College tuition costs rise, bring financial pain

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Cal State-Long Beach's tuition of $6,800 is below the national average, which helps explain why it got 78,000 applications last year, said President King Alexander. But prices are $2,000 higher than two years ago, only partly offsetting cuts of $4,000 per student from the state, and have hit low-income students hard (the CSU system is the nation's largest recipient of Pell Grants, which go mostly to students from families earning under $40,000).

The effects of rising tuition aren't always as straightforward as students hitting an unaffordable price point and giving up, though that happens, Alexander said. Rather, it's a more complex and destructive process. Fewer faculty means long wait lists for classes, keeping students from progressing. Students, meanwhile, spend more time at jobs and less time studying.

"You're seeing less students drop out because the aid is available, but you're seeing more students working, which also has the impact of slowing them down," Alexander said. "That really isn't good for society, because they should be done, and they're taking up extra slots."

Alexander said if current trends continue, states are on track to stop funding higher education entirely as soon as 2020. But he also says others aren't blameless _ parents who assume colleges that don't charge much can't be very good, and colleges, particularly private ones, that have raised prices to increase their prestige, casting affordability concerns aside. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 123 colleges charge more than $50,000 per year in combined tuition, fees, room and board.

"There are good payers, institutions, who've done a good job keeping it lower than most, and there are bad guys in this who haven't paid any attention to this whatsoever," Alexander said.

Among other findings in the College Board's latest report:

_New Hampshire and Vermont have the highest published in-state tuition charges, at around $14,000 each. Wyoming has the lowest at $4,287, followed by Utah at $5,595.

_The College Board's figures are comparable to other recent reports on rising student debt: About 57 percent of 2010-2011 bachelor's degree recipients graduated with debt, which averaged $23,800 (another report last week calculated figures about $3,000 higher). Of students who entered college in 2003-2004, only about 2 percent had more than $50,000 in debt in 2009. Two-thirds of all students who entered that year had less than $10,000.

_The percentage increases in costs at four-year public colleges have declined each of the last four years, but continue to race ahead of overall inflation _ up 27 percent beyond inflation in the five years since 2007, compared to a 31 percent increase over the five years before that.

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