Highlights

The increases in tuition and fee prices in 2015-16 were, like the increases in the two preceding years, relatively small by historical standards. However, the very low rate of general inflation makes this year’s increases in college prices larger in real terms than those of 2014-15 and 2013-14. Significantly, and perhaps counter to public impressions, price increases are not accelerating over time. However, the average published tuition and fee price of a full-time year at a public four-year institution is 40% higher, after adjusting for inflation, in 2015-16 than it was in 2005-06. The average published price is 29% higher in the public two-year sector and 26% higher in the private nonprofit four-year sector than a decade ago.

In Trends in College Pricing 2015, we report on the prices charged by colleges and universities in 2015-16, how prices have changed over time, and how they vary within and across types of institutions, states, and regions. We also include information on the estimated net prices students and families pay after taking financial aid into consideration. Data on institutional revenues and expenditures and on changing enrollment patterns over time supplement the data on prices to provide a clearer picture of the circumstances of students and the institutions in which they study.

Published Tuition and Fees and Room and Board

Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average annual rate of 3.4% per year beyond inflation, compared to average annual rates of increase of 4.2% between 1985-86 and 1995-96 and 4.3% between 1995-96 and 2005-06.

  • The average annual rate of increase of published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions declined from 3.5% between 1985-86 and 1995-96 to 3.0% between 1995-96 and 2005-06 and to 2.4% between 2005-06 and 2015-16.
  • Average published tuition and fees for in‐state students in the public four‐year sector increased by $265 (2.9% before adjusting for inflation), from $9,145 in 2014-15 to $9,410 in 2015-16. Average total tuition and fee and room and board charges are $19,548.
  • Average published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose by $786 (3.4%), from $23,107 in 2014-15 to $23,893 in 2015-16. Average total charges are $34,031.
  • Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose by $1,122 (3.6%), from $31,283 in 2014-15 to $32,405 in 2015-16. Average total charges are $43,921.
  • Average published in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased by $99 (3.0%), from $3,336 in 2014-15 to $3,435 in 2015-16.
  • Estimated average tuition and fees for full-time students in the for-profit sector increased by about $450 (3.0%), from $15,160 in 2014-15 to $15,610 in 2015-16.
  • About two-thirds of full-time students pay for college with the assistance of grant aid; many receive federal tax credits and deductions to help cover expenses.

Variation in Tuition and Fees

The average published in-state tuition and fee price for full‑time undergraduates enrolled at public master’s universities is $8,225, compared to $10,354 at public doctoral universities.

  • The average published tuition and fee price for undergraduates enrolled at private nonprofit master’s universities is $28,466, compared to $40,519 at private doctoral universities.
  • Among full-time undergraduates at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions, the median published tuition and fee price in 2015-16 is $11,814.
  • Thirteen percent of full-time students in the public four-year sector attend institutions that did not increase their tuition prices at all in 2015-16 and another 39% faced increases below 3%. Three percent of students in this sector attend institutions that increased their prices by 9% or more.

Differences Across States

Published 2015-16 in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions range from $4,890 in Wyoming and $6,350 in Montana to $14,990 in Vermont and $15,160 in New Hampshire.

  • In-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges range from $1,420 in California and $1,680 in New Mexico to $6,510 in New Hampshire and $7,530 in Vermont.
  • In 18 states, average in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions either decreased or increased by less than 10% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2010-11 and 2015-16. In 11 states, the increase was 20% or more.
  • California’s 59% inflation-adjusted increase in average published tuition and fees for full-time students at public two-year colleges between 2010-11 and 2015-16 was second only to Louisiana’s 64%, but California’s price remains the lowest in the country.
  • In 2015-16, the published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions range from $10,510 in South Dakota and $15,630 in Wyoming to $33,080 in Michigan and $35,710 in Vermont.

What Students Actually Pay

Both average net tuition and fees and average net tuition and fees and room and board for full-time public two-year college students are lower in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2015-16 than they were in 2005-06 or in 1995-96.

  • Despite increasing published prices, the average net tuition and fee prices that students paid after taking grant aid and tax benefits into consideration declined between 2005-06 and 2010-11 in public two-year and four-year institutions and in private nonprofit four-year institutions.
  • Following these declines in net price, average net tuition and fees increased in all three sectors between 2010-11 and 2015-16 as aid levels, which rose rapidly between 2007-08 and 2010-11, stabilized.
  • In public four-year colleges, net tuition and fees averaged $3,980 in 2015-16 — $1,100 higher (in 2015 dollars) than a decade earlier. The average net tuition and fees in private nonprofit four-year colleges was $14,890 in 2015-16, compared to $14,700 in 2005-06.
  • In 2011-12, 85% of full-time dependent students from families with incomes below $30,000 attending public two-year colleges and 62% of those attending public four-year institutions received enough grant aid to cover their entire tuition and fees.
  • These low-income students faced total budgets, including housing, food, books, and other expenses, that exceeded their grant aid by an average of $8,090 at public two-year colleges and $12,000 in the public four-year sector.
  • In 2011-12, 31% of full-time dependent students from families with incomes below $30,000 attending private nonprofit four-year colleges and 4% of those attending for-profit institutions received enough grant aid to cover their entire tuition and fees.
  • These low-income students faced total budgets, including housing, food, books, and other expenses, that exceeded their grant aid by an average of $19,520 at private nonprofit four-year colleges and $24,270 in the for-profit sector.

Institutional Finances

Average subsidies per full-time equivalent (FTE) student — expenditures not covered by net tuition revenues — declined by 26% at public doctoral universities, by 29% at public master’s universities, and by 15% at public two-year colleges between 2002-03 and 2012-13.

  • State funding per FTE student in public institutions declined from a high of $10,110 (in 2014 dollars) in 2000-01 to $6,960 in 2012-13, and rose to $7,540 in 2014-15.
  • The $81.0 billion in total state appropriations for higher education in 2014-15 represented a 1% decline in inflation-adjusted dollars over a decade, and a decline of 12% from the peak of $92.3 billion (in 2014 dollars) in 2007-08.
  • The portion of state resources going to support higher education, measured by funding per $1,000 in personal income, declined from $9.74 in 1989-90 to $7.36 in 1999-00, to $6.55 in 2009-10, and to $5.55 in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, state appropriations per FTE student for public colleges and universities ranged from $3,660 in New Hampshire and $3,810 in Arizona to $15,160 in Wyoming and $18,560 in Alaska.
  • Average education expenditures per FTE student increased by a total of 10% in inflation-adjusted dollars at public doctoral universities between 2002-03 and 2007-08 and by 1% between 2007-08 and 2012-13. At private nonprofit doctoral universities these increases were 16% over the first five years and 3% over the more recent five years.
  • The percentage of faculty members employed full time declined in all sectors between 1993-94 and 2003-04 and again between 2003-04 and 2013-14 — from 76% to 70% to 67% at public fouryear institutions, from 35% to 32% to 30% at public two-year institutions, from 62% to 58% to 57% in the private nonprofit four-year sector, and from 28% in 2003-04 to 20% in 2013-14 at for-profit institutions.
  • In 2012-13, 10 private doctoral universities held 44% of the total endowment assets of all private nonprofit four-year institutions combined; 10 public doctoral universities held 37% of the total endowment assets of all public four-year institutions combined.

Enrollment Patterns

Total postsecondary enrollment, which increased by 20% between 2005 and 2010, declined by 3% between 2010 and 2013; enrollment in the public and private nonprofit four-year sectors grew slightly over these three years.

  • After growing from 240,000 in 1995 to 2.4 million in 2010, enrollment in the for-profit sector declined to about 2 million in 2013.
  • In fall 2012, the percentage of first-time students at public four-year institutions who were state residents ranged from 34% in Vermont and 38% in North Dakota to 93% in Alaska and New Jersey and 94% in Texas.
  • In 2013-14, only 3% of the four-year degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States accepted less than 25% of their applicants, while 45% of these institutions accepted 75% or more of their applicants.

College Affordability

Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,335 (in 2014 dollars) between 1984 and 2014 — 69% of the increase in income ($9,219) of the middle 20% of families and 9% of the increase in income ($73,670) of the 20% of families in the highest income bracket.

  • The average income of the middle 20% of families was $66,899 in 2014 — a 2% decline over 10 years and a 16% increase over 30 years.
  • In 2014, the $109,018 median family income for families headed by a four-year college graduate was more than twice the median for families headed by a high school graduate.
  • Tuition and fees constitute 39% of the total budget for in-state students living on campus at public four-year colleges and universities and 20% of the budget for public two-year college students who pay for off-campus housing.