Nationally, there was an average 4.8 percent increase in in-state tuition and fees at public universities this year — lower than in recent years.
Sandy Baum, independent policy analyst for the College Board and co-author of the report, said the report does not provide enough information to confirm that tuition rates are on the decline.
She said these trends tend to be cyclical. Tuition rates typically experience a steep increase and then level off before the cycle begins again.
Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development at N.C. Policy Watch, a left-leaning public policy think tank, said it appears to him that tuition is rising — and will continue to do so.
“As we experience the impact of a struggling economy, we see pressure put on universities to reduce funding and financial aid,” he said.
Schofield said this reduction in aid, coupled with higher tuition rates, could be a reason why student borrowing has decreased.
“It could be that students are giving up and realizing it isn’t worth it to take out a loan,” he said.
Schofield said he believes conservative groups in North Carolina are trying to de-emphasize the importance of higher education and as a result, students are not receiving needed support.
But Jane Shaw, president of the right-leaning John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said she thought the decrease in student borrowing and the leveling off of enrollment are good signs.
“Young people are finally realizing that they don’t want to be in debt,” she said.
The plateauing of enrollment is a step in the right direction, especially since several students are not ready for college, she said.
“We have seen in research that many people go to college who really shouldn’t be there,” Shaw said.
As for tuition, Shaw said she sees continuing increases as an indicator that higher education institutions are still failing to gain control of costs.
But Baum cautioned against drawing conclusions.
“People have a real urge to come up with an explanation, but there really isn’t enough evidence to say anything definitely,” she said.
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