Highlights

In 2016-17, published tuition and fee prices rose slightly less than the year before. The rapid price growth observed during the Great Recession has abated, as typically happens when the economy recovers, but the rate of increase in tuition and fees continues to exceed inflation.

More notable, however, is the pattern of the net prices students actually pay. Large increases in grant aid and education tax credits cushioned the growth in published prices for a few years, and average net tuition and fee prices declined in the public and private nonprofit sectors in 2008-09 and 2009-10. But net prices have risen since then, as financial aid fails to keep pace with rising published prices. This increase is outpacing growth in incomes, fueling concerns about college affordability.

Trends in College Pricing 2016 reports on the prices charged by colleges and universities in 2016-17, how prices have changed over time, and how they vary within and across types of institutions, states, and regions. It also includes estimates of the 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

Average published in‐state tuition and fees in the public four‐year sector increased by $230 (2.4% before adjusting for inflation), from $9,420 in 2015-16 to $9,650 in 2016-17. Average total tuition and fee and room and board charges are $20,090.

  • Average published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose by $860 (3.6%), from $24,070 in 2015-16 to $24,930 in 2016-17.
  • Average total charges are $35,370.Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose by $1,150 (3.6%), from $32,330 in 2015-16 to $33,480 in 2016-17. Average total charges are $45,370.
  • Average published in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased by $80 (2.3%), from $3,440 in 2015-16 to $3,520 in 2016-17.
  • Estimated average tuition and fees for full-time students in the for-profit sector increased by $340 (2.2%), from $15,660 in 2015-16 to $16,000 in 2016-17.
  • More than 70% of full-time students receive grant aid to help them pay for college.

Growth in College Prices

Between 2006-07 and 2016-17, published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average rate of 3.5% per year beyond inflation, compared to 3.9% between 1986-87 and 1996-97 and 4.2% between 1996-97 and 2006-07.

  • The 3.5% per year rate of increase in tuition and fees in the public four-year sector corresponds to an average annual increase of $280 in 2016 dollars, compared to $150 per year from 1986-87 to 1996-97 and $230 per year from 1996-97 to 2006-07.
  • The inflation-adjusted increase in published prices was lower in 2016-17 than in 2015-16 in all sectors. It was lower than the averages over the past 10 years and over the past 30 years in the public two-year and four-year sectors and similar to historical averages in the private nonprofit sector.
  • The 2.4% average annual rate of increase in published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions over the most recent decade was a decline from 3.1% between 1986-87 and 1996-97 and 2.9% between 1996-97 and 2006-07.

Variation in Tuition and Fees

In 2016-17, while the median price for full-time students attending private nonprofit four-year institutions is $35,020, 10% of full-time students attend institutions with prices below $12,000 and 7% attend institutions charging $51,000 or more.

  • The average in-state tuition and fee price for full-time undergraduates at public master’s universities is $8,340, compared to $10,510 at doctoral universities. The average published tuition and fee price for undergraduates at private nonprofit master’s universities is $28,890, compared to $40,980 at doctoral universities.

Differences Across States

In nine states, average published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions fell or increased by less than 5% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2011-12 and 2016-17. In nine states, average tuition and fees at these institutions increased by more than 20% over these years.

  • Published 2016-17 in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions range from $5,060 in Wyoming to $15,650 in New Hampshire.
  • In-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges range from $1,430 in California to $7,740 in Vermont.

What Students Actually Pay

In 2016-17, the estimated average net tuition and fee price paid by full-time in-state students at public four-year institutions is $3,770, $860 (in 2016 dollars) higher than the net price a decade earlier and $1,550 higher than the 2009-10 low of $2,220.

  • In 2016-17, the average net tuition and fees paid by full-time public two-year college students is $920 less than in 2006-07 – but $270 more than in 2011-12.
  • After declining from $14,900 (in 2016 dollars) in 2006-07 to $12,770 in 2011-12, the average net tuition and fees paid by full-time students at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose to an estimated $14,190 in 2016-17.
  • In 2011-12, on average, institutional grant aid covered 16% ($1,310) of the published tuition and fees for all full-time in-state students at public four-year institutions. Institutional discounts ranged from 12% for independent students and 13% for the highest income quartile of dependent students to 20% for the lowest-income students.
  • In 2011-12, on average, institutional grant aid covered 39% ($11,160) of the published tuition and fees for all full-time students at private nonprofit four-year institutions. Institutional discounts ranged from 24% for independent students and 33% for dependent students from the highest income quartile to 49% for those from the second income quartile.
  • In 2011-12, the average published tuition and fee price facing students in the second income quartile who attended private nonprofit four-year institutions was 60% higher than the average price facing similar students in the for-profit sector. However, the net price they paid to institutions was 18% lower than the price paid by similar students in the for-profit sector.

Public Funding

In 2014-15, appropriations per FTE student were 8% lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than they were a decade earlier and 11% lower than they were 30 years earlier.

  • The $77.6 billion in total state and local appropriations for higher education in 2014-15 represented a 3% increase in inflation-adjusted dollars over a decade, but a decline of 9% from the peak of $85.2 billion (in 2014 dollars) in 2007-08.
  • A 16% (inflation-adjusted) decline in total appropriations and a 13% increase in enrollment contributed to the per-student funding decline between 2007-08 and 2011-12. Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, an 8% increase in appropriations and a 4% decline in enrollment led to a 13% increase in per-student funding.
  • In 2014-15, appropriations per FTE public college student ranged from $2,900 in New Hampshire to $17,490 in Alaska.
  • The portion of state and local resources going to support higher education, measured by funding per $1,000 in personal income, declined steadily from $7.37 in 1984-85 to $5.28 in 2014-15.

Institutional Finances

The portion of per-student educational expenditures at public four-year colleges and universities that is a subsidy to students, rather than being covered by tuition revenues, declined by $710 (in 2013 dollars) between 2003-04 and 2013-14, falling from 56% of the total to 44%.

  • The average subsidy per full-time equivalent (FTE) student at public two-year colleges declined by $460 (in 2013 dollars) between 2003-04 and 2013-14. In 2013-14, the per-student subsidy in this sector was 76% of that in the public four-year sector.
  • The average portion of per-student educational expenditures at private nonprofit master’s universities that was a subsidy to students was 9% in 2013-14, compared to 46% at private doctoral universities and 34% at bachelor’s colleges.
  • Between 2003-04 and 2013-14, educational expenditures per FTE student at public four-year institutions increased by 16% in inflation-adjusted dollars, compared to 4% in the public two-year sector, 23% at private nonprofit doctoral universities, and 7% and 6%, respectively, in private master’s and bachelor’s institutions.
  • Between 1993 and 2013, the percentage of employees who were faculty members rose from 36% to 38% in public institutions, from 33% to 39% in the private nonprofit sector, and from 47% to 60% in for-profit institutions.
  • In 2013-14, the 10% of students enrolled in the 55 private nonprofit colleges and universities with the highest endowments per student benefited from endowments averaging $776,000 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, but only 16 of these institutions had endowments this high.

Enrollment Patterns

Although total postsecondary enrollment was 4% lower in 2014 than in 2010, it was 15% higher than in 2005 and 44% higher than in 1995.

  • The share of undergraduate students enrolled in public two-year colleges fell from 44% in 2010 to 42% in 2014.
  • Public two-year colleges accounted for 50% or more of undergraduate enrollment in the public sector in eight states in 2014, but for less than 25% in seven states.
  • The percentage of first-time public four-year college students who were residents of the states in which they were enrolled declined from 83% in fall 2004 to 79% in fall 2014.

College Affordability

Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,500 (in 2015 dollars) between 1985-86 and 2015-16 — 55% of the increase in income ($11,915) of the middle 20% of families and 9% of the increase in income ($76,041) of the highest income quintile.

  • In 2015, average incomes for all groups except for the 20% of families with the lowest incomes equaled or exceeded the incomes of their 2005 counterparts, after adjusting for inflation.
  • In 2015, the $111,270 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 21% of the budget for public two-year college students who pay for off-campus housing.