After putting colleges and universities on notice about rising tuition at last year’s State of the Union, President Obama used this year’s SOTU to “call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid.”
Since college affordability is a recurring theme, we thought it would be helpful to examine tuition growth by type of institution. The first chart shows inflation-adjusted tuition at public universities. Since everyone has probably seen a version of this with four-year or four-year public, the main message – that tuition has been increasing – isn’t new. What is new is that by breaking these big categories down into smaller groupings, we can see that the problem is more severe at certain types of institutions (for example, public research universities). Also worth noting is that in the mid-to-late 1990s, growth in tuition was very low at all types of public institutions.
The second chart shows tuition at private, non-profit universities. In contrast to the public universities, tuition increases at private universities has been fairly uniform across types. In addition, private universities did not experience the slowdown in tuition during the mid-to-late 1990s that we saw at public universities.
These charts are both reassuring and distressing. It is reassuring because the slow growth in tuition at public universities during the mid-to-late 1990s shows that tuition increases can be tamed. But it is distressing as well because, historically at least, such restraint is short-lived and not universal across all institution types.