Private College Tuition Rises at Lowest Rate in 37 Years

June 29, 2009

With families facing one of the worst economic crises in the nation's history, private, nonprofit colleges and universities have responded with the smallest average increase in tuition and fees in 37 years, according to the final results of a membership survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

The 4.3 percent increase for 2009-10 is the smallest since 1972-73, when average tuition and fees at private institutions rose by the same rate. The increase is slightly higher than the 2008 Consumer Price Index of 3.8 percent. NAICU's figure is based on responses from 350 private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

The average increase in institutional student aid budgets for 2009-10 at these colleges is 9 percent. (This is the first year that NAICU has collected student aid figures from its member institutions as part of the annual tuition survey.)

Over the past 10 years, the average annual increase in tuition and fees at private colleges has been 6 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the increase in institutionally provided student aid at private, nonprofit colleges has more than tripled the increase in list price, 250 percent versus 72 percent, respectively.

In response to the economic downturn, numerous private, nonprofit institutions have announced innovative affordability measures for 2009-10.

These include:

• Accelerated degree programs
• Public university tuition matches
• Job and four-year graduation guarantees
• Programs that replace loans with grants
• And tuition freezes and cuts, among others.

Campus examples are posted on the NAICU Web site.

"To an unprecedented degree, students and families are concerned about affording the college of their choice," said NAICU President David L. Warren. "Private colleges are committed to maintaining access for students from all backgrounds-especially in tough times.

"Private college and university budgets have been hit by dropping endowments, a reduction in charitable giving, and growing student financial need," Warren said. "Nevertheless, they have made extraordinary efforts to keep students' out-of-pocket costs as low as possible while protecting academic quality.

"Freezes and cuts in other campus budget areas-construction and renovation, salaries and benefits, and travel and other staff expenses, to name a few-have allowed institutions to use those savings to temper tuition increases and keep student aid available," said Warren.

NAICU's annual survey collects percent increases, but not dollar amounts. According to the College Board, the average published tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities in 2008-09 were $25,143. The College Board also reports that, on average, full-time students at private institutions received about $10,200 of grants and tax benefits that same year. Because of student aid, nine out of 10 full time, dependent students at four-year private, nonprofit colleges and universities pay less than list price, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

MORE News from NAICU