News: Data, Research & Evaluation

Trends Reports Examine Student Aid, College Pricing

Monday, November 11, 2019  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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There are a handful of eagerly-awaited annual publications in the college access field that merit members’ attention. The College Board recently released two such reports: Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing. The two reports represent a wealth of statistics and comparison points to which members can compare their program data.

Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing are interconnected. The former notes that, “Trends in Student Aid 2019 reports on the funds students and families use to supplement their own resources to pay for the prices documented in Trends in College Pricing 2019.”

Trends in Student Aid

The financial aid-focused report has facts and figures under the headings “types of student aid,” “federal student aid,” “Pell Grants,” “other sources of grant aid,” “distribution of student aid,” “student borrowing,” and “student debt.” It’s a whirlwind tour. Here are some of the figures that stand out from this year’s report:

  • Borrowing is down: “Both total annual education borrowing and borrowing per full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate declined (after adjusting for inflation) in 2018-19 for the eighth consecutive year.”
  • Financial aid breakdown: “In 2018-19, undergraduate students received an average of $15,210 per FTE student in financial aid: $9,520 in grants, $4,410 in federal loans, $1,210 in education tax credits, and $70 in Federal Work-Study (FWS).”
  • Shifting distribution in aid based on need: “The federal government provided 62% of all student aid in 2018-19; the composition of that aid has changed over time, with a declining share distributed on the basis of financial need… In 2018-19, 33% of federal aid was based on students’ financial circumstances—a decline from 91% in 1988-89 and 58% in 1998-99.” At the state level, “since 2011-12, about a quarter of state grant aid has been distributed without regard to financial need; the same is true of a significant share of institutional grant aid….In 2017-18, 27 states considered students’ financial circumstances in allocating at least 95% of their state grant aid. Thirteen states considered students’ financial circumstances when awarding less than half of their state grant aid…. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, need-based state grant aid per FTE undergraduate rose 5%, from $634 (in 2017 dollars) to $667; non-need-based aid rose 11%, from $196 to $218 per student.”
  • State and institutional grant aid increases: “Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, institutional grant aid for undergraduate students increased by $10.8 billion (26%) in 2018 dollars, rising from 38% to 45% of total grants…State grant aid per FTE undergraduate student rose for the sixth consecutive year in 2017-18, to $890—an increase of $180 (25%) since 2011-12. State grant aid per student ranged from under $200 in nine states to over $1,000 in 12 states.”
  • Pell Grant increases but purchasing power remains insufficient: “Total federal grant aid increased by 56% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2008-09 and 2018-19. Pell Grants increased by 35% ($7.3 billion)…The $6,095 maximum Pell Grant in 2018-19 was 32% higher in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was 20 years earlier, but it was 1% lower than it was 40 years earlier, in 1978-79…The maximum Pell Grant covered 59% of the average public four-year tuition and fees and 17% of the average private nonprofit four-year price in 2019-20.”

Trends in College Pricing

For its part, the pricing-focused report covers “published tuition and fees and room and board,” “growth in college prices,” “variation in tuition and fees,” “what students actually pay,” “public funding,” “institutional finances,” “enrollment patterns,” and “college affordability.” The breadth of these reports really cannot be overstated. That said, here are some more notable figures:

  • The distribution of small and large borrowers: “As of March 2019, 55% of borrowers with outstanding education debt owed less than $20,000; 43% of the outstanding federal education loan debt was held by the 10% of borrowers owing $80,000 or more.”
  • Tuition and fee growth slowing down: “From 2001-02 through 2012-13, annual increases in published tuition and fees exceeding 5% (or exceeding the overall rate of inflation by more than 2 or 3 percentage points) were common. Beginning in 2013-14, however, the rate of increase in published prices slowed considerably at public two-year and four-year and private nonprofit four-year institutions. At public four-year institutions, the smaller price increases combined with increases in institutional and state grant aid slowed the growth of the average net price students pay in recent years.”
  • In-state tuition and fees still rising quicker than inflation: “Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average rate of 2.2% per year beyond inflation, compared with 3.9% between 1989-90 and 1999-00 and 5.0% between 1999-00 and 2009-10.”
  • Non-tuition affordability remains an issue: “On average, full-time students at public two-year colleges receive more than enough aid in 2019-20 to cover tuition and fees, but the estimated $400 they have available to put toward other expenses is a decline from almost $1,000 in 2010-11…. Tuition and fees constitute 39% of the total budget for in-state students living on campus at public four-year institutions and 20% of the budget for public two-year college students who pay for off-campus housing.”
  • Lowest-income families still face net tuition and fees of $2,340: “In 2015-16, average net tuition and fees at public four-year colleges for full-time dependent students from the lowest-income families were $2,340—compared with $11,150 for those from the highest-income families.”
  • In-state tuition increases are a huge chunk of families’ income growth: “Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,850 (in 2018 dollars) between 1988 and 2018—53% of the increase in income ($13,000) of the middle 20% of families and 8% of the increase in income ($87,930) of the 20% of families with the highest incomes.”

All of these very useful data should not just sit on members’ shelves or in their inboxes. There are creative ways to put them to work. For example, these data are useful for fundraising, providing program context about what college costs and student aid looks like (and where the latter falls short), and making case statements about the value of college access and success work. One caveat is that only tuition, fees, and room and board are included in these figures, not full cost of attendance, which in a lot of cases makes these costs conservative.

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