Increase in Cost of College Again Outstrips Inflation : Education: Tuition, room and board push annual price at the most expensive 4-year schools above $21,000.


For the 10th year in a row, the average cost of attending a four-year college or university in the United States has increased significantly more than the national inflation rate, according to a survey released today by the College Board. However, some education officials expect more pressure to limit future tuition hikes.

Not including room and board, the average undergraduate at a public four-year college this year will pay $1,809 for tuition and fees, up 7% from last year. At private four-year colleges, that figure is $9,391, up 8%. The national Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 4.8% for the year ending in July, by when most tuitions were set.

When room and board are included, the increases have put the annual cost of an education at the priciest private schools above $21,000, unthinkable a generation ago. Among the most expensive schools in the nation are Bennington College in Vermont ($21,550), Sarah Lawrence College in New York ($21,490), New York University ($21,400) and Barnard College in New York ($21,344). Students on average need $1,900 more for books, transportation and personal expenses, the survey stated.

The most expensive in California are Stanford University ($20,210 for tuition, fees, room and board) and Pitzer College ($20,170, school officials said, although the College Board contends that Pitzer reported $20,505, which would top Stanford.)

Californians pay $1,624 in educational fees at UC and $780 at Cal State, both below the national average of $1,809 at four-year public schools. However, room and board, which vary widely at many California state schools, are nevertheless generally higher than the national averages at four-year public institutions ($3,161, up 5% from 1989) and private schools ($4,153, up 7%).

Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, urged families to investigate financial aid and to look at less-expensive schools that may not be as famous but offer good educations.

"The tendency to focus on the cost of a relatively small number of high-priced colleges simply adds to the confusion and may lead many students and parents to panic if they overestimate the cost of college," Stewart said in a prepared statement. "About half of all four-year colleges charge under $5,000 for tuition and fees."

The 7% increase in public college tuition and fees matched the previous year's rise, according to the College Board, the national consortium of schools that is best known for sponsoring the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The 8% hike at private colleges was one percentage point lower than in 1989--a statistic that some experts say foreshadows lower increases.

"There is no question that, except for the very most highly selective and prestigious colleges and universities in the country where there is virtually no price resistance, we are clearly coming into a period of price resistance," said William Moore, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. "I think we are probably at the time where the percentage increases are going to decline."

Ironically, many schools are studying the cost-cutting example of Stanford, which could probably charge whatever it wants, Moore said. Stanford recently instituted administrative cutbacks and raised its fees 5.5%, the smallest hike in 15 years.

In addition, colleges are nervous about an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of price fixing in tuition at 56 institutions across the country. But critics contend there appears to be little change in college pricing.

"I think we are going to see more turmoil and battling and more name calling but I don't yet see the effects of voluntary belt tightening," said Chester Finn, a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University and former U.S. assistant secretary of education in the Reagan Administration.

Asked about the 1% decrease in the private school inflation, Finn replied: "If you had a fever of 105, you are better off with a fever of 104, but you are still sick."

College presidents long have complained that their costs are more tied to salaries than to the basket of goods and services included in the CPI. But after a decade of student anger and government pressure over college costs, some schools are aiming to match the CPI soon.

A previous study by the College Board and the American Council on Education said that tuition increases were fueled mainly by costs of improved facilities, faculty salaries and more student aid, while public universities also were affected by limits in state funding.

However, a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, academia's trade paper, showed that non-teaching administrative positions at colleges and universities grew 61% between 1975 and 1985, compared to only a 6% increase in the ranks of full-time faculty. Education officials say extra administrators were needed for new mandates in, among other things, recruiting minorities and protecting the environment.

Skeptics complain that the quality of education is rarely improved by tuition hikes. "As long as I'm seeing people paying $20,000 a year and people sitting in large lecture classes and being taught by teaching assistants who don't speak English well, I don't see any way to justify these tuition increases," said Martin Nemko, a Berkeley-based education consultant and author.

The College Board survey covered about 2,200 schools.


The ten most expensive colleges and universities in the U.S. in 1990-91:

TUITION ROOM COLLEGE AND FEES AND BOARD TOTAL Bennington (Vt.) $17,790 $3,760 $21,550 Sarah Lawrence (N.Y.) 15,530 5,960 21,490 New York University 14,520 6,880 21,400 Barnard (N.Y.) 14,890 6,454 21,344 Brandeis (Mass.) 15,320 5,960 21,280 Boston University 15,185 5,960 21,145 Tufts (Mass.) 15,917 5,170 21,087 Johns Hopkins (Md.) 15,380 5,570 20,950 Bard (N.Y.) 15,710 5,160 20,870 Brown University (R.I.) 15,871 4,980 20,851

The ten most expensive colleges and universities in California in 1990-91.

TUITION ROOM INSTITUTION AND FEES AND BOARD TOTAL Stanford University $14,280 $5,930 $20,210 Pitzer College $15,428 $4,742 $20,170 USC $14,378 $5682 $20,060 Pepperdine University $14,310 $5,740 $20,050 Scripps College $13,824 $6,000 $19,824 Pomona College $14,030 $5,700 $19,730 Harvey Mudd College $13,750 $5,580 $19,330 Caltech $13,489 $5,422 $18,911 Occidental College $13,965 $4,859 $18,824 Claremont McKenna $13,850 $4,840 $18,690

Sources: Survey by the College Board and reporting by the Times.

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