Notes & Sources

Trends in College Pricing was authored by Jennifer Ma, policy research scientist at the College Board; Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute; Matea Pender, assistant policy research scientist at the College Board; and D’Wayne Bell, research statistician II at the College Board.

Contact Information for the Authors

Trends in College Pricing and its companion report, Trends in Student Aid, are supplemented by a website that makes detailed data available for reference and downloading. The PDF versions of these reports, along with PowerPoint slides of all the graphs, are available on the Web:

Hard copies may be ordered by contacting

Tables, graphs and data in this report or excerpts thereof may be reproduced or cited, for noncommerical purposes only, provided that the following attribution is included:

Source: Trends in College Pricing.
© 2015 The College Board.


Carol Whang, project manager for the Trends reports, provided critical support for this publication. We also benefited from comments from Jack Buckley, Melanie Corrigan, Jessica Howell, Michael Hurwitz, and Anne Sturtevant. Barbara Kridl and Larry Clay at RTI International provided expert graphic design work. The publication would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of many individuals at the College Board, including Maria Eugenia Alcon-Heraux, Jacklyn Bergeron, Chris Hagan, Abby Hexter, Kathryn McGinley, Randy Peery, Matt Walsh, and Jenny Xie.

We thank all of those who contributed to the data collection for this publication, including institutional research department staff and campus administrators who provided us with invaluable data through the Annual Survey of Colleges. We thank Kenneth Redd of NACUBO for providing us with the NACUBO endowment data.

Defining Terms

“Costs” refer to the expenditures associated with delivering instruction, including physical plant and salaries.

“Prices” are the expenses that students and parents face.

“Published price” is the price institutions charge for tuition and fees as well as room and board, in the case of students residing on campus. A full student expense budget also includes books, supplies, transportation, and other basic living costs.

“Net price” is what the student and/or family must cover after grant aid and savings from tax credits and deductions are subtracted.

“General subsidies” make it possible for institutions to charge less than the actual costs of instruction. State, federal, and local appropriations, as well as private philanthropy, reduce the prices faced by all students — whether or not they receive financial aid.

The Annual Survey of Colleges

Prices described in this report are based on data reported to the College Board by colleges and universities in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. Data for 2015-16 are from an online questionnaire distributed in October 2014, with data collected and reviewed through early September 2015. Tuition and fee figures are based on charges to full-time first-year undergraduate students over the course of a nine-month academic year of 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours.

Enrollment-Weighted and Unweighted Data

This report provides enrollment-weighted average prices. Charges reported by colleges with larger full-time enrollments are weighted more heavily than those of institutions with smaller enrollments. Enrollment-weighted and unweighted averages describe different phenomena. The weighted averages may be more helpful to students and families in anticipating future education expenses. Some researchers, policy analysts, and academic administrators find unweighted averages useful in studying longitudinal trends and evaluating a particular institution’s practices against a larger set. Thus, we compute both weighted and unweighted averages. Tables reporting unweighted tuition data can be found online at

The most recent enrollment data available are for fall 2014. For 2014-15 and earlier years, prices are weighted by same-year enrollments. For 2015-16, prices are weighted by fall 2014 full-time enrollments. In other words, the percentage changes reported in Tables 1A and 1B reflect only price changes, not changes in enrollment patterns. In contrast, the historical data on changes in enrollment-weighted prices reported in Tables 2A and 2B reflect changes in both prices and the distribution of full-time students across institutions.

Weighted averages for each price are based on relevant populations:

  • In-state tuition and fees are weighted by full-time undergraduate enrollment.
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees are calculated by adding the nonresident premium, weighted by full-time out-of-state enrollment, to average in-state tuition and fees. Data are not available on out-of-state students receiving a waiver of the full tuition premium or a portion of it.
  • Out-of-district charges for public two-year college students are not accounted for in the average prices reported here.
  • Resident room and board charges are weighted by the number of undergraduates living in campus housing at each institution.
  • Estimated other student budget components are weighted as follows:
  • Books and supplies are weighted by full-time undergraduate enrollment.
  • Resident transportation and other resident expenses are weighted by the number of undergraduates living in campus housing.
  • Commuter room and board, commuter transportation, and other commuter expenses are weighted by the number of commuting undergraduates at each institution.

Institutions Included in Calculations

This year’s analysis includes 3,094 of the 3,636 public two-year, public four-year, private nonprofit four-year, and for-profit institutions in the most recent Annual Survey of Colleges, representing over 99% of the surveyed schools in the public and private nonprofit sectors and 38% of those in the for-profit sector. We exclude from our calculations military academies and other institutions that report zero tuition. Tables A1A and A1B describe the number of institutions that were included in this analysis, by sector and Carnegie Classification, respectively.

Revisions of Base-Year Values

The prices for 2014-15 used in this analysis differ somewhat from the 2014-15 averages reported last year. One factor contributing to the revision is the reweighting of the prices, shifting from fall 2013 to fall 2014 full-time enrollment figures. The base-year numbers also shift because some institutions submit revised tuition figures for the previous year. The recomputed average for 2014-15 tuition and fees at public four-year institutions is $6 higher than the level we reported last year for in-state students and $149 higher for out-of-state students. Compared to the average tuition and fee prices we reported last year, the recomputed average for 2014-15 tuition and fees is $11 lower for public two-year in-district students, $52 higher for private nonprofit four-year students, and $70 lower for for-profit students.

Longitudinal Data

In Tables 2A and 2B, tuition averages from years prior to 1987-88 are extracted from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The two data sets, IPEDS and the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, track very closely, but IPEDS averages are weighted by full-time equivalent enrollments, while the Annual Survey of Colleges prices are weighted by full-time enrollments. In addition, IPEDS tuition and fee data may be based on 24 semester hours while the Annual Survey of Colleges data are based on 30 semester hours. 

Net Price Calculations

The calculations of average net price for full-time undergraduates in Figures 11, 12, and 13, as well as the calculations in online Table 7, are a best approximation and are based on the aggregate amounts of each type of aid reported in Trends in Student Aid 2015 and on the allocation of each type of aid across institution types and between part-time and full-time students reported in 1993, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) data when such detailed information is not available in specific program data. Because financial aid data for 2015-16 are not yet available, amounts for that year are estimated based on past years. Total charges for public two-year students include an estimate of housing and food expenses for students not living with their parents, based on commuter room and board expenses reported by institutions when available and derived from public four-year room and board charges for earlier years in the analysis. The net price estimates reported here are not exactly comparable to those that appeared in 2014 because some figures have been updated.

Institutional Revenues and Expenditures

Figures 18A, 18B, 19A, and 19B are based on data from the IPEDS Delta Cost data and the IPEDS 2012-13 finance data. Delta Cost data combine IPEDS data with information from the Financial Institution Shared Assessments Program database beginning in 1994. Further details and the entire database are available at Because Delta Cost data are not available for 2012-13, revenues and expenditures for that year are based on IPEDS data and calculations by the authors to match Delta Cost definitions and categories.


Data on endowments are from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and Commonfund Institute, supplemented by data from IPEDS for institutions for which NACUBO or Commonfund data are not available. Public university foundation endowment assets are included.

Inflation Adjustment

We use the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) to adjust for inflation. We use the CPI-U in July of the year in which the academic year begins. See for changes in the CPI-U over time. Table A2 provides CPI data for 2005 through 2015. Additional historical data are available online. Each Factor column provides the user with a multiplication factor equal to the CPI in the base year (say, 2015) divided by the CPI of the year in question. A simple multiplication of a current-year figure by the associated factor will yield a constant-dollar result.

Carnegie Classification 2010: Basic Classification

“Doctoral universities” include institutions that award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year (excluding doctoral degrees that qualify recipients for entry into professional practice, such as the J.D., M.D., Pharm.D., DPT, etc.); “master’s colleges and universities” include institutions that award at least 50 master’s degrees per year; “bachelor’s colleges” include institutions where bachelor’s degrees represent at least 10% of all undergraduate degrees and that award fewer than 50 master’s degrees or fewer than 20 doctoral degrees per year. All of the categories above exclude “special focus institutions” and “tribal colleges.”