New Reports Examine College Pricing, Student Aid and Debt

November 18, 2014

Last week was a big one for fans of reports on higher education finances. Three different reports, two from the College Board (CB) and one from The Institute on College Access and Success (TICAS), examined college pricing, student aid, and student debt, respectively. These annual reports are an excellent source of national-level (and in the case of the TICAS report, state-level) higher education finance statistics. These data are useful for NCAN members not just for the finance patterns they reveal which affect the students we serve but also for updating presentations or for including in annual reports. Here we break down some of the findings of each report and offer some commentary.

The College Board – Trends in College Pricing 2014

Trends in College Pricing is an annual report issued by the College Board under the watchful eye of Dr. Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, research professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Human Development, and higher education expert. Notable about the Trends series is that all of the data for these reports are available either in Powerpoint or Excel formats, which makes them handy references.

The most notable finding in this year’s report is that the tuition increases for students attending public two- and four-year institutions and private nonprofit four-year institutions were lower than the average annual increases in the past five, 10, and 30 years. Additionally, the 2014-15 academic year joins the 2013-14 year as the only two in which in-state public tuition rose at less than three percent. Unfortunately, tuition prices still rose faster than the Consumer Price Index, so the news is not entirely positive. The table below shows the average tuition and room and board costs by sector for the 2014-15 academic year.


2014-15 Academic Year


Tuition + Fees
% Increase

Tuition + Fees
$ Increase

Avg. Tuition + Fees

Avg. Room and Board

Avg. Total Charges

4-yr (in-state)












Private nonprofit












Private for-profit institutions*






* Data for for-profit institutions is estimated because of the small number of these institutions from which data were provided.

Despite the averages in the public and private nonprofit four-year institutions, it is worth noting that the median published tuition fee price for these institutions was $11,550. This is encouraging because it means that the sticker price of half of the institutions reporting tuition and fees were actually less than $11,550; this is before any grant aid that might make the net price even lower.

Speaking of net prices, the report notes that full-time students at private nonprofit colleges receive an average of $18,870 in grant aid and federal tax benefits, which reduces average net price for attending these institutions to $23,549. For four-year public institutions, average grant aid and benefits is $6,110, which makes the average net price about $12,833 for in-state students (up $2,030 from 2009-10) and $26,652 for their out-of-state counterparts (both these figures include room and board). Students attending public two-year institutions received an average of $5,090 in benefits, which would make their net price negative and leave students with money to put toward other education-related expenses.

The report goes on to note that public and private nonprofit four-year institutions saw enrollment rise two percent while their public two-year and for-profit counterparts saw enrollments decline by six and ten percent, respectively.

The College Board – Trends in Student Aid 2014

This counterpart to the college pricing report examines, as you might imagine, student aid, and it has some encouraging findings. Most notably, it finds that “after increasing by 18% (in inflation-adjusted dollars) between 2007-08 and 2010-11, the total amount students borrowed in federal and nonfederal education loans declined by 13% between 2010-11 and 2013-14.” Although declining enrollments contributed to this, per student borrowing also declined by nine percent between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

The types of student aid also shifted a in positive direction away from loans (which declined as a percentage of all student aid by four percentage points to 43 percent between ’10-11 and ’13-14) and toward grants (which increased four percentage points to 49 percent from 45 percent in ’10-11 to 43 percent in ’13-14). The federal government is still the major source of that grant aid and contributed 40 percent of all grant aid in ’13-14 (which is down from 45 percent in ’10-11). Increases to the Pell Grant under the Obama administration continue to be significant. In the most recent academic year, $33.7 billion in Pell Grants were distributed, more than doubling the amount in 2007-08 ($16.5 billion, adjusted for inflation). States saw their contributions to grant aid decline three percent from ’12-13 to ’13-14 and still lag behind the peak year for state grant aid, 2007-08.

The shift away from loans and toward grants means that students are borrowing less. In fact, in 2013-14, borrowing declined for the third consecutive year, which represented 13 percent less borrowing than there was in 2010-11. In ’13-14 the average undergraduate borrower took out $6,670 in Stafford Loans, 10 percent less than three years ago. It is important to remember to look at per capita borrowing as decreases in enrollment are likely to cause aggregate totals to also decrease.

Moving on to student debt, the report does note that 60 percent of 2012-13 bachelor’s degree recipients (who graduated from their initial institution) graduated with an average of $27,300 in debt, which is up 13 percent over five years and 19 percent over a decade. In 2013, among all undergraduate and graduate students, 40 percent owed less than $10,000 and 29 percent owed between $10,000 and $25,000. The lumping together of undergraduate and graduate students is important here because there is generally less grant aid available for graduate students. Consider that in 2011-12, 47 percent of graduate students had $40,000 or more in cumulative undergraduate and graduate student debt.

Worth noting is that many students do not have any debt at all. In 2011-12, fully 50 percent of associate’s degree recipients graduated with no debt. That includes 59 percent who graduated from public two-year institutions. Certificate recipients from public two-year IHEs were even more likely to have no debt; 65 percent of recipients in 2011-12 had no debt. Bachelor’s degree recipients, unsurprisingly, were less likely to have no debt. In 2011-12 just 30 percent of recipients graduated with no debt.

The Trends in Student Aid report, like its counterpart, is a rich data source from which this blog post could not possibly hope to pull all of the relevant data. Its data and charts are also both available.

The Project on Student Debt from The Institute on College Access and Success – Student Debt and the Class of 2013

Student Debt and the Class of 2013 is the Project on Student Debt’s ninth iteration of examining cumulate student debt loads from recent four-year college graduates. The report looks at debt at both the national and state levels.

Like Trends in Student Aid, the TICAS report finds that about 70 percent of class of 2013 bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit IHEs had student loan debt, but their estimate of the average debt is higher at $28,400 (up two percent from the previous year). The report notes that about 19 percent of that loan debt came from private loans which are “typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.”

This report notes significant interstate variation for debt loads. In 2013, debt by state ranged from $18,650 to $32,800 and the probability of having any debt at all ranged from 43 percent to 76 percent. Overall, “high-debt states remain concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, with low-debt states mainly in the West and South.” Individual colleges also get a look in this report as both high-debt and low-debt public and private nonprofit college universities are identified.

Although this report is a rich resource, unlike Trends, Student Debt and the Class of 2013 does not estimate data for for-profit IHEs because “virtually no for-profit colleges choose to report what their graduates owe.”

This report makes some policy recommendations related to student debt. Notably and importantly, these recommendations include:

-          Reducing the need to borrow by increasing the Pell Grant and preventing state disinvestment in higher education by using maintenance of effort provisions.

-          Keeping loan payments manageable by simplifying income-based repayment by collapsing the various current options into one as well as raising awareness of the concept of IBR.

-          Helping students and families make more informed choices through better data collection and reporting, allowing students to apply for aid earlier, and providing better consumer information in the form of improved net price calculators and college scorecards.

-          Increasing college accountability by cutting off schools with high Student Default Risk Indices (SDRIs) from Title IV funds and implementing risk sharing and reward models for schools that are in danger of being cut off or are successful in decreasing students’ default risks.

-          Reducing private loan borrowing by “requiring school certification of, private loans, creating a market for refinancing private loans, restoring fair bankruptcy treatment, for private loan borrowers, and encouraging community colleges to participate in the federal loan program”


All three of these reports deserve a space on your desktop, real or virtual. They are handy references and continue to provide insight to those interested in student success in the postsecondary sector. One notable interplay between these reports is to wait and see if the decreasing reliance on loans described in Trends in Student Aid will show up as a subsequent decrease in total student loan debt in a subsequent edition of Student Debt from TICAS. That would be ideal and represent a moving of the needle on student loan debt. Time will tell and we look forward to the next editions of all three of these reports.

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