The College Board Trends in Higher Education Reports Find Continuing Declines in Student Borrowing, Moderate Increases in Published Prices, and Ongoing Increases in the Net Prices Students Pay for College
NEW YORK — The College Board’s 2016 Trends in Higher Education reports released today — Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing — show moderate increases in published tuition and fees ranging from 2.2% to 3.6% across all sectors between 2015-16 and 2016-17. Nonetheless, the continuing increase in average published tuition and fees at colleges and universities outpaces the growth in financial aid, family incomes, and the average prices of other goods and services. The Trends reports also reveal differences between undergraduate and graduate student borrowing, and highlight the large gaps between published tuition and fees and the net prices students pay (after considering grant aid from all sources and federal education tax benefits), as well as the increases in those net prices in recent years.
After adjusting for inflation, the increases in average published college prices across all sectors were lower in 2016-17 than in 2015-16. In addition, these increases were lower than the averages over the past 10 and 30 years in the public two-year and four-year sectors and similar to historical averages in the private nonprofit sector.
“The reports document that, despite the moderate increases in average published prices, there were considerable increases in net tuition and fees over the past few years,” said co-author Jennifer Ma, policy research scientist at the College Board. “These increases, combined with stagnant incomes for many families, raise concerns about ensuring educational opportunities for low- and moderate-income students.”
Although total education borrowing was higher in 2015-16 than a decade earlier, it declined in 2015-16 for the fifth consecutive year, falling by 14%, from $124.2 billion (in 2015 dollars) in 2010-11 to $106.8 billion in 2015-16. Undergraduate students borrowed 18% less (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than in 2010-11 and graduate students borrowed 6% less. At the same time, college enrollment declined, but borrowing per full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate fell from $6,170 in 2010-11 to $5,460 in 2015-16. Similarly, borrowing per FTE graduate student declined from $19,300 to $18,200 over five years, but increased by about $550 over the past academic year.
“The data in the 2016 Trends reports reaffirm the wide range in prices associated with different types of colleges and universities and the importance of the variety of choices available to postsecondary students in the United States. The continuing downward trend in undergraduate student borrowing and the significantly higher levels of borrowing among graduate students are critical to understanding student debt problems,” said Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and co-author of the 2016 Trends in Higher Education reports.
Published tuition and fees do not always reflect what students actually pay (net price) because students can receive grant aid and tax benefits. On average, grant aid covers tuition and fees for full-time public two-year college students. Full-time students at public four-year colleges receive on average $5,880 in grant aid and tax benefits, covering about 60% of the $9,650 in-state tuition and fees. In the private nonprofit four-year sector, the average $19,290 in grant aid and tax benefits covers 58% of the $33,480 average published tuition and fee price.
The Trends reports show that while grant aid is increasing, net price is also rising in all sectors in recent years. In 2016-17, the average net tuition and fee price at public four-year institutions is $3,770, $860 higher than a decade earlier and $1,550 higher than in 2009-10. In the public two-year sector, the average net tuition and fee price in 2016-17 is $920 less than in 2006-07, but $270 higher than in 2011-12. In the private nonprofit four-year sector, the average net tuition and fee price is $14,190 in 2016-17, lower than a decade earlier, but higher than the low of $12,770 in 2011-12.
“There has been a great deal of attention focused recently on the costs and benefits of postsecondary education in the media and among policymakers. The College Board is proud to continue our role in helping to inform this important conversation through the release of these analyses and data,” said Jack Buckley, the College Board’s senior vice president of Research. “Ensuring that the nation has access to accurate and timely information on trends in college prices and student aid is a key part of the College Board’s mission to promote excellence, transparency, and equity in postsecondary education for students of all backgrounds.”
Key Tuition and Fee Findings
- Average published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased 2.4% before adjusting for inflation, rising from $9,420 in 2015-16 to $9,650 in 2016-17.
- The $1,930 increase in average grant aid from all sources and federal education tax credits for in-state students at public four-year institutions over the last decade covered 69% of the tuition and fee price increase over these years.
- Average published tuition and fees for full-time out-of-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased 3.6% before adjusting for inflation, rising from $24,070 in 2015-16 to $24,930 in 2016-17.
- Average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 3.6% before adjusting for inflation, rising from $32,330 in 2015-16 to $33,480 in 2016-17.
- The increase in average grant aid and tax benefits for full-time students at private nonprofit institutions was larger than the increase in tuition and fee prices between 2006-07 and 2016-17; between 2011-12 and 2016-17, the increase in grants and tax benefits per student covered 62% of the increase in average tuition and fees at these institutions.
- Average published in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased 2.3% before adjusting for inflation, rising from $3,440 in 2015-16 to $3,520 in 2016-17.
- A 16% (inflation-adjusted) decline in total state and local funding and a 13% increase in enrollment contributed to a decline of 26% in state and local appropriations per FTE student between 2007-08 and 2011-12.
- Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, an 8% increase in appropriations combined with a 4% decline in enrollment led to a 13% increase in per-student funding. Despite this partial recovery, 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.
- In 2016-17, average published in-district tuition and fees for full-time students at public two-year institutions range from $1,430 in California and $1,660 in New Mexico to $6,530 in New Hampshire and $7,740 in Vermont. Average published tuition and fee prices for in-state students at public four-year institutions range from $5,060 in Wyoming and $6,360 in Florida to $15,450 in Vermont and $15,650 in New Hampshire.
- Average published tuition and fees fell or increased by less than 5% in inflation-adjusted dollars in nine states between 2011-12 and 2016-17, but increased by more than 20% in nine other states. The states where prices have risen most rapidly are not the same as the states with the highest prices
Key Student Aid Findings
- In 2015-16, loans from federal and nonfederal sources combined constituted 36% of the funds used by undergraduates to supplement student and family resources — less than in any other year over the past two decades.
- Grants constituted 55% percent of the funds used by undergraduates to supplement student and family resources — the highest level over these years.
- Undergraduates received an average of $14,460 per FTE student in financial aid in 2015-16, including $8,390 in grants from all sources, $4,720 in federal loans, $1,290 in education tax credits and deductions, and $60 in Federal Work-Study.
- Grant aid per FTE undergraduate student increased by $750 (10%) in 2015 dollars between 2010-11 and 2015-16, after increasing by $2,390 (46%) over the preceding five years.
- Total Pell Grant expenditures increased from $15.5 billion (in 2015 dollars) in 2005-06 to $39.1 billion in 2010-11, but declined to $28.2 billion by 2015-16. The number of Pell Grant recipients declined in 2015-16 for the fourth consecutive year, but the 7.6 million recipients represented a 46% increase from 5.2 million a decade earlier.
- Federal education tax credits and deductions reach more students than subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans combined, and almost twice as many students as Pell Grants.
- Total federal loans per FTE undergraduate student increased by 34% ($1,430) between 2005-06 and 2010-11, but declined by 17% ($960) between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
- Total federal loans to graduate students increased from 31% to 38% of total student borrowing between 2000-01 and 2015-16.
- In 2014-15, the 61% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions who borrowed graduated with an average of $28,100 in debt.
- In 2015, 38% of all borrowers with outstanding student loan debt owed $10,000 or less and 16%, including 10% of undergraduate borrowers and 43% of graduate borrowers, owed $40,000 or more.
- Average debt for borrowers entering repayment in 2013-14 with only graduate school debt was $45,890, compared to $19,650 overall.
The Trends in Higher Education series provides insight into trends in college pricing and financial aid. A college education is critical to one’s long-term financial security, yet many students and families face real financial barriers to college enrollment and success. The data on college prices and student aid included in these reports create a context for evaluating public policies designed to increase educational opportunities.
For more information about the College Board’s work, please visit www.collegeboard.org.