As students polish up their college essays, parents worry about how to pay college costs, which are rising much faster than inflation.
So early in 2000 the board voted to raise tuition and fees 17.6 percent, to $23,460 (and to include a laptop for every incoming student to help soften the blow). Then it waited to see what would happen.
Ursinus received nearly 200 more applications than the year before. Within four years the size of the freshman class had risen 35 percent, to 454 students. Applicants had apparently concluded that if the college cost more, it must be better.
Other colleges have raised tuition sharply while also boosting financial aid.
Average tuition at private, nonprofit four-year colleges â€” the price leaders â€” rose 81 percent from 1993 to 2004, more than double the inflation rate, according to the College Board, while campus-based financial aid rose 135 percent.
As the gap widens between the sticker price of college and the real price, students who don’t know how to work the system lose out, reports Education Sector. Small colleges offer unadvertised tuition discounts to students.
By offering small discounts to relatively wealthy students who can pay close to the sticker price, colleges earn more revenue than they would by offering large discounts to lower-income students. This strategy also helps increase overall enrollments and further boosts the bottom line.
That leaves less money for aid to truly needy students.
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Leslie Carbone of the Lexington Institute suggests ways contain college costs., which have been rising faster than family income since the 1980s. Federal subsidies make it possible for colleges to charge more without driving away all non-wealthy students
“Once again, we are finding that no matter how much student aid rises from one year to the next, an equally dramatic spike in college costs follows,” said House Education Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., on Oct. 24.
Carbone backs the College Affordability Index, which was passed by the House this year but hasn’t been voted on by the Senate.
The index would publicly identify federally funded institutions that repeatedly and excessively raise tuition, giving consumers data to track tuition increases and make informed decisions in their college spending. Institutions that increase tuition and fees by more than twice the rate of inflation over a three-year period would be asked to account for the reasons for these increases and to develop strategies to rein in future tuition rises.
Other ideas should be explored, such as limiting any increase in federal education aid to the rate of inflation.
Ursinus College’s sticker price is $33,350 this year, more than Notre Dame and Swarthmore and only a few hundred dollars less than Harvard. Throw in a free laptop and a financial aid package and it’s still an enormous amount of money for a school that is no more prestigious than Penn State ($11,646 for state residents).