The nation’s colleges and universities hiked tuition and other prices yet again this year, continuing a decadeslong practice of raising them above the rate of inflation as higher education becomes less and less affordable.
Tuition, fees, and room and board at private nonprofit colleges rose 2.6 percent on average, when adjusted for inflation, to $45,370 this academic year, according to a report released on Wednesday by the College Board. In-state students at four-year public colleges saw costs climb 1.8 percent, to $20,090—the first time they’ve topped $20,000 after adjusting for inflation, according to data dating to 1971, maintained by the administrator of the SAT exam.
Prices at private and public colleges this year didn’t rise as sharply as they had previously, though for private schools, this year’s price hike is higher than their roughly 45-year average.
Families and lawmakers are increasingly worried about mounting student debt burdens and the possibility that middle-income Americans may soon be priced out of college—despite tens of billions of dollars in aid from schools, government agencies, and other providers. Public four-year colleges, which are funded by state taxpayers specifically to provide a low-cost option, have more than doubled their tuition and fees on average over the past 20 years in response to funding cuts from state lawmakers.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed making four-year public colleges tuition-free for in-state students with family incomes up to $85,000—and, within five years, with incomes up to $125,000. She also wants to let students of all income levels attend community colleges for free. The federal government, Clinton says on her campaign website, “has not done enough to address the underlying problem of rising costs.”
Her opponent, Donald Trump, wants to require schools to use more of their endowment funds to offset tuition hikes, among other measures.
College leaders have argued they’re trying to keep costs low, in part by offering more scholarship and grant money—essentially giving students a discount on tuition and fees.
Last year, schools provided $54.7 billion in institutional grants—up 88 percent from the inflation-adjusted $29.1 billion they gave out a decade earlier, according to the College Board. But when measured as a percentage of all grant aid that students get, school grants are down from 20 years ago. Federal taxpayers are providing more of the funds.