Jul 1, 2009

NAICU Announces Tuition Rate Decrease

Strike up the band! Let the celebrations begin! Tuition rate increases at private nonprofit colleges are on the decline! In a press release designed to make those of us shouldering the expense of private school tuition feel instant relief, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) announced on Monday that tuition rates at private institutions are projected to increase by only 4.3%. Hello? Even the NAICU can't escape the fact that the Consumer Price Index rose by just 3.8% and characterizes the rate increase as "slightly" higher than the rate of increase experienced by goods and services in the US over the past year. And note we are not suggesting that tuition and fees are going down--only the rate of increase is subsiding. Evidently concerned about the stampede toward public institutions experienced during the last admissions cycle, private colleges and universities are tightening their belts and making due with a modest increase in tuition the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1972. And this is supposed to make parents of students attending these schools feel good? Tell that to the county employee whose work week has been cut by one full day.

Over the past 10 years, private institutions have engaged in a frenzy of new construction financed by annual increases in tuition and fees that averaged 6%. Although the campus face lifts are dazzling, they have come at a cost. And some of this cost lives on in the crushing debt incurred by graduates of these schools. Hernan Castillo, who shells out $300 per month on a $30,000 student loan, sometimes wishes he had "gone to prison" instead of college. It's certainly no surprise that over the past 25 years, higher ed costs have increased by 440%--nearly double the rate of medical care.

In all fairness, a few private institutions are actually decreasing tuition in the fall of 2009. Among these are Davis and Elkins College (WV) and William Jessup University (CA). Tuition freezes are in place at several schools including Hillsdale College (MI), Merrimack College (MA), and Yeshiva University (NY). Thirty-two of the 350 schools providing tuition information report significantly lower tuition increases, including my alma mater which boasts the smallest tuition increase in 41 years (3.75%). I was there. It didn't feel so small at the time. The following is the list of schools provided by the NAICU reporting "significantly" lower tuition increases (more information is found on the NAICU website):

Agnes Scott College: 2.7%

Augustana College: 3.9%

Boston College: 2.8%

Boston University: 3.8%

Butler University: 3.5%

Capital University: 2.9%

Carnegie Mellon University: 2.9%

Catholic University: 4.1%

Central College: 4.5%

Colorado College: 4%

Columbus College of Art & Design: 3.4%

Cornell University: 4%

Drake University: 2.9%

Gettysburg College: 2.9%

John Carroll University: 2.8%

Johns Hopkins University: 3.8%

Kenyon College: 3%

King’s College: 3.9%

Loras College: 3.5%

MIT: 3.8%

Otterbein College: 3.4%

Pepperdine University: 2.9%

Princeton: 2.9%

Quinnipiac University: 4.9%

Roger Williams University: 3.5%

Salve Regina University: 2.7%

University of Denver: 4.9%

University of Evansville: 3.5%

University of Notre Dame: 4.4%

University of Pennsylvania: 3.75%

University of Southern California: 3.9%

Worcester Polytechnic Institute: 2.9%

To soften the blow of tuition increases, the NAICU tosses out a small bone to families who think 4.3% is substantial. The average increase in student aid budgets for the 2009-10 school year among reporting institutions is projected to be 9%. This follows a decade during which increases in institutionally-provided student aid at private nonprofit colleges more than tripled the increase in list price. This, of course, raises more questions about the role of student aid (specifically merit aid) as a recruitment device. But that's a conversation better left for another time.

In this economy, even the remotest thread of good news for families paying college tuition is something to hang on to. Unfortunately, the school my family is currently supporting is not among those that have reduced, frozen, or even agreed to a tuition rate increase below the national average. Alas.

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