Dive Brief:

  • The average listed price for undergraduate college tuition rose for the 2020-21 academic year, but the increases were historically low, according to new College Board research.

  • Average tuition and fees went up just over 1% for in-state students at four-year public colleges, and about 2% for students at private nonprofit colleges, before adjusting for inflation the smallest increases in three decades, the report states. Tuition inched up by nearly 2% for in-district students at public two-year schools. 

  • Colleges were pressed to lower tuition prior to the pandemic, but doing so now comes with higher stakes for institutions. 

Dive Insight:

The pandemic has cut deep into colleges’ budgets, as most returned or lost auxiliary revenue in the spring and took on vast new expenses as they prepped to reopen campuses and build out online infrastructure for the fall. 

Yet a vast majority of colleges haven’t significantly raised tuition, which is reflected in the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report. Many colleges nationwide reduced sticker prices for the current academic year, and several colleges have already done so for the coming one. Though that doesn’t mean students will pay less.

The average tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges stayed the same in 10 states before inflation, as it did for in-district students at public two-year schools in 14 states, the report states. Institutions are recognizing the barriers to affording college for students and their families, one of its authors noted in a statement

Tuition still went up nationwide this fall. The average posted price for two-year colleges reached $3,770, up $70 from the previous academic year. And it rose $120 to $10,560 for in-state students at four-year publics. 

Among private four-year nonprofit colleges, the average published price jumped by $770 to $37,650. 

However, the average discount rate at private colleges last year was more than 50% for first-time, full-time students. Public colleges, and flagships in particular, have offered more merit aid in recent years to attract more students, including by giving aid to students from higher-earning families.

The College Board report looked at what students tended to pay after such discounts were applied. In-state students attending a four-year public college full-time for the first time paid an average of $3,230 in the 2020-21 academic year. The same set of students at private, nonprofit four-year schools paid $15,990.

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