Have College Costs Really Increased? Report Says No

cost of college

Recent headlines about the rising cost of college tuition have many students wondering whether higher education is still affordable. A recent study, though, is taking a closer look at the actual price of attending university, and the results are less pessimistic.

The Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute recently released this welcome report, entitled Ignore the Sticker Price: How Have College Prices Really Changed?. The author, economics professor Dr. Phillip Levine, highlights the distinction between the published cost of attendance (i.e., the “sticker” price) and the actual price students and their families pay, often referred to as the “net price”.

Researchers found that more students are receiving financial aid today than in recent decades, meaning the cost of college could actually be going down for some populations. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 85% of students attending public institutions of higher education receive some sort of merit or need-based financial aid. That number is even higher among private institutions at roughly 91%.

The report also points out that the sticker price of some colleges and universities are intentionally manipulated by the institutions for marketing purposes, with high prices indicating exceptional quality. These same schools may then offer generous financial aid packages for admitted students to lower the sticker price and make students feel supported. More and more colleges across the nation are offering low and no-tuition packages upon admission, including those with convenient online degree programs.

Related: Tuition-Free Online Colleges

Levine notes that sticker prices are easier to follow than net prices, which is why they may receive more media attention. Still, he cautions that they’re misleading to students and could have unintended consequences for enrollment.

“We cannot expect students to make sound decisions regarding educational investments if they do not understand how much college will actually cost them,” Levine states.

Related: Colleges With The Best Financial Aid Packages