Cost for Pa. 4-year public universities 3rd in nation

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The cost of attending college in Pennsylvania grew slightly less than the national average this year, but the cost of going to a four-year public university in the state is now the third-highest in the nation, according to the report released today by the College Board.

The average cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year college in Pennsylvania grew by 7 percent, from $11,331 last fall to $12,079 this fall, the College Board said. That's an average increase of $748.

Pennsylvania's average cost of $12,079 for four-year public college tuition and fees puts it behind only New Hampshire at $13,507 and Vermont, $13,078.

Nationwide, the average increase for four-year public schools was 8.3 percent, bringing average in-state tuition and fees to $8,244 in 2011-12, an increase of $631.

California led the nation in its percentage increase of in-state tuition and fees for 2011-12: a jump of 21 percent over 2010-11. With a dollar increase of $1,537, California was second in the size of dollar increase only to New Hampshire, which had an increase of $1,561, or 13 percent.

California has so many college students -- 10 percent of the nation's full-time, four-year public students -- that when the state is omitted from the national rate, the average falls to 7 percent.

"While the importance of a college degree has never been greater, its rapidly rising price is an overwhelming obstacle to many students and families," College Board President Gaston Caperton said in a news release. "Making matters worse is the variability of price from state to state."

Average four-year public college tuition and fees range from $4,125 in Wyoming to $13,507 in New Hampshire this fall.

The latest report comes with concerns about student debt front and center among many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. And President Barack Obama was expected today to announce a new loan consolidation program, plus measures to encourage more borrowers to use the government's new income-based repayment option that caps monthly payments.

The College Board reports roughly 56 percent of 2009-2010 bachelor's degree recipients at public four-years graduated with debt, averaging about $22,000. At private nonprofit universities, the figures were higher -- 65 percent and around $28,000.

Despite its sizable increase, California ranks 17th in tuition and fees among public four-year institutions, with an average of $9,022, still $3,057 below that in Pennsylvania.

There also were states that were able to keep their tuition increases far lower than Pennsylvania, such as Connecticut with a 2 percent increase or $220 -- bringing tuition and fees to $9,197 -- and Maryland, with a 3 percent or $256 increase to $7,993.

The College Board news release stated that the price increases "reflect the continued impact of the weakened economy as well as state funding that has not kept pace with the growth in college enrollments."

The tuition and fees numbers are the sticker prices of colleges. Many students receive financial aid, which reduces the price they actually pay.

The College Board calculates "average net tuition and fees," taking into consideration grants from all sources and federal tax credits and reductions. By this standard, average tuition and fees students pay at four-year public colleges grew by $170 between 2006-07 and 2011-12, instead of the published price increase of about $1,800. Both dollar figures are in 2011 dollars, putting the annual increase beyond inflation at 1.4 percent.

On average, undergraduate students in 2010-11 received $6,539 in grants, $4,907 in federal loans and $1,009 in a combination of tax credits and deductions and Federal Work Study.

College Board independent policy analyst Sandy Baum said one surprising finding was the impact of tax credits as a result of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was introduced in 2009.

The report notes that the tax savings from education credits and tuition deductions grew from $6.6 billion in 2008 to $14.7 billion in 2009. As a result of rule changes, there was growth for those with low incomes -- the percentage of tax savings for those with adjusted gross incomes below $25,000 grew from 5 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2009 -- as well as those with incomes of $100,000 and above, from 18 percent to 26 percent in the same time.

The report also showed these trends:

• In-state tuition and fees at public two-year colleges average $2,963, an increase of $236, or 8.7 percent, over 2010-11. In Pennsylvania, the average is $3,663, an increase $193, or 6 percent.

• Tuition and fees of private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities average $28,500, an increase of $1,235, or 4.5 percent, over 2010-11. In Pennsylvania, the average is $32,559, an increase of $1,287, or 4.1 percent.

• Tuition and fees at for-profit institutions are estimated to average $14,487, 3.2 percent higher than the prior year. Pennsylvania numbers were not available.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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