Report: Tuition and fee increases among smallest in 30 years

The latest numbers from the College Board show which states are posting the steepest declines and rises
By: | November 4, 2020
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

By any measure, this has been a year like no other for higher education, and that is being reaffirmed by new data released from the College Board.

The COVID-19 effect has resulted in near 30-year lows in tuition and fee increases at colleges and universities, with many reporting no increases for 2020-21, according to the Board’s annual Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid study.

Students at private non-profit four-year institutions, for example, have seen an average rise of 2.1%, while those attending in-state public universities saw only a 1.1% increase.

“This year’s data underscore the profound impact COVID-19 has had on higher education,” said Jessica Howell, College Board’s vice president for research. “Although average tuition increased again this year, the increases are among the lowest we’ve seen since 1990-91.”

That also includes the small hike (1.9%) at public two-year colleges, whose first-year, full-time students often see full coverage of costs through financial aid.

What the numbers show

In the report, gleaned from published data by institutions, the College Board showed average range of tuition and fee costs for some institutions:

  • Public in state four-years: $10,560. (average with expenses: $43,280)
  • Public in-district two-years: $3,700. (average with expenses: $18,550)
  • Private non-profit four-years: $37,650. (average with expenses: $54,880)

Digging deeper into the numbers, Alaska (+18%) and Connecticut (+17%) have seen the sharpest increases over the past five years among public four-year institutions, while Florida posted the biggest drop at -8%. The two states with the highest tuition and fees for in-state students are Vermont ($17,510) and New Hampshire ($16,960), while the lowest are in Wyoming ($5,790) and Florida ($6,370).

As for individual flagship universities, the University of Washington has seen the sharpest drop in that period at -9%, while the University of Connecticut has seen the steepest rise at +23%). The University of New Mexico, University of Oregon and Alaska-Fairbanks all have risen more than 20%. Other notable universities where tuition and fees have nominally declined during that span: the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Penn State University and the University of Kansas.

At two-year colleges, full-time students in Vermont pay the most of any state ($8,600), while California and New Mexico students enjoy tuition and fees of less than $2,000. Wyoming showed the most dramatic increase over the five-year period at +43%, nearly doubling the increase from the next highest state, Nevada. Meanwhile, those institutions in Arizona showed an average 15% decline. Two-year colleges in California and Florida posted 8% decreases.

How students are managing

Students continue to borrow less, according to the College Board researchers, who noted that the trend has continued for nine straight years through 2019-20. One of the contributing factors has been a steady rise in grants (27%) over the past decade from colleges and universities.

“Institutions are recognizing the struggles students and families face in paying for college, especially during a pandemic,” said Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at College Board and co-author of the report. “In 14 states, the average public two-year in-district tuition and fees did not increase in 2020-21. In 10 states, the average public four-year in-state tuition and fees did not increase.”

Though Pell grant aid has declined nearly $8 billion during the past 10 years, state and local funding has been rising steadily, according to College Board data.

However, Matea Pender, policy research scientist at College Board and co-author of the report, noted: “It is too early to understand the full impact of the economic relief on higher education and on student borrowing. The most recent data show that since 2010-11 total annual undergraduate borrowing has been declining, both at the aggregate level and on a per-student basis.”