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College less affordable, despite small tuition increases, because financial aid did not keep pace, College Board says
Author: Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
Posted: October 23, 2013
Click here for the original article.

College tuition increases for this academic year were small by recent standards. But students and families are nonetheless paying significantly more on average because federal financial aid, including grants and tax credits, failed to keep pace.

Those are among the findings of two exhaustive new reports released by The College Board just after midnight Thursday Eastern Time.

In-state tuition at public colleges and universities, when adjusted for inflation, rose only 1 percent for 2013-14, the smallest increase since 2000-01. That same record-low increase will hit Oregon public university students next fall, after the Legislature allotted $25 million for tuition reductions this month.

But "net college prices" -- the tuition and fees families must pay after financial aid is taken into account -- continued to rise, because Pell grants and other forms of federal financial aid declined, The College Board said.

Most of the group's findings were national. But it put out some state-level findings.

Among those for Oregon:

  • Oregon awarded just $250 of state college aid per undergraduate, about one-third of the U.S. average of $670 per student, in 2012-13. Washington, by contrast, awarded $1,100 per student.
  • The Oregon Legislature allotted just $3,700 per in-state undergraduate to defray the cost of public higher education in 2012-13. That ranked Oregon No. 47 in per-student support.
  • Among all full-time-equivalent in-state public college and university students in Oregon, 46 percent attended community college and 54 percent attended a four-year university in fall 2011. Only seven states, including California, had a higher rate of students in two-year as opposed to four-year public colleges.
Oregon drew kudos because 100 percent of state-funded college aid goes to students with the greatest financial need. Some states, including Georgia, award all or almost all aid based on students' high school grade-point averages or other measures of student worthiness, regardless of whether students are rich, middle-class or poor.

The report made clear that some scary anecdotal reports of student debt, stories of students owing $50,000, $80,000 or even $100,000 in student loans, represent a very narrow sliver of borrowers, most whose debt comes heavily from graduate school.

Nationally, the report said, 57 percent of graduates of public four-year universities owe student loan debt and their debt averages $25,000, up about $4,500 from 2005 in inflation-adjusted terms.

For graduates of private four-year universities, rates are higher. About 65 percent of their graduates left with student loan debt in 2012, and that debt averaged $29,900, down about $500 from 2011 in inflation-adjusted terms, the studies said.

These issues, and potential solutions, will be discussed in-depth Wednesday at a student debt summit at Portland State University.