College costs keep climbing

The long-standing trend of college costs outpacing inflation worsened this year, according to a survey released last week by The College Board.

The New York-based nonprofit reported that a year at a four-year public campus now averages $9,008, while the price tag at a private college is $23,578. Last year's survey said tuition, room, and board averaged $8,400 at public schools and $22,500 at private schools.

Education leaders said the weakening economy was partly to blame for the rise. The survey was completed in August, before the terrorist attacks further jolted economic prospects.

Falling tax revenues and state support were forcing public institutions to boost tuition prior to Sept. 11, while private colleges saw a shrinking stock market pinch endowments.

Since the 1980s, many state institutions have raised tuition because legislatures refused to cover rising costs, said David Ward, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now president of the American Council on Education.

"It's being exacerbated by the downswing," he said.

Both public and private colleges also are facing bigger bills for energy, healthcare, salaries, and technology, said David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Offering a bit of comfort, economists said the dollar figures in the annual survey are less dramatic than they appear. Thanks to grants and scholarships, many students end up paying less than the survey suggests.

"The price you're hearing about is not the price at all; it's the sticker price," said Prof. Gordon Winston, an economist at Williams College. "Net price is after grant aid. That's what determines whether someone goes to college."

The College Board derived its report from a survey of 2,732 nonprofit colleges and universities, more than half the total in the nation.

Consumer prices through September rose 2.8 percent this year. The survey found that some higher education costs rose at more than double that rate.

The biggest increase was at public, four-year schools, where tuition and fees for state residents rose 7.7 percent over 2000, to $3,754. Living on campus rose 6.6 percent, to $5,254 for room and board.

Private four-year colleges saw a less dramatic increase, with tuition and fees now $17,123, a 5.5 percent rise, and living on campus costing $6,455, up 4.7 percent.

Tuition and fees at community colleges jumped an average of 5.8 percent this year, to $1,738. And private junior colleges got pricier: $7,953 for tuition and fees, up 5.5 percent; $5,278 for room and board, 3.9 percent more.

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