Recession prompts rise in tuition costs at public, private colleges

W By Susan C. Thomson and Joseph Plambeck

wASHINGTON – Students at the nation’s four-year public colleges and universities are paying an average of 9.6 percent more in tuition this year than a year ago – the steepest year-to-year rise in a decade. By comparison, students on private campuses got off relatively easy, with an average increase of 5.8 percent.

The College Board released the numbers Monday.

The recession was behind the heavier hit taken by students at state schools. Their budgets caught short, states cut funding for public higher education. To balance their own budgets, state colleges then asked students to dig deeper into their pockets.

The College Board also reported Monday that a record $90 billion in student financial aid was available to students in 2001-02, 11.5 percent more than in 2000-01. Board president Gaston Caperton called that “great news.” Of that amount, 54 percent was in the form of loans, up from 47 percent a decade earlier.

But for the second year in a row, grant money grew faster than loan money.

Jacqueline King, director of the center for policy analysis at the American Council of Education, said it was important to keep tuition increases in perspective. “What’s relevant is the price and the aid available to offset that price…. Families tend to overestimate the price and underestimate the aid.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, after adjustment for grants and inflation, the average net tuition at public and private colleges remained constant from 1992-93 to 1999-2000.

Although the latest round of increases narrowed the gap between them, students are paying more than four times as much on average as at public schools – $18,273 compared with $4,08l.

“No matter what the numbers say, there are still very affordable options for students,” Caperton said.

Spokeswoman Cheryl Schroeder said Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education recognizes “the situation (the state’s public colleges and universities) are in and just hope they keep the tuition increases as minimal as possible. We don’t want to price students out of higher education in Missouri. We think it’s still a good buy.”

At the University of Missouri, a tuition increase and a surcharge combined to raise prices by 15 percent on all four of its campuses this fall. Meanwhile, tuition went up 18 percent at Southern Illinois University, and some students at the University of Illinois saw their bills rise 22 percent.

Among private universities, St. Louis University’s 6 percent tuition increase this year was about average while Washington University’s 4.7 percent was below average.