Trends in College Pricing 2022
College costs grew well below the rate of inflation over the past year, continuing a decade-long flattening of prices at the nation’s colleges and universities. According to the College Board’s annual Trends in College Pricing report, published tuition and fees at four-year public universities are down 1% since 2012, while private university tuition and fees are up 6% over the same period when adjusted for inflation.
“Public tuition increases are historically low,” explained Jessica Howell, the College Board’s vice president of research, speaking to a packed meeting room at the 2022 Forum. “Borrowing continues to decline as well.” Total education borrowing has been falling for 11 consecutive years after peaking in 2010, reflecting both a slowing of college costs and a worrying decline in enrollment. Graduate students now account for nearly half of all federal student loans as the pace of undergraduate borrowing has slowed.
“Total enrollment peaked in 2011, and there’s been a gradual decline since then,” said Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at the College Board. Given the drop in demand for higher education, “it’s not a surprise we’re seeing net prices go down,” Ma said.
Howell noted that state support and tuition increases tend to move in opposite directions, with a reduction in public funding during the Great Recession leading to higher costs at public institutions. A partial recovery in public investment has contributed to much slower tuition increases over the past several years. State and local funding per student is still slightly lower than it was 20 years ago, according to the report, but up significantly from the depths of recessionary cuts from 2008 to 2012.
While some of the reduction in college enrollment can be attributed to the pandemic, the long-term trend of slowing growth was already apparent in the years before covid caused massive disruption to higher education. “Since the enrollment peak in the fall of 2011, total enrollment has declined by about 2 million (10%) to 18.9 million in the fall of 2020,” the report found.
It will be years before the full impact of the pandemic is visible in enrollment data, Howell said, but there are already clear negative effects on retention for students who entered college in 2020-21. Reconnecting with students who left school during covid was an urgent topic in numerous sessions across the 2022 College Board Forum.
“These reports have become an important voice in all kinds of discussions around higher education,” Howell said of the annual Trends report. “Unbiased data and analysis are a big part of what we do at the College Board.”
The 2022 Trends report has already sparked coverage and conversation across the country. “Enrollment in higher education is plummeting, and K–12 students are falling behind on key skills needed to succeed in college and later in life,” Catherine Ramped wrote this week in a Washington Post column citing College Board data. “These trends threaten our future workforce and, ultimately, the U.S. economy.”