Public university costs leveling off

Tuition and fees at public universities increased less than 3 percent this academic year, the smallest rise in three decades, according to the annual College Board reports on trends in pricing and aid, reports the New York Times today.

“This does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable, but it does mean that the rapid growth of recent years did not represent a ‘new normal’ for annual price increases,” the report on pricing said.imgres

“At the same time, the large increases in grant aid from 2009 to 2011 have slowed and have not kept pace with rising tuition. As a result, the amount students and families actually pay has risen as well. The average published annual tuition and fees for in-state students at public universities total $8,893, up 2.9 percent from last year. But most of these students pay far less: When grants and deductions of tax credits are taken into account, the net amount students pay is about $3,120.

“Only about a third of full-time students pay the full published tuition price with no assistance. And most students from families with income below $30,000 got enough aid to cover their tuition and fees, although they still have costs for room and board, which adds $9,498.

“The news is not as bad as it has been,” said Sandra Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the reports. The new data, she said, should calm fears that college costs are spiraling out of reach: “It does seem that the spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating.” For out-of-state students, tuition and fees averaged $22,203, a 3.1 percent increase from last year. And at private four-year institutions, the average published tuition and fees are $30,094, up 3.8 percent from the year before.

“College prices have risen faster than the prices of other goods and services in recent years, even as family incomes have declined. And the economic recovery has benefited mostly those in the highest income brackets. Jane Wellman, a higher-education policy analyst, said the trend reports showed that many public institutions have made serious efforts to rein in their spending — especially community colleges, whose spending has declined sharply over the last decade. Continue reading “Public university costs leveling off”

Rising application fees

In an era when sticker price at some colleges tops $60,000, it may seem odd to think that $6 could make a difference in students’ decisions about the institutions to which they apply, reports InsideHigher Ed.

But $6 could in fact make all the difference, suggests a study released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here). The study adds yet more evidence to the theory of “undermatching” – namely that significant numbers of low-income, high talent students are not applying to as many colleges, or colleges that are as competitive, as would benefit them.

Amanda Pallais, assistant professor of economics and social studies at Harvard University, studied the impact of a 1997 shift by ACT, which that year increased from three to four the number of score reports a student could send out to colleges without paying an additional fee. Before 1997, those who wanted to send four or more reports paid $6 per additional report.

Pallais found that, prior to 1997, over 80 percent of ACT takers sent exactly three score reports, and only 5 percent sent four. Immediately after the change was adopted, the percentage of students sending four reports rose to 75 percent while those sending three dropped to 10 percent. (The SAT already offered four reports and did not see a similar shift that year.)

Using data from the American Freshman Survey, Pallais then found that low-income students may have been the particular beneficiaries of the shift. In the two years after the switch, they showed a 20 percent increase in the number of applications sent. Further, she found that, on average, the ACT takers in these cohorts enrolled at more selective colleges than had been the case before the change.

The finding is consistent with recent work by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Christopher Avery of Harvard University, who found in a paper published last year that highly qualified low-income high school students tend to apply to far fewer competitive colleges than do their better-off counterparts, and that a majority do not apply to a single competitive college. Their work has prompted debate over how to encourage more low-income students to apply.

Some have suggested that various waivers available from testing companies and colleges for application fees may not be enough, and that eliminating fees is the way to go. Reed College this year eliminated its application fee for that reason.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

U.S. grad programs depend on foreign students

A new report confirms the reliance of certain grad programs on high fees paid by foreign students.

According to InsideHigherEd, “International students play a critical role in sustaining quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs at U.S. universities, a new report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) argues.imgres-1

“It will come as no surprise to observers of graduate education that the report documents the fact that foreign students make up the majority of enrollments in U.S. graduate programs in many STEM fields, accounting for 70.3 percent of all full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, 63.2 percent in computer science, 60.4 percent in industrial engineering, and more than 50 percent in chemical, materials and mechanical engineering, as well as in economics (a non-STEM field). However, the report, which analyzes National Science Foundation enrollment data from 2010 by field and institution, also shows that these striking averages mask even higher proportions at many individual universities. For example, there are 36 graduate programs in electrical engineering where the proportion of international students exceeds 80 percent, including seven where it exceeds 90. (The analysis is limited to those programs with at least 30 full-time students.)

“International students help many universities have enough graduate students to support research programs that help attract top faculty and that also thereby help U.S. students by having a higher-quality program than they otherwise would have,” said Stuart Anderson, NFAP’s executive director and author of the report. Without them, he said, “you’d see a shrinking across the board where you’d have just certain schools that are able to support good programs. That would lead to a shrinking of U.S. leadership in education and technology if you have many fewer programs with high-quality research and top-level professors.”

“To some extent this reflects some of what’s going on in our society within the U.S. in terms of trying to push for more interest in STEM fields,” said Jonathan Bredow, professor and chair of the electrical engineering department at the University of Texas at Arlington, a program with more than 90 percent international enrollment.  “Domestic students tend to be more interested in going out and getting a job right after a bachelor’s degree. Some see a value of getting a master’s degree but in terms of the Ph.D., I think it’s largely seen as unnecessary.”

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Inside Higher Ed

Private colleges offer deep discounts

“In recent years, tuition has significantly increased at public universities, driven by state budget cuts and prompting student protests around the country,” reports Huffington Post: “ Yet almost the opposite has happened at private colleges.”

Private college tuition grew at its lowest rate in decades this year and at a slower pace than public university tuition.“Tony Pals, director of communications at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said he can’t remember another time in which so many private schools have held down tuition as he’s seen in the past two years. By the association’s Continue reading “Private colleges offer deep discounts”