let’s look at the national averages for published tuition and fees for 2009-10:
• For in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities, $7,020.
• For out-of-state students at public four-year colleges and universities, $18,548.
• For all students at private four-year colleges and universities, $26,273.
Add room and board:
• For in-state and out-of-state students at public four-year colleges and universities, $8,193.
• For all students at private four-year colleges and universities, $9,363.
As the College Board report points out, all students, whether they live in campus housing or not, must buy books and supplies. But students could reduce the expense of attending if they lived at home or with a relative or friend who charged no rent or a minimal amount for room and board.
Students from the lowest-income families on average are getting enough free money to at least cover tuition and fees. Aid to these students covered the total cost of tuition and fees at public two-year colleges from 1992-93 through 2007-08 and at public four-year colleges and universities from 1999-2000 through 2007-08, the last year for which data are available, according to the College Board report.
My husband and I paid for a niece to go to college, covering the cost of her tuition, fees and on-campus housing during her freshman year. But her second year she moved back home. By then her parents were able to afford her tuition and fees. My niece didn’t have any less of an experience commuting. She’ll get her degree next spring without having borrowed a penny.
Another way to save — graduating in four years or less. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics tracked the progress of first-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and attending a four-year institution full time.
It found that only 36 percent of students graduate from college within four years. About 57 percent completed their course work within six years, at the institution where they began their studies. A fifth year boosts the total cost of college by about 25 percent.
Understandably, it takes longer for some people to finish college because they are working part time. But others increase the cost unnecessarily. For example, switching schools adds to the expense. If students aren’t careful about transferring to another institution, they could lose expensive credit hours.
I know many parents loathe the idea of limiting their child’s college choices and don’t protest when students switch schools or majors. But if those decisions come with decades of debt, tough limits are in order.
And students, your parents give their hard-earned dollars or put themselves in debt because they want you to succeed. Show them that you appreciate their sacrifice by making more affordable college choices, working hard while in school and graduating on time or early.