College costs rise, but faster at public institutions


The USA Todayreports that "Though 2009-2010 tuition rates have not been set for most public universities, increases of at least 5% to 6% - and in many cases higher - are expected as university administrators struggle to maintain quality education amid state budget cuts."

Meanwhile the private colleges who aren't vulnerable to state budget cuts are managing to keep their cost increases in line: "The University of Pennsylvania reports an increase of 3.8%, lowest in 41 years. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (2.9%), Princeton University (2.9%), Hamilton College (3%) and University of Denver (4.9%) report the lowest increases in recent history."

So does that mean that private colleges are gaining ground in terms of affordability? Is the wisdom that public colleges are a better deal going out the window? In a word, no. According to The College Board, these are the average tuition and fees for the 2008-2009 school year:

  • Private four-year $25,143 (up 5.9 percent from last year)

  • Public four-year $6,585 (up 6.4 percent from last year)

Extrapolating to next year, a 3% increase in private four-year college tuition and fees would mean an additional cost of $754.29 per year. A 6% increase in public four-year college tuition and fees would mean an increase in costs of $395.10 per year.

Changes in financial aid practices could change those numbers somewhat but the fact is that private colleges are becoming more expensive than public schools every year. The percent increase really doesn't matter because people pay for college with cash, not percentage points.