- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The cost of going to college has skyrocketed in the past decade for the nation’s 14.1 million undergraduate students, causing one-fourth of them to incur more than $25,000 in debt to earn a degree.

Tuition, fees and housing allowances have increased about 25 percent since 1990, according to the U.S. Education Department’s annual Condition of Education report for 2004, released yesterday. The data were gathered from full-time students who were financially dependent on their families.

Public four-year colleges and universities cost an average $12,400 a year in 2000, an increase of $2,400 from 1990, and private four-year undergraduate schools cost an average $24,400 a year in 2000, an increase of $5,000 during the decade, the report says.

“Grant aid partly offset the price increases, with the percentage of students receiving grants rising from 45 to 57 percent,” said Robert Lerner, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Yearly grants, on average, rose from $4,200 to $5,400 per student, Mr. Lerner said.

Student debt also rose as more than 65 percent of 1999 and 2000 graduates took out college loans, with more than half of the borrowers incurring debt of more than $15,000, the report shows. Most of those incurred a debt of more than $25,000.

“While I continue to be concerned about student loan debt, the report shows that while there are significant increases in the amounts borrowed by each income group, the most significant jumps in the share of students borrowing are [from families] at the upper-income levels,” said Sally Stroup, assistant secretary for postsecondary education.

She said loan volume in federal student loan programs increased from $12.3 billion to $37.5 billion in the past decade.

“Students faced tuition and fee increases that outpaced both inflation and growth in median family income,” said Susan Choy, a Berkeley, Calif., contractor and co-author of the report since 1995.

However, she said much of the increase was offset by the 1992 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which expanded student aid eligibility, raised limits for federally subsidized loans, and provided for unsubsidized loans for all students regardless of need.

The maximum award under the federal Pell Grant program increased from $2,300 to $3,300 from 1990 to 2000. Total Pell funding increased from $4.9 billion to $8 billion.

“In addition, states and institutions increased grant aid, especially merit aid,” Ms. Choy said.

Almost three-fourths of full-time dependent students received some financial aid in the form of grants and loans averaging about $8,700 per student, said Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst for the College Board, which administers college admissions tests.

The wide-ranging 330-page Condition of Education report documented enrollment levels, student performance, staffing, school finance, parental school choices and other indicators from pre-kindergarten through university postgraduate programs.

“Overall, bachelor’s degree completion rates have remained steady over time — 53 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within five years. However, the likelihood of still being enrolled for a bachelor’s degree at the end of five years has increased,” the report said.

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