College costs adding to squeeze

As the economy walloped their finances, students and families saw little relief this fall from rising college costs, which jumped 6.4 percent at state universities, according to new figures out Wednesday.

Next year is already looking bad, too. More state budget cuts to higher education are virtually certain, and schools in at least two states – Michigan and Rhode Island – will take the unusual step of raising prices midyear.

“At a time of flattening wages, widespread job losses and shrinking home values, the last thing parents need is another big increase in the cost of college,” said James Boyle, president of the group College Parents of America.

But that's what they got.

For the current academic year, the average list price of tuition and fees at four-year public universities rose $394, or 6.4 percent, to $6,585 for in-state students. At private colleges, prices rose $1,399, or 5.9 percent, to $25,143, according to the annual “Trends in College Pricing” report from the College Board.

It's important to remember that many students don't pay the full list price. At private colleges, grants and tax breaks lower the average net price to about $14,900. At public universities, the average actual cost is only about $2,900.

And while some private colleges now exceed $50,000 when room and board are figured in, they are the exception. Overall, more than half of four-year college students attend institutions where the list price for tuition and fees is less than $9,000.

David Warren, president of the National Association of Colleges and Universities, noted that over the last decade independent colleges have increased financial aid at more than three times the rate they've increased tuition.

Public two-year colleges once again were the biggest bargain. Average list prices there rose $108, or 4.7 percent, to $2,402. Factoring in financial aid, the College Board estimates the average net cost is only about $100.

The College Board also reported that the amount of private borrowing – loans students take out on top of federal aid – declined slightly in 2007-08.