College costs rising more slowly, but aid still not keeping up, reports say
The College Board's dual annual reports on trends in college costs and financial aid find that the net price of a college education is still rising, despite the attention being paid to affordability.
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South Carolina and Georgia, for instance, are the most generous with their grant aid per full-time student. But in Georgia, none of that aid is needs-based, and in South Carolina, only 16 percent of the state grand aid was needs-based.Skip to next paragraph
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And in 2013-14, published tuition and fees for in-state students at flagship universities range from $4,404 a year at the University of Wyoming to $17,926 at Penn State-University Park.
“There are dramatic differences depending on where you live,” says Baum.
In 2012-13, 49 percent of all student aid was in the form of grants – the highest percentage over the past decade. But many students are still borrowing. Some 60 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011-12 from the public and private nonprofit institutions at which they began their studies graduated with debt, borrowing an average of $26,500. Some 1.6 million students are in income-based repayment plans – about 11 percent of borrowers.
The College Board has published the trends on both college pricing and student aid and borrowing annually for 30 years now, but this year, the reports come at a time of increased attention to the college affordability problem.
In August, President Obama drew attention to the problem and called for a new college ranking system that would emphasize things like graduation rates and sticker price as a means to help make colleges more affordable.
"We’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities – you can get all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who's offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck,” Mr. Obama said in a speech last month at the University of Buffalo, in New York.
Numerous people, including a number of colleges, have pushed back against that proposal – and it remains unlikely that this Congress would agree to tie federal student aid to such a system – but most people agree that spiraling college costs and student debt are a problem.
The latest data from the Trends reports, says Baum, show that “there aren’t any magic bullets here.” What’s needed, she and Coleman say, is to be thinking more about appropriately targeting student aid for those who need it most, having adequate public funding for higher education, and providing better guidance for students trying to navigate the complex decisions involved. Often the least information is available to the students who need it most, they say, and the College Board is working to get better information to low-income students.
But they also emphasize the value, despite the rising costs, that a college education still gives students – and worry that the current discussion about the danger of taking on debt will discourage some students from getting that education, particularly those with the least access to good information, or who don’t have family members who have gone to college.
“It is imperative that we provide the best information possible to students and their families about the value of a college education and what debt really means,” says Coleman, noting that the average debt for a bachelor’s degree recipient is $26,500 – which could be repaid in 10 years by payments of less than $300 per month. But studies show that an average bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn an extra $550,000 to $600,000 in income in his or her lifetime compared with those who do not, he says. “I don’t diminish the real concerns about the price of college, but it is a moral and social imperative that we’re clear about the truth.”
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