Budgets may be tight for most Americans, but that hasn't stopped colleges and universities from raising tuition. Public universities, which are typically perceived as a more affordable option, are really turning up the heat on students thanks to rising debts in both state and local governments.
As a result, the average tuition and fees for in-state public schools, over the past year, increased by 7.9% to $7,605, compared to an average 4.5% increase at private universities, with an average price of $27,293, according to the College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2010 report.
Tack on room and board, and the average cost of attendance at a four-year, in-state public school for the 2010-2011 academic year rose 6.1% year over year to $16,140. At four-year private universities, total costs (including room and board) rose 4.3% to an average of $36,993.
Yet, even with the rising costs, students keep enrolling. According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the number of full-time college students rose by 34% between 1997 and 2007, and the number of full-time and part-time students increased by 3.7 million during that period. Surprisingly, the majority of this increase was a result of higher attendance at more expensive private universities.
The College Board estimates that between fall 2000 and fall 2009, full-time students at private institutions rose from 4% to 10%, and part-time student attendance increased from 1% to 6%.
Based on information from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study analysis of the 2007–2008 education data, one-third of students took out loans to attain a bachelor's degree with an average loan of $12,600, and 17% of students borrow $30,500 by the time they graduate. During the 2009-2010 academic year, the government spent a whopping $28.2 billion in Pell Grants for 7.7 million students, nearly $10 billion more than the previous year.
Considering the increases in tuition and persistent unemployment, is a college education really a sound investment right now?
"The question is not whether it is a great investment," said Patrick Callan, President of The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "But what are the consequences of not going to college."
Recent college grads are struggling to land the job of their dreams, but they are fairing better in the job market compared to job seekers with only a high school diploma. According to Callan, the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector has changed the country into a more knowledge-based economy, making it more difficult for those without a college education to earn enough money to support a middle class standard of living.
The College Board estimates that college grads earned approximately $22,000 more in 2008 than those without a college diploma, and the unemployment rate is nearly 3% less for people with a college degree. Though taking out loans for a college education may seem like a risk right now, many experts agree that it will pay off in the long-run.
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