A report released today by the College Board may convince families who struggle each year to afford higher education that they cannot get a break.
Even though tuition and fees on the nation's four-year public campuses rose this year by a rate of 2.9 percent -- slowest since the mid-1970s -- growth in financial aid awards that helped blunt campus prices only a few years ago no longer are keeping pace.
As a result, the net price families pay after grants, scholarships and tax credits are counted is on the rise again at those schools and at private institutions.
The College Board's annual price survey finds that average public four-year tuition and fees grew in 2013-14 to $8,893 from $8,646 last year, not counting room and board charges. Average tuition and fees charged by the nation's private universities grew by 3.8 percent to $30,094.
On two-year public campuses across the U.S., prices are up 3.5 percent to $3,264.
Students attending Pennsylvania's public universities pay the nation's third-highest tuition and fees, up from fourth-highest among the states in last year's survey. The reason is a 3.4 percent price increase in this state that was smaller than some past years but still above this year's national average.
Sandy Baum, co-author of the report and professor of economics emerita at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said consumers at least can take solace in knowing that sharp increases of recent years have softened. The public four-year rate increase is the smallest since 1975-76.
"It does seem that the [price] spiral is moderating -- not turning around, not ending, but moderating," she told reporters in a conference call.
Still, worries over student debt are no less real, she added. "This year's slowing of the price spiral does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable."
In Pennsylvania, average in-state tuition and fees of $12,802 charged by four-year public campuses is topped only by New Hampshire and Vermont, whose average public four-year rates are $14,665 and $13,958, respectively.
The average $35,189 price charged by Pennsylvania's private universities was the ninth-highest in the nation, 3.8 percent more than last year.
The College Board reiterated that most students do not pay the published price, with two-thirds of full-time students receiving grants.
The College Board also noted that on the nation's four-year public schools, room and board account for more than half what it costs an in-state student to attend. Those room and board rates this year average $9,498.
Once room and board fees are added, average total costs on the nation's private universities this year total $40,917.
The College Board said out-of-state students attending the nation's four-year public campuses paid substantially more in tuition and fees: An average this year of $22,203, or 3.1 percent more than they did last year.
They pay $31,701 once room and board are added.
What students pay on public campuses varies widely by state, and for years, school leaders in Pennsylvania have said their consistently high rank in price is related to campus appropriations that in Pennsylvania's are low relative to most states.
The least expensive public, four-year prices are in Wyoming, whose average of $4,404 in tuition and fees is almost $1,500 less than the next lowest state, Alaska, whose four-year average is $5,885 this year.
The least expensive two-year colleges are in California at $1,424, followed by New Mexico at $1,696.
The highest priced flagship university is Penn State University at $17,926 in tuition and fees and the lowest is the University of Wyoming at $4,404, the College Board report says.
The College Board reports that 41 percent of full-time students at public universities across the U.S. saw increases of less than 3 percent this year, and another 12 percent did not face any increase.
Three percent of those institutions saw tuition and fee hikes above 9 percent.
During the recent recession, the average net price nationwide paid by in-state students at four-year public campuses actually declined because of boosts in aid, the College Board reports. However, since 2009-10, the average net price after all forms of aid are counted has risen (in 2013 dollars) from $1,940 to approximately $3,120.
Net price after aid has risen on average for students attending private universities from $11,550 in 2011-12 to an estimated $12,460 in 2013-14, according to the College Board.
Six in 10 students receiving bachelor's degree in 2011-12 from both public and private universities face debt averaging $26,500.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.