New evidence suggests pending dip in higher education costs

Tuition prices have skyrocketed exponentially in recent years, but there may be hope on the horizon for future college students.

In an article from NPR Ed, Anya Kamenetz, digital education correspondent for NPR,  proposed that the decade long tuition hike will soon reach its peak. Kamenetz’s investigation is based on: birth rate decrease, net tuition tracking showing a “leveling-off” and more “free education.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1990 and 1997 the total birth rate fell 15 percent. Since 2000, the rate has fallen another 2 percent.

When it comes to college tuition there will simply be less people able to go to college.

“During recessions, we have higher numbers of individuals enrolling because the opportunity cost associated with going to college is lower,” professor Leslie Stratton, Ph.D., an applied econometrician, said. “They enroll in larger numbers because they do not have another job to go to or other income.”

NPR Ed also posited that, due to the 2008 recession, the interest in college and college enrollment has diminished with the increase in other job positions.

The added fees of room and board and basic living expenses are not always considered when posting tuition prices, but, can still determine whether or not a student can afford college.

“Most programs that are offering free tuition are not offering free room and board on-top of that and that’s clearly costly,” Stratton said. “People are going to have to pay for their own room and board whether or not they go to college, so in terms of an opportunity cost argument from an economics perspective, that’s not part of the cost of going to college, but clearly you have to finance it somehow.”

The idea of “free college” or greatly reduced education cost originated in pushes made by legislators — such as Hillary Clinton — towards free community colleges and other incentives.

“Many states now offer reduced or free tuition for students who meet certain qualifications,” Stratton said. “States including New York, Texas, Georgia, Florida and California offer these cut-downs on tuition cost through policy, scholarships, and grants. Again, those programs do not pay room and board, and room and board costs have risen considerably.”

The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia states that the average increase for annual tuition from 2015-2016 to 2016-2017 was 2.9 percent — the “lowest annual tuition increase in the past 15 years.” William & Mary and the University of Virginia have “variable tuition charges to their in-state undergrad students,” and were therefore excluded from the study.  

This subtle glimmer of hope may be enough for some students to not kiss their dreams of college goodbye, as Stratton put it, “net tuition may be sort of ‘flatish,’ but room and board cost are rising a lot.”

Daniel Puryear

Contributing Writer

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