Widespread concern about the high and rising price of college makes timely data on tuition increases in historical context particularly important. The increase in average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for the 2012-13 academic year is smaller than it has been in recent years — and below the average growth rate for the decade from 2002-03 to 2012-13.
But the news about what students actually pay is less encouraging. From 2008-09 to 2010-11, grant aid and tax benefits increased rapidly enough to cause the average net prices to decline, even in the face of tuition increases. Through unusually large increases in Pell Grants, grants for veterans, and federal tax credits, the federal government increased its role in financing higher education, relieving the burden on students.
In contrast, the average net price paid by full-time students enrolled in public four-year colleges increased measurably in 2012-13 for the third consecutive year. Average net price also increased for public two-year and private nonprofit four-year students in 2011–12 and 2012–13, after three years of decline.
Published Tuition and Fee and Room and Board Charges
Average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased from $8,256 in 2011–12 to $8,655 in 2012–13. The 4.8% ($399) increase in tuition and fees was accompanied by a $325 (3.7%) increase in room and board charges for students living on campus. At $9,205, room and board charges account for more than half of the total charges for these students.
- Average published tuition and fees for out-of-state students at public four-year institutions rose by $883 (4.2%), from $20,823 in 2011-12 to $21,706 in 2012-13. Average total charges are 30,911.
- Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose by $1,173 (4.2%), from $27,883 to $29,056 in 2012-13. Average total charges are $39,518.
- Average published tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased by $172 (5.8%), from $2,959 in 2011-12 to $3,131 in 2012-13.
- Estimated average tuition and fees for full-time students in the for-profit sector increased by about $435 (3.0%), from $14,737 in 2011-12 to $15,172 in 2012-13.
- Published prices at public four-year institutions rose more rapidly between 2002-03 and 2012-13 than over either of the two preceding decades, but the average annual rate of increase in inflation-adjusted tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions declined from 4.6% from 1982-83 to 1992-93, to 3.0% from 1992-93 to 2002-03, and to 2.4% over the most recent decade.
- About two-thirds of full-time students pay for college with the assistance of grant aid, and some of the remaining one-third students receive federal tax credits and deductions to help cover expenses.
Variation in Tuition and Fees
Half of all full-time students at public and private nonprofit four-year colleges attend institutions charging tuition and fees of $10,282 or less; half attend institutions with higher published prices.
- Thirteen percent of full-time students at public four-year colleges and universities attend institutions that increased their published prices by 9% or more in 2012-13; 24% attend institutions that increased their prices by less than 3%.
- In the private nonprofit four-year sector, 72% of full-time students attend institutions that increased their tuition and fees by between 3% and 6% in 2012-13.;about 19% attend institutions that increased their prices by less than 3%, while about 2% faced increases of 9% or more.
- The average published tuition and fee price for undergraduates enrolled at public master's universities is 80% of the price at public doctoral universities—$7,606 versus $9,539.
- The average published tuition and fee price for undergraduates enrolled at private nonprofit master's universities is 73% of the price at private doctoral universities—$25,997 versus $35,660.
Geographical differences: by region
- In 2012–13, average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges range from $7,621 in the South to $11,019 in New England.
- Average published tuition and fees for public two-year colleges range from $2,241 in the West to $4,619 in New England.
- The percentage increase in public four-year tuition and fees over the decade beginning in 2002-03 was over twice as large in the West as in New England, but the average published price in the West in 2012-13 is $2,289 lower than the price in New England.
- The largest percentage increase in public two-year college tuition and fees over the decade beginning in 2002–03 was 82% in the West, which still has a lower published price than any other region in 2012–13.
Geographical differences: by state
- In 2012–13, the highest published tuition and fee prices in both public four-year and public two-year institutions are in New Hampshire and Vermont. Tuition and fees average $14,576 and $6,752 for public four-year and public two-year institutions, respectively, in New Hampshire and $13,582 and $6,790 in Vermont.
- The lowest published tuition and fee prices for public four-year colleges and universities institutions are $4,278 in Wyoming and $5,595 in Utah.
- The lowest published tuition and fee prices for public two-year colleges in 2012–13 are $1,418 in California and $1,537 in New Mexico.
- In 2012-13, published tuition and fees for in-state students at flagship universities range from $4,278 in Wyoming and $5,985 in Montana to $16,422 at the University of New Hampshire and $17,266 at Penn State. In four states, the flagship price declined in constant dollars in 2012-13. The largest increase was 13% in Washington.
- From 2007–08 to 2012–13, percentage increases in inflation-adjusted public four-year tuition and fees ranged from 2% in Maryland and 3% in Ohio to 72% in California and 78% in Arizona. Prices in Maryland and Ohio remain above the national average.
- From 2007–08 to 2012–13, percentage changes in inflation-adjusted public two-year tuition and fees ranged from a decline of 3% in Maine and an increase of 1% in Montana to increases of 49% in Virginia and 104% in California—which still has the lowest prices in the country.
What Students Actually Pay
In 2012–13, full-time undergraduates at public four-year institutions receive an estimated average of $5,750 in grant aid from all sources and federal tax benefits to help them pay the average $8,665 published tuition and fees. The students pay an average net price of just over $2,900.
- Full-time undergraduates at private nonprofit four-year institutions receive an estimated average of $15,680 in grant aid from all sources and federal tax benefits to help them pay the average $29,056 published tuition and fees. The average net price is about $13,380.
- Full-time students at public two-year colleges receive an estimated average of $4,350 in grant aid from all sources and federal tax benefits to help them pay the average $3,131 published tuition and fees, as well as some of their other expenses.
- Average net tuition and fees paid by full-time students enrolled in public two-year and in private nonprofit four-year institutions are lower in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2012–13 than they were in 2007–08.
- About $1,410 of the $1,850 increase in average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges between 2007–08 and 2012–13 was covered by increases in grant aid and tax benefits, and the student share increased by about $440.
State appropriations per full-time equivalent (FTE) student declined by 10% in 2011–12, leaving this source of funding 25% below its level five years earlier, after adjusting for inflation.
- Total state appropriations to public institutions declined by 3% in constant dollars in 2010-11 and by another 11% in 2011–12.
- In 2009–10, education (instruction and students services) and related expenditures per FTE student ranged from $7,650 at public two-year colleges to $37,860 at private doctoral universities, where about one-third of all students are graduate students.
- At public two-year colleges, education and related expenditures declined from $8,640 per FTE student (in 2010 dollars) to $7,650 between 1999-00 and 2009-10.
- In all sectors other than private doctoral universities, net tuition and fee revenue grew more rapidly than education and related expenditures between 1999–2000 and 2009–10. The subsidies per full-time equivalent (FTE) student — the difference between education expenditures and net tuition revenue — declined. In 2009–10, average subsidies per FTE student ranged from $980 at private master's universities to $17,260 at private doctoral universities.
- In both public and private colleges and universities, the percentage of employees who were instructional staff members was slightly higher in 2011 than in 1976, 1999, and 2009.
Over the decade from 1999-00 to 2009-10, the percentage of all associate degrees awarded by for-profit institutions increased from 12% to 19%. The percentage of all bachelor's degrees awarded by this sector increased from 2% to 6%, and its percentage of all graduate degrees awarded increased from 2% to 9%.
- In the decade from fall 2000 to fall 2010, the number of full-time undergraduate students increased by 44%, from 7.9 million to 11.4 million. The number of part-time undergraduate students increased by 27%, from 5.2 million to 6.6 million.
- In fall 2010, 13% of all FTE enrollment in degree-granting public institutions was in California colleges and universities. California, Texas, Florida, and New York enrolled one-third of all FTE students attending public institutions in the U.S.
Over the entire income distribution in the United States, real average family incomes in 2011 were lower than they were a decade earlier. The largest declines were for the families in the lowest 20% of the population.
- Average income declined for all income groups every year from 2007 to 2010. It fell again in 2011—by 1% to 2%—for each of the four lower income groups, but increased by 3% for the 20% of families with the highest incomes and by 7% for the top 5%.
- In 2011, the $100,096 median income for families headed by a four-year college graduate was more than twice the median income for families headed by a high school graduate.