- The rate of growth of college tuition in the U.S. has slowed to the lowest in decades, following a 400% increase over the last 30 years, The Wall Street Journal reports.
- On average, tuition across the country has risen by 1.6% over last year, after rising an average of 6% — twice the rate of inflation — each year between 1990 and 2016.
- A consumer-favoring supply vs. demand — fueled as much by changing demographics and population shifts as by an over saturation of the marketplace — is largely behind the drop, as is pressure from the federal and state governments around student borrowing eligibility and affordability overall.
A recent paper published by the American Council on Education representing a collaboration between a number of presidents acknowledge that "tuition levels (and discounting) may have hit a ceiling," as students and families are increasingly unwilling to just pay whatever price institutions decide to charge for a college education. This is forcing administrators who still have to meet certain enrollment targets in order to keep the lights on to start considering tactics like tuition locking, significant discounting from the sticker price and flattening tuition over a number of years to attract students to campus.
It's not just students and families who are displeased with the rate of inflation surrounding higher ed, either. Legislators, particularly the generally more fiscally conservative Republicans — who control a majority of the governments across the country — are fed up with the skyrocketing cost of a college degree and a lack of social mobility afforded by starting salaries which do not justify high debt ratios. In Georgia, it was recently reported that the high cost of college is the number one barrier to meeting workforce demands — messaging which is definitely not popular going to be for any state or federal legislature, and especially not one controlled by Republican leaders.
At a December roundtable event, University of Maryland System Chancellor Robert Caret said the cost of educating students has not changed in the last 40 years, but the need to add amenities like rock-climbing walls, state-of-the-art fitness centers and fully-loaded student unions to attract these same students who are unwilling to pay for them is driving up the cost.
For administrators, then, the challenge is to balance providing additional, often social, value to the campus without hitting the breaking point at which students will refuse to attend. One way to achieve this could be by partnering with local groups to provide access for students to neighboring facilities as part of their attendance package without necessarily housing these amenities on campus. And for institutions which are a part of a system, as in Maryland, providing access to those amenities which are on-campus to all students in the system — while ensuring unique, non-duplicative programs at each individual institution — could be another way to cut costs.