Highlights

Both the published tuition and fee prices of colleges and universities and the net prices students pay after subtracting grant aid and tax credits and deductions continued to rise between 2016-17 and 2017-18, even after adjusting for inflation. Average net prices in 2017-18 remain lower at public two-year and private nonprofit four-year institutions than they were in 2007-08 (in 2017 dollars). But each year since 2011-12, net prices have risen in these sectors, as well as at public four-year institutions, as the growth in grant aid slowed relative to the growth in tuition and fees. Trends in College Pricing 2017 reports on the prices charged by colleges and universities in 2017-18, how prices have changed over time, and how they vary within and across types of institutions and states. It also includes estimates of the net prices students and families pay after taking financial aid into consideration, both on average and across income levels. 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 instate tuition and fees in the public fouryear sector increased by $300 (3.1% before adjusting for inflation), from $9,670 in 2016-17 to $9,970 in 2017-18. Average total tuition and fee and room and board charges are $20,770. (Table 1)

  • Average published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose by $800 (3.2%), from $24,820 in 2016-17 to $25,620 in 2017-18. Average total charges are $36,420. (Table 1)
  • Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose by $1,220 (3.6%), from $33,520 in 2016-17 to $34,740 in 2017-18. Average total charges are $46,950. (Table 1)
  • Average published in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased by $100 (2.9%), from $3,470 in 2016-17 to $3,570 in 2017-18. (Table 1)
  • Average tuition and fees for full-time students in the for-profit sector were $16,000 in 2016-17. (Table 1)
  • More than 70% of full-time students receive grant aid to help them pay for college. (Page 9)

Growth in College Prices

Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average rate of 3.2% per year beyond inflation, compared with 4.0% between 1987-88 and 1997-98 and 4.4% between 1997-98 and 2007-08. (Figure 4A)

  • The 3.2% average annual rate of increase in tuition and fees in the public four-year sector corresponds to an average annual increase of $270 in 2017 dollars, compared with $160 per year from 1987-88 to 1997-98 and $250 per year from 1997-98 to 2007-08. (Figure 4A)
  • 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 3.3% between 1987-88 and 1997-98 and 2.7% between 1997-98 and 2007-08. (Figure 4A)
  • Over the past three decades, the dollar increases in published tuition and fees (in 2017 dollars) ranged from $1,550 (from 1987-88 to 1997-98) to $2,690 (from 2007-08 to 2017-18) at public four-year institutions and from $5,860 (from 1987-88 to 1997-98) to $7,220 (from 2007-08 to 2017-18) in the private nonprofit four-year sector. (Table 2)

Variation in Tuition and Fees

In 2017-18, the median tuition and fee price for full-time students attending private nonprofit four-year institutions is $35,260. However, 10% of full-time students attend institutions with prices below $12,000 and 13% attend institutions charging $51,000 or more. (Figure 2)

  • In 2017-18, the average in-state tuition and fee price for full-time undergraduates at public master’s universities is $8,670, compared with $10,830 at doctoral universities. The average published tuition and fee price for undergraduates at private nonprofit master’s universities is $29,960, compared with $42,920 at doctoral universities. (Table 1)

Differences Across States

Between 2012-13 and 2017-18, average published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions fell or increased by less than 5% in inflation-adjusted dollars in nine states but increased by 20% or more in eight states. (Figure 6)

  • Published 2017-18 in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions range from $5,220 in Wyoming to $16,070 in New Hampshire. (Figure 6)
  • In-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges range from $1,430 in California to $7,980 in Vermont. (Figure 5)

What Students Actually Pay

In 2017-18, full-time students at public two-year colleges receive an average of about $3,900 in grant aid and federal education tax credits and deductions—$330 more than required to cover tuition and fees. On average after grant aid, they must cover about $8,070 in living expenses. (Figure 8)

  • In 2017-18, the average full-time in-state public four-year college student receives an estimated $5,830 in grant aid and federal tax benefits, covering 58% of the $9,970 published tuition and fee price. (Figure 9)
  • After declining from $15,270 (in 2017 dollars) in 2007-08 to $13,210 in 2012-13, the average net tuition and fees paid by full-time students at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose to an estimated $14,530 in 2017-18. (Figure 10)
  • In 2014-15, at public two-year and four-year institutions, first-time full-time students who were federal aid recipients from families with incomes below $48,001 received enough grant aid on average to cover their tuition and fees, leaving more than $1,500 for other expenses. (Figure 11)
  • At public four-year institutions, federal aid recipients (including those who received only federal loans) with incomes $30,000 and below paid no tuition on average, and had $2,700 of grant aid to put toward an estimated $14,520 in nontuition expenses, leaving $11,820 for them to cover out of other resources. (Figure 11)

Public Funding

In 2015-16, appropriations per FTE student were 11% lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than they were a decade earlier and 13% lower than they were 30 years earlier. (Figure 12B)

  • The $76.1 billion in total state and local appropriations for higher education in 2015-16 (excluding Illinois) represented less than a 1% increase in inflation-adjusted dollars over a decade and a decline of 7% from the peak of $82.0 billion (in 2015 dollars) in 2007-08.
  • (Figure 12B)
  • Between 2005-06 and 2010-11, total funding through appropriations rose by 2%, from $75.6 billion (in 2015 dollars) to $77.3 billion, but enrollment increased by 19%, generating a 14% decline in per-student funding. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, total funding fell by 2%, but with a 5% decline in enrollment, per-student funding increased by 3% over these five years. (Figure 12B)
  • In Vermont and New Hampshire, state and local funding per FTE student at public colleges and universities in 2015-16 was less than half the national average of $7,120. In Wyoming and Alaska, it was more than twice the national average. (Figure 13)

Institutional Finances

The portion of per-student educational expenditures at public four-year institutions that is a subsidy to students, rather than being covered by tuition revenues, fell by 4% ($340 in 2014 dollars) between 2004-05 and 2009-10 and by another 2% ($130) between 2009-10 and 2014-15. (Figure 15A)

  • The average subsidy per FTE student at public two-year colleges fell by 15% ($920 in 2014 dollars) between 2004-05 and 2009-10, but increased by 14% ($750) between 2009-10 and 2014-15 as enrollment in the sector declined. In 2014-15, it was 79% of the average subsidy at public four-year institutions. (Figure 15A)
  • The average portion of per-student educational expenditures at private nonprofit master’s universities that was a subsidy to students was 12% in 2014-15, compared with 45% at private doctoral universities and 36% at bachelor’s colleges. (Figure 15B)
  • Between 2004-05 and 2014-15, educational expenditures per FTE student increased by 16% at public four-year and private nonprofit doctoral universities in inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with 6% in public two-year and private bachelor’s colleges and 8% at private master’s institutions. (Figures 15A and 15B)
  • Between 2004-05 and 2014-15, per-student revenue at public four-year institutions from tuition and fees and federal, state, and local governments increased by $720 (3%) in 2014 dollars. Net tuition revenue increased by $3,000, while revenue from government sources declined by $2,280. (Figure 14)
  • The ratio of students to non-instructional staff rose slightly between 1995 and 2015, from 8.6 to 9.2 in the public sector and from 5.6 to 5.8 at private nonprofit institutions. (Figure 20A)
  • In recent years, institutions have been spending about 4% of the value of their endowments. With a 4% spending rate, the median private college endowment of $33,200 per FTE student yields about $1,300 a year in funding per student, compared with $33,600 per student at the wealthiest institutions. (Figures 16A and 16B)

Enrollment Patterns

Between 2010 and 2015, enrollment rose by 5% (340,000 students) at public four-year colleges and universities and by 6% (203,000 students) in the private nonprofit sector. Enrollment fell by 11% (908,000 students) at public two-year colleges and by 33% (677,000 students) in the for-profit sector. (Figure 18)

  • The postsecondary enrollment of 19.8 million in 2015 was 30% higher than in 2000. (Figure 18)
  • Public two-year colleges accounted for 50% or more of undergraduate enrollment in the public sector in seven states in 2015, but for less than 25% in another seven states. (Figure 19B)

College Affordability

Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,560 (in 2016 dollars) between 1986-87 and 2016-17—58% of the increase in income ($11,270) of the middle 20% of families and 8% of the increase in income ($80,890) for families in the highest income quintile. (Figure 17A)

  • Unlike those with higher incomes, the 20% of families with the lowest incomes have not yet reached the pre-recession (inflation-adjusted) income levels of their 2006 counterparts (although they have recovered some of the income lost during the recession). (Figure 17A)
  • In 2016, the $114,640 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. (Figure 17B)
  • 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. (Figure 1)