College Board: Tuition increases, student debt levels evening off

'It doesn't mean that any of the issues have disappeared'

Although student debt levels and tuition increases are leveling off, the average net price of private and public four-year institutions continues to climb, Kellie Woodhouse reports for Inside Higher Ed.

College Board released two new studies on Wednesday, which look at college price and student aid trends.

Researchers found the average per-student amount borrowed fell since the recession, but that more students are borrowing overall.

Federal borrowing fell 20% from 2010 to 2014, according to the report. Stafford Subsidized Loan Program borrowing fell 9%, unsubsidized Safford Loan borrowing fell 11%, and PLUS loan borrowing fell 9% over the same time period.

Yet the total number of students taking on debt is actually increasing, driving overall debt levels up.

The drop in per-student debt taken on is likely due to the drop in students who enrolled in school because they were unable to find jobs during the Great Recession, Woodhouse writes. Much of that group went to for-profit institutions. From 2010 to 2013 enrollments in those institutions dropped by 17%, compared with the 3% drop in all total postsecondary enrollments.

Recession led to an enrollment boom, but not a graduation boom

Those students were more likely to depend on Pell Grants, take out loans, and default, says Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and George Washington University professor of higher education.

"All of these things are much more moderated," Baum says. "It doesn't mean that any of the issues have disappeared. We should be concerned about college affordability, student debt, the effectiveness of grant aid, but we should be able to see them as long-term questions that we need to find the answers to."

On average, in the past 10 years:

  • Public four-year tuition grew 3.4% beyond inflation annually, compared with 4.3% the decade prior; and
  • Four-year private nonprofit tuition grew 2.4% beyond inflation annually, compared with 3% the decade prior.

However, net price increased because of the drop in federal funding. The net price at public four-year institutions is, on average, $1,100 more than it was 10 years ago, while at private four-years it is $190 more.

Additionally, while inflation-adjusted grant aid per undergraduate student grew 56% from 2004 to 2014, just 7% of that happened between 2010 and 2014.

"The result is that students overall are paying more for tuition now than they did in the years surrounding the recession," Woodhouse writes (Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 11/4).

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