College Aid Fails to Keep Up with Tuition Increases

College Aid Fails to Keep Up with Tuition Increases

The College Board released two reports yesterday—Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid—that illustrate how even when colleges increase their tuition and fees only modestly, student aid still doesn’t keep up.

(Image: iStock/GeraldConnell)


Bridging the Gap


How well I remember what I called the gap. When my children were in college, they received some aid, but there was never enough. There was always a gap that had to be filled somehow—chiefly with my husband’s and my contribution and with loans.

My children received enough aid to entice them to pursue school—and frankly, I appreciate that. But for students who didn’t have two working, willing parents, the insufficient aid became a kind of false promise that led to their dropping out and being in debt.

And just last week I wrote about how nearly half (49%) of black borrowers default on their student loans 12 years after entering school. It’s not an insignificant problem.

Smaller but Still Steady Increases


Trends in College Pricing reports that for the past five years, four-year public colleges have increased their prices about 3% each year. The good news is that 3% increase is dramatically less than the one-year price increases of between 6% and 13% from the school year 2001–2002 and 2011–2012, and that private four-year schools and two-year colleges are also making modest increases.

Still, grant aid isn’t keeping up.

“The increases in the net prices students pay raise particular concerns for low- and moderate-income students,” says Jennifer Ma, co-author and senior policy research scientist at the College Board, in a statement. “Even when, as is often the case, these students receive enough grant aid to cover their tuition and fees, they frequently struggle to pay for their living expenses while in college.”

The Key Findings below are from the College Board.

 Key College Pricing Findings

• Average published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 3.1% before adjusting for inflation, from $9,670 in 2016-17 to $9,970 in 2017-18.

• In 2014-15, at public four-year institutions, federal aid recipients (including those who received only federal loans) with incomes $30,000 and below paid no tuition on average, and had $2,700 of grant aid to put toward an estimated $14,520 in non-tuition expenses, leaving $11,820 for them to cover out of other resources.

• Average published tuition and fees for full-time out-of-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 3.2% before adjusting for inflation, from $24,820 in 2016-17 to $25,620 in 2017-18.

Key Student Aid Findings

• In 2016-17, undergraduates received an average of $14,400 per full-time equivalent student in financial aid, including $8,440 in grants from all sources, $4,620 in federal loans, $1,280 in education tax credits and deductions, and $60 in Federal Work-Study.

• Grant aid per full-time equivalent undergraduate student increased by $1,020 (14%) in 2016 dollars between 2011-12 and 2016-17, after increasing by $2,180 (42%) over the preceding five years.

• Total Pell Grant expenditures increased from $15.2 billion (in 2016 dollars) in 2006-07 to $35.8 billion in 2011-12, but declined to $26.6 billion by 2016-17. The number of Pell Grant recipients declined in 2016-17 for the fifth consecutive year, but the 7.1 million recipients represented a 38% increase from 5.2 million a decade earlier.

• In 2017, 50% of the outstanding federal education loan debt is held by the 12% of borrowers owing $60,000 or more; 57% of borrowers with outstanding federal education loan debt owe less than $20,000.

• The share of the savings from education tax credits and deductions going to households with adjusted gross income (AGI) below $25,000 rose from 15% in 2004 to 24% in 2014. The share going to those with AGI over $100,000 rose from 0% to 24%.

For more, including additional key findings, visit the College Board.