Domestic, For-Profit, Required, University & College - Written by on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 18:44 - 0 Comments

Wizard of Oz: Behind the curtain of college tuition hikes (and spikes)

photo by flickr user: twm1340


By Derek Reed

Just how high has tuition jumped at colleges around the country? Where has it dropped? And how quickly?

A website the U.S. Department of Education launched (as required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008) last month tracks those very important questions in a user-friendly format, searchable by institution type and duration of program. Information is available on tuition costs, as well as net costs, which takes grant and scholarship aid into account.

The report’s goal is to give would-be students the information they need to make an educated decision about their future. But for those with an eye on the for-profit and online education industries, it offers a look at how those sectors stack up against the more traditional models. We took a vigorous scroll through the College Affordability and Transparency Center and break down some of the key highlights:

  • The national average for tuition at a for-profit, four-year school is $15,661 per year, as opposed to $6,397 at a public four-year school (for in-state tuition) and $21,324 at a private not-for-profit.
  • In terms of how quickly tuition and net costs are rising, the for-profit industry’s numbers look similar to—if not better than—those for its public and private not-for-profit counterparts. Everest University-Largo is an outlier, with a 99 percent increase in tuition between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 school years, but four schools down the list, the numbers drop down and even out in the 20-30 percent range (a figure lower than the corresponding ones for public and private not-for-profit).
  • In the for-profit bracket, online colleges dominated the list of schools with the lowest tuition, with University of Phoenix’s myriad campuses taking up most of the spots in the four-year category.
  • Technical colleges like Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School consistently appeared at the costly end of the for-profit list, suggesting that the average tuition number for that group might be somewhat skewed, given the wide variety of schools that fall under the for-profit umbrella.
  • A New York Times story on the report notes that a forthcoming report shows tuition at community colleges rising, as officials at those schools struggle to keep down costs. Community colleges have traditionally been a close competitor (for students, faculty and resources) against for-profit and online schools.
  • The New York Times also notes that a spokesman for Bates College (which, at $51,300, had the highest tuition for the private not-for-profit group) took issue with the Department’s reporting methods, saying that, even though the school includes room and board in its costs, it was still included on the ‘highest tuition’ list. The four other schools at the top of that list report their costs in the same was as Bates.

Where the data comes from:

Data for the report came from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which, since 1993, has required any school using or applying for student financial aid programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to report to the agency on information like tuition, enrollment, graduation rates, and expenses. Schools listed on the College Affordability and Transparency Center can review and revise any information they previously reported to IPEDS. More information on IPEDS’s reporting methods here (

The Times points out some other potential issues with the data:

“The net cost numbers, for example, include only full-time, first-time students who received financial aid, a group that at many colleges is not very large. But the Web site offers much more comprehensive data than had previously been readily available, and presents it in a user-friendly way, providing a useful window on college costs.”

Here’s an extra chart on college tuition we thought you’d like to see:

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