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Annual College Board survey shows college costs rising steeply in weak economy

A survey released Tuesday found the long-standing trend of college costs outpacing inflation worsened this year, and education leaders said the weakening economy was partly to blame.

The College Board reported that a year at a four-year public campus now averages $9,008, while the price tag at a private college is $23,578. Last year's survey said tuition, room and board averaged $8,400 at public schools and $22,500 at private schools.

The survey was completed at the end of August, before the terrorist attacks further jolted economic prospects. Falling tax revenues and state support were forcing public institutions to boost tuition prior to Sept. 11, while private colleges saw a shrinking stock market pinch endowments.

Since the 1980s, many state institutions have raised tuition because legislatures refused to cover rising costs, said David Ward, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now president of the American Council on Education.

``It's being exacerbated by the downswing,'' he said.

Both public and private colleges also are facing bigger bills for energy, health care, salaries and technology, said David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Offering a bit of comfort, economists said the dollar figures in the annual survey are less dramatic than they appear. Thanks to grants and scholarships, many students end up paying less than the survey figures suggest.

``The price you're hearing about is not the price at all; it's the sticker price,'' said Professor Gordon Winston, an economist at Williams College. ``Net price is after grant aid. That's what determines whether someone goes to college.''

The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit best known as owner of the SAT, derived its report of 2001-02 charges from a survey of 2,732 nonprofit college and universities, more than half the nation's roughly 4,000 institutions. Averages were weighted by enrollment to better reflect costs at the various types of schools.

Consumer prices through September rose 2.8 percent this year. The College Board survey found some higher education costs rose at more than double that rate.

The biggest increase was at public, four-year campuses, where tuition and fees for state residents rose 7.7 percent over last year, to $3,754. Living on campus climbed 6.6 percent, to $5,254 for room and board.

Private, four-year colleges saw a less dramatic increase, with tuition and fees now $17,123, a 5.5 percent rise, and living on campus costing $6,455, up 4.7 percent.

Tuition and fees at community colleges jumped an average of 5.8 percent this year, to $1,738.

Private junior colleges also got pricier: $7,953 for tuition and fees, up 5.5 percent; $5,278 for room and board, 3.9 percent more.

A companion report on student borrowing and grants in 2000-2001 found the total topped $74 billion _ a record for U.S. colleges and up 7.1 percent from the year before.

A growing chunk of that money comes from government-backed loans: 58 percent of the total. Two decades ago, loans comprised about 41 percent of financial aid.

In the wake of the attacks, and given the economic uncertainty nationwide, College Board President Gaston Caperton said a college education is more important than ever.

``The best weapon against fear and uncertainty is knowledge,'' Caperton said in a statement with the report.
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