A new report released Wednesday by the College Board finds that four-year college degrees have increased by an average 4.8 percent in the 2010-11 school year -- more than triple the 1.4 percent rate of inflation during that same period.
The report tries to calm fears that tuition is increasing by saying, "It would likely be wrong to assume that price increases will keep accelerating." But there's little to indicate that such a prediction is true. According to the College Board's own report, California -- which saw the worst tuition increase last year -- has a five-year tuition increase of 102 percent for two-year public colleges and a 72 percent five-year increase at four-year colleges.
The College Board also points to the fact that published prices for nonprofit colleges and universities continue to rise. In particular, the actual net price — the difference between the posted price minus any grants or scholarships that student gets — is increasing at a less alarming rate. But this is a claim belied by its own statistics. "Over the past five years, the average published price has increased by 27% in real terms, while the average net price has increased by 17%," the report said. A 17 percent price increase over five years still far outpaces the average inflation rate over the past five years of 2.88 percent.
Critics like New America Foundation's Kevin Carey that "minimizing the importance of a 4.8-percent hike would be a mistake." Though he calls the College Board's numbers "impeccably accurate" in his column at the Chronicle of Higher Education, he points out a caveat. "But the College Board is also an industry membership organization with a vested interest in keeping the public unpanicked about college prices, so it always finds a way to present each year’s fresh crop of alarming numbers with a strong dose of 'nothing to see here,'" he writes.
He adds that the College Board made a calculated decision to throw out California's tuition rates in their average because it would have skewed the average increase too high. "If the College Board has ever calculated the average increase in tuition after throwing out the state with the smallest tuition hikes, I am unaware of it," he wrote.
A separate report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress pointed out, "In the past three decades, the cost of attaining a college degree has increased more than 1,000 percent." The report found that 81 percent of African American students carries some kind of student debt along with 67 percent of Latino students. Only about 64 percent of white students, meanwhile have student debt.
The report goes on to say, "Over the last four decades, average hourly wages and compensation have also remained nearly flat in comparison to productivity, meaning that the majority of U.S. workers are not being appropriately compensated and are unable to afford major and constantly rising costs like a college education."
[Disclosure: The author once worked at the Center for American Progress.]
Photo of shocked colleges student via Shutterstock.