Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The rising cost of college, about 8 percent annually since 1984, has outpaced increases in grants and scholarships for lower-income and top-ranking students, forcing families and students to incur enormous debt, according to three reports issued yesterday by the College Board, based in New York City.

“Over the entire [20-year period], the published price of college has significantly outpaced median income for families likely to have college-age children,” according to one report, “Trends in College Pricing, 2004,” from the nonprofit organization representing 4,500 public and private schools, colleges and universities.

The continual increase of college costs has led to $57 billion in federally subsidized loans last year, which amounted to more than half of all student aid and twice as much as in 1984, the reports said.

A 7.8 percent rise this year pushed the average price of tuition, room, board and fees at public colleges up $824 to $11,354, according to the report on college pricing. The average tuition at four-year, private colleges rose 5.6 percent, increasing total costs by $1,459 to $27,516. Last year, tuition rose by 13 percent.

“As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of a national system of need-based aid, we should work collectively to renew our commitment to college access and remove persistent barriers to higher education for low-income students,” said College Board President Gaston Caperton.

“It is our hope that the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Amendments will go a long way toward this goal.”

The reports do not explain the reasons for constant tuition increases, but public-college administrators cite a decline in state funding, while private-school administrators point to reduced endowment income and private giving since the economic recession that started before Mr. Bush took office.

Other factors affecting both public and private schools are the rising costs of health care provided to students and staff; building expansion; and the cost of state-of-the-art equipment and technology.

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry seized on the reports to attack President Bush, saying average tuition for undergraduates attending four-year colleges jumped 46 percent since he took office.

The Massachusetts senator said the administration has failed to increase the maximum Pell Grant, now capped at $4,050, but Republicans countered that Senate Democrats have blocked a House-passed bill backed by the administration that increases the Pell Grant maximum to $5,100.

The average Pell Grant to needy students last year was $2,466, according to a second report titled “Trends in Student Aid, 2004.”

While $7 billion of funding for Pell Grants last year was a 6 percent increase, 5.1 million students received grants, a 7 percent increase in recipients in one year.

The College Board says most students and their parents actually pay less than the advertised price because 25 percent of full-time undergraduates at public colleges and 60 percent of private-school students received institutional grant aid, which does not have to be repaid.

Those grants, combined with federal and state grants, tuition tax credits and deductions for tuition plus federal grants lowered the cost by an average of more than $3,300 per student at public, four-year institutions, and $9,400 at private institutions in the 2003-04 school year.

Nonetheless, during the past 10 years, the net cost to attend college in current 2004 dollars has risen $1,000 for public-school undergraduates and $2,000 for private-college undergraduates.

And while grant funding has increased overall in the past 10 years, need-based aid for lower-income students has not grown as fast as merit-based aid that favors academically talented, middle- and higher-income students, the board said.

Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun reported that top University System of Maryland officials are considering a $26.6 million cost-cutting plan that includes charging state residents higher out-of-state tuition rates throughout the 11-campus system if they take 12 or more credits beyond 120, thus taking longer than four years to graduate.

The move would penalize students financially for taking longer than four years to graduate because they are working to pay their way through college and are unable to take a full load of undergraduate courses each year.

The proposal needs approval by the full board of regents, but Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he expects it.

In a third report, “Education Pays,” issued yesterday, the College Board says workers with bachelor’s degrees earned a median $49,900 in 2003, compared with a median $35,700 earned by those with a few years of college but no degree.

Those with a high school diploma earned a median $30,800. During a 40-year career, the Board estimated, a college graduate is likely to earn about 73 percent more than a high school graduate.

“Given the extent of higher education’s benefits to society, we need to work aggressively to close gaps in access to college,” Mr. Caperton said. “It is a matter of dire importance for the country as a whole.”

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