Fact or Fiction? College Costs Are Skyrocketing

Fact or Fiction? College Costs Are Skyrocketing

For college-bound teens and their parents, just thinking about the soaring cost of tuition can be enough to cause a panic attack.

But a new analysis from The New York Times suggests this widespread anxiety isn’t exactly warranted, based on some seriously overestimated government stats on increasing college costs.


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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college tuition and fees have risen 107% since 1992—but The Times suggests the actual increase is somewhere between 40% and 50%.

Why the discrepancy? Well, up until 2003, the government based their numbers on the list prices that colleges published, rather than the amount students and their families actually paid—without taking financial aid into account at all.

The Times cites statistics from the College Board, which indicate that net tuition and fees at private four-year colleges have increased 22% since 1992, while those costs have risen 60% at public four-year colleges. Meanwhile, the price of attending community college has actually declined because the amount of financial aid students receive has risen faster than college tuition.

According to the College Board, around two-thirds of students receive some sort of financial assistance. Once you factor in these grants (from colleges and from the government), average tuition and fees at private colleges were $12,460 and $3,120 for in-state students at public four-year colleges last year—a lot less than the tens of thousands of dollars you might have heard about.

The idea here isn’t that college is cheap or getting cheaper—it isn’t. In fact, in the last few years, overall increases in tuition at four-year colleges have outpaced the growth in financial aid. But if you’re considering whether higher education is worth the cost, or trying to figure out how your family will afford it, you should at least have all the numbers you need to make an informed decision.


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