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October 23, 2013

A report released Wednesday by the College Board shows tuition increases at public colleges have slowed slightly, but the cost is still out of reach for most low-income students because government aid has dwindled.

Published tuition and fees spiked nearly 3 percent for in-state students at four-year public schools. The College Board says that’s the smallest one-year increase since 1975. 

Tuition and fees at private schools jumped 3.8 percent, according to the New York nonprofit that tracks university costs. 

Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said there’s no guarantee lowering tuition will make college more affordable for middle and low-income students. 

“Many of these schools are schools that are giving enough financial aid that when they lower their sticker price they’re not actually making it cheaper for anyone or for any significant number of students,” Baum said. “This may become more common but it’s not going to become pervasive in higher education because for many schools those circumstances just don’t hold.” 

Baum said, for most colleges struggling to fill their seats, cutting the cost of college is a stopgap solution.

“What the long-run benefits are really depends on how well they take advantage of these short-term public benefits of cutting the published price,” she said. 

At the National Press Club this week, the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute released several new policy proposals for improving college access through reforms to student lending and financial aid.

Susan Dynarski, a professor of public policy, education, and economics at the University of Michigan, said facts don't support the national narrative of crippling debt.

"These four facts - moderate debt, high payoff to college, defaults on small loans, and high rates of default among young borrowers - suggest that we have not a debt crisis, but a repayment crisis," Dynarski said. "We have a repayment crisis because student loans are due when borrowers have the least capacity to pay."

"For the vast majority of students, loan debt is lower than is widely perceived," she added, pointing out the payoff to college. "While attention is focused on the extreme cases, a very small share of undergraduates hold the $100,000 loans that grab the headlines."

Still, Dynarski admitted, the recent spike in defaults on student loans is troubling.

Listen to Dynarski's proposal "Making Borrowing Work for Today's Students":

A select group of colleges and universities, responding to the public outcry over the skyrocketing cost of college, have recently announced cuts in their tuition. 

Read the full report:

VIDEO: As Price of College Rises, How Will Higher Education Evolve To Be Affordable? (PBS News Hour) As Price 

confronting cost, college board, higher ed, increasing access and success, college costs

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