Future costs hard to predict

The College Board says tuition will keep climbing.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s never too early to start planning — even when you don’t know what to expect.

That’s what Anne Hoylman is doing when it comes to her son, Alex Gompper, 8, and his college education.

“We’re putting money away,” she said. “Hopefully, student loans, grants and financial aid will be there like it was for (my husband and me). So far the only thing we can do at this point is what we are doing.”

Hoylman doesn’t know what college will cost when it comes time for her son to attend.

About the only thing likely is that the cost of a four-year degree in 10 years will be more than what it is today.

How much more? That’s a little difficult to pinpoint.

The percentage increase in tuition and fees varies from year to year according to trends described in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges.

Fifteen years ago, the average cost for tuition and room and board for a year at a public university was $4,715. Today, it’s $11,354.

The level of increase has varied during that span from 4 percent to 9 percent. The cost of tuition and room and board increasing every year is the one constant.

So many variables play into the cost of college that it is impossible to accurately project what it will be in 15 years.

Although the cost goes up every year, there is no steady increase.

Crunching hard numbers might not be the best way to go if you want a dollar projection of what the average cost of college will be.

According to the College Board’s survey, if the average cost of a year at college increases at the same rate that it has over the past 15 years, in the 2019-20 school year the average cost of tuition and room and board at a public university will be $27,341.

“Colleges and universities have to pay for their own increases,” said Greg Fitch, the commissioner of the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education. “For example, the price of utilities can’t be controlled, and institutions have to pay for that. They have to pay for retirement benefits for employees.

Also, upgrades in technology and a change in equipment increases fees.”

Constructing buildings also accounts for the rise.

Although the state and private donations often finance such buildings, the university bears upkeep costs.

Fitch also said the decrease in the amount of state revenue allotted for the universities has caused an increase in the cost for students.

“In 2006, there will be a reduction in the budget, but colleges get the same amount of money as before, and they have increased costs,” Fitch said.

Jennifer Topiel, the executive director of public affairs at College Board, said she doesn’t see the rising costs of college affecting enrollment because of the availability of financial aid.

In Missouri, Fitch has seen an increase in the amount of loans and grants given to students.

“I think if the value level is set on a degree, then cost won’t be an issue,” Fitch said.

Topiel agrees.

“It’s certainly a possibility that students will be scared away by the cost of college,” she said. “What they need to realize is that over time, it’s much more worthwhile to get a college degree. You’ll be at a better place in life.”

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