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, associate policy research scientist at the College Board; and Meredith Welch, policy research analyst at the College Board.

Contact Information for the Authors

Hard copies may be ordered by contacting

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

Source: Trends in College Pricing.
© 2016 The College Board.


Carol Whang and Robert Majoros provided critical support for this publication. We also benefited from comments from D’Wayne Bell, Jack Buckley, Jessica Howell, Michael Hurwitz, and Anne Sturtevant. Sandy Alexander 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 Jaclyn Bergeron, Chris Hagan, Abby Hexter, Alejandro Leal, 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.

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 2016-17 are from an online questionnaire distributed in October 2015, with data collected and reviewed through early September 2016. 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

Most of the price analyses in this report provide 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.

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.
  • 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.

Revisions of Base-Year Values

The prices for 2015-16 used in this analysis differ somewhat from the 2015-16 averages reported last year because of revised data submitted by institutions. Prices for all years through 2014-15 are weighted by same-year full-time enrollments. 2015-16 and 2016-17 prices are weighted by fall 2014 full-time undergraduate enrollments.

Longitudinal Data

In Tables 2A and 2B, tuition averages from years prior to 1987-88 are 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 9, 10, and 11, as well as the calculations in Table 7, are a best approximation and are based on the aggregate amounts of each type of aid reported in Trends in Student Aid 2016 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 2016-17 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 2015 because some figures have been updated.

State and Local Funding

Funding is for both two-year and four-year institutions and includes tax revenues and other state and local funds for higher education, but excludes funding for capital expenditures. Funding data are from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). Data on state appropriations in previous years’ Trends in College Pricing were based on the Grapevine data from Illinois State University. SHEEO data, unlike Grapevine data, include appropriations from local sources and exclude funds used for the following purposes: research, agriculture, and medical purposes, aid to independent and out of state students, funds to independent institutions, and non-credit/continuing education.

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 Bureau of Labor Statistics for changes in the CPI-U over time. Table A1 provides CPI data for 2006 through 2016. 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, 2016) 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 2015: Basic Classification

“Doctoral universities” include institutions that award at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees during the update 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 and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees during the update year; “bachelor’s colleges” include institutions where bachelor’s degrees represent at least 50% of all degrees but where fewer than 50 master's or 20 doctoral degrees were awarded during the update year. All of the categories above exclude “special focus institutions” and “tribal colleges.”