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Costs of Education Slope Sharply Upward

Numbers tell stories.

This month, President Bush proposed a $56 billion education budget for fiscal 2006, nearly 1 percent less than this year's spending. If approved by Congress, it would represent the first reduction in federal support for education in a decade.

Bush sees in the numbers a strengthened commitment in key places, citing more money for the No Child Left Behind Act and his plan to eliminate the relatively small Perkins Loan Program and add that money -- more than $1 billion a year -- to Pell Grants.Pell Grants are the cornerstone of federal financial aid to college students. Bush wants to increase each grant -- now at a maximum of $4,050 -- by up to $100 a year for the next five years.

Critics, however, see the numbers as a weakening of federal support, largely at the expense of low- and middle-income students. They say that higher education costs are going up at least $500 a year -- far more than the proposed grant increase.

There is less debate about the numbers showing how fast college tuition is rising. Or about how the distribution of state and institutional grant money has, in recent years, benefited middle- and upper-income students more than the poor.

Here are some numbers that, taken together, help tell the story of today's costs of education:

Higher Education

Tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities averaged $487 more this academic year than last year: $5,132 vs. $4,645, a 10.5 percent increase, according to the nonprofit College Board.

At four-year private institutions, tuition and fees averaged $1,132 more than a year ago: $20,082 vs. $18,950, a 6 percent increase.

While the highest-priced schools get the most media attention, less than one half of 1 percent of all full-time undergraduates attend campuses that charged $30,000 or more in 2003-04.

The following chart shows the distribution of students at these schools by tuition and fees charged:

Johns Hopkins University cost an undergraduate $21,820 in 1990-91 -- $15,000 of that in tuition. In 1995-96, the total cost was $28,250 -- $19,750 in tuition. This year, the total package is $41,306 -- $30,140 in tuition.

Next year, the entire package will be about $44,000, said Ellen Frishberg, director of Student Financial Services. "I have two teenagers," she said, "and I think, 'Oh my God, what's it going to be like when they get to college?' "

Community colleges, with two-year programs, cost far less than four-year colleges. Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., for instance, charges annual tuition of $2,300. It estimates that a student can save more than $50,000 by attending Hudson Valley and then transferring to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, instead of spending four years at Rensselaer.

State support for public universities has been declining. For example, the University of Virginia, which received nearly a third of its budget from the state legislature in 1987, received about 8 percent of its $1.7 billion budget from state tax dollars this year. When the university was chartered in 1819, it received $15,000 from the state. Its founder, Thomas Jefferson, raised $40,000 more.

Pace University in New York is one of a small but growing number of schools that guarantee fixed tuition. First-year students this year are paying $30,960 for tuition, room and board and fees, and they will pay the same for three more years.

K-12 Schools

In the budget he released this month, President Bush proposed increasing spending by $1.5 billion, to $13 billion annually, for his signature No Child Left Behind law. Congress, in passing the law, authorized the president to spend nearly $23 billion a year.

Per-student costs for the 15,000 public school districts across the United States rise each year, although there are different ways to measure them.

Twenty-two of the 40 states with legal lotteries earmark revenue to support public schools, according to the Education Commission of the States. This year, California's lottery contributed about $133 per student -- less than 2 percent of the budget, a nonpartisan analysts group said. California law requires that 34 percent of lottery revenue go to education. In Illinois, 100 percent must be spent on kindergarten through 12th grade, although the state's overall education funding has not increased. The total was $570 million last year, or 3 percent of the education budget, the commission said.

The average tuition at a Catholic parish elementary school this year was $1,787, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

Nationally, the median tuition for independent day schools -- private schools without any religious or other affiliation -- in 2004-05 was $12,528 for first grade and $16,250 for 12th grade, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. There are regional differences: In New York and New Jersey, first grade costs an average of $18,200; in comparable western states, it costs $13,793.

Cost of tuition, book and lab fees and meals for 2005-06 at Riverdale (N.Y.) Country Day School: Pre-kindergarten tuition, $24,500; kindergarten through fifth grade, $27,150; sixth through 12th, $29,500. If a family invested $29,500 a year for 16 years at 8 percent annually, the cumulative value in contributions and interest would be $1,067,196.

Student Aid

U.S. college students received more than $122 billion in financial aid from public and private sources for undergraduate and graduate study in 2003-04, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year after adjusting for inflation, according to the College Board.

Nearly 60 percent of undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid.

Pell Grants could increase by up to $100 a year. (Evan Vucci -- AP)

Two-thirds of all Harvard University undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance, including outside awards, the school reports.

Nearly 25 percent of grant money given by states to undergraduates is awarded on merit and not financial need, according to Donald E. Heller, an assistant professor and researcher at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University. That's up from 10 percent in 1990.

Eight states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina) have favored merit-based financial aid over need-based aid in recent years, Heller said.

Financial aid from federal grants, per student, increased 5 percent across the country in 2003-04 from the previous year. But the growth rate in loans, which unlike grants must be repaid, was about three times as fast, according to the College Board.

At least 250,000 prospective students were shut out of higher education because of rising tuition or cutbacks in admissions and course offerings in fall 2003, according to estimates by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

On average, the "work and loan" burden facing the lowest-income high school graduates at four-year public colleges exceeds $8,000 a year, according to a report by the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

In 2003-04, Pell Grants went to 5.1 million U.S. college students. The average grant covered 23 percent of the total average charges for a four-year public institution; in 1980-81, it covered 35 percent, according to the College Board.

Federal policy sometimes makes it harder for students who must work to pay for college, according to the committee report. Even small increases in income can mean lower financial aid awards the next year, the report said.

— Valerie Strauss
Washington Post


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