When the nation's economy first soured, the price of college rose but was more than offset by increases in federal grants and tax benefits, meaning that for those eligible for the aid their cost of college actually declined.
But a report released by the College Board today says the pattern now has flipped. Increases in college tuition and fees, though still outpacing inflation, actually have slowed. But because federal aid generally has leveled off, what students end up paying after aid is factored in is on the rise once again.
The shift upward in those net prices -- yet another frustration for college-going students and their families -- is part of what Sandy Baum, an independent analyst for the College Board, called a complex set of pressures facing colleges and consumers alike as the nation's economy struggles to right itself.
Overall, the board's annual nationwide price survey finds in-state students at public four-year campuses saw tuition and fees rise in academic year 2012-13 by 4.8 percent, not counting room and board. Students at private four-year universities saw yearly tuition and fees increase by 4.2 percent.
On two-year public campuses, tuition and fees this year increased by 5.8 percent.
Pennsylvania's public four-year universities, which last year charged the nation's third highest prices, this year finished fourth after raising tuition and fees on average by 1 percent, significantly below the national rate of increase.
Pennsylvania's average tuition and fees of $12,330 was less than in New Hampshire, Vermont and New Jersey, where public university rates stand at $14,576, $13,582 and $12,399 respectively.
As they do each year, College Board analysts stressed that most students pay less than the published price, with two-thirds receiving grant aid. But Ms. Baum also acknowledged that it may be of little consolation to many opening their wallets.
"If two-thirds of student get grant aid, it means one third don't," said Ms. Baum, co-author of the College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2012 report.
For a few years, federal aid gains managed to offset tuition and fee increases that in 2010-11 reached 8 percent on four-year public campuses.
Between 2008-09 and 2010-11, total grants from the federal government and from colleges rose sharply, including a 67 percent increase in Pell Grant funding from 2008-09 to 2009-10, the College Board said.
Full-time public university students receive on average $5,750 in grant aid from all sources and federal tax benefits to offset costs, the College Board said. Private college students on average received grants and federal tax benefits totalling $15,680
Two-year students on average received $4,350 in grant aid and federal tax benefits.
Room and board rates on public university campuses averaged $9,205 this year, up by 3.7 percent. At private schools, room and board rates averaged $10,462.
States with the lowest four-year public university tuition and fees were Wyoming at $4,278 and Utah $5,595. States with the lowest public two-year tuition and fees were California and New Mexico, with average totals $1,418 and $1,537 respectively.
Among public flagship campuses, prices ranged from a high of $17,266 at Penn State University's main campus to $4,278 at the University of Wyoming.
The College Board noted that a major driver of tuition increases at public campuses was a 10 percent inflation adjusted decline in state appropriation, the fourth consecutive yearly decline.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.