MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
What goes up must come down, right? Well, here is an immutable law that Isaac Newton probably never dreamed of. The cost of going to college always goes in one direction. Guess which way. Here is another law. As student aid goes up, college costs rise faster.
NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Bad news first. According to Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst with the College Board…
Dr. SANDY BAUM (Senior Policy Analyst, College Board): The average price of college is continuing to rise more rapidly than the consumer price index, more rapidly than average prices in the economy.
ABRAMSON: This past year, the biggest jump in prices occurred at the nation's four-year public schools, where the sticker price went up 6.6 percent to over $6,000 a year. At private schools, the increase was slightly smaller, but prices at private schools are way higher. So that slightly smaller percentage hurts much more.
But almost no one pays the sticker price. Three-quarters of full-time undergraduates get some form of student aid. And according to Sandy Baum…
Dr. BAUM: Student aid continues to grow.
ABRAMSON: So remember when I said that public universities now charge over $6,000 a year? The average student will only pay about $2600. At private schools, students pay a bit more than half of the $24,000 price tag. So that's good news, right? Well, let's let Sandy Baum finish her sentence.
Dr. BAUM: Student aid continues to grow, but not as fast as tuition, and not enough to make up for the difference between the price of college and family income.
ABRAMSON: And according to experts, small increases in the actual tuition, can persuade some families that can't afford to send a child to school. Now, these numbers are all averages taken from students and schools across the country.
Robert Shireman of the Project on Student Debt says averages mask some of the pain families are feeling.
Mr. ROBERT SHIREMAN (Director, Project on Student Debt): And one way to look at what's happening with actual families is to look at their debt levels. And we know that those are going up at a rate that is even faster than the increase in prices at the institution.
ABRAMSON: The cost of tuition doesn't account for room and board, which has not been increasing all that much, but it still costs much more than tuition does at public schools. That fact can pinch low-income students in particular who pay a much higher portion of the family income to go to school. So how is a family supposed to choose a college when they have little idea how much of that sticker price they will have to pay?
Robert Shireman of the Project on Student Debt has been working with 30 schools that already disclosed that information right up front.
Mr. SHIREMAN: Take your income level or what your ability to pay is, and you can take those numbers and the institution will tell you, here's how much on top of that expected family contribution that we would expect you take out in loans or a work study in order for you to get through this particular institution.
ABRAMSON: Colleges and universities say don't expect the upper trend to stop any time soon. They say increases in costs for energy and health care will continue to drive their prices up.
Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.
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