Dramatic Tuition Hike Leaves Individuals Wondering Where to Turn

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 16, 2012

Recent budget constraints have left states having to cut funding left and right, higher education is no exception. The College Board recently released statistics that not only reveal some dramatic tuition increases, but the lull in enrollment for four-year institutions. These factors may indicate a possible demand for learning alternatives such as online education and community college.

According to the College Board's findings, public four-year institutions have raised their tuition 6.5 percent higher than the previous year, averaging $7,020, not including room and board. Previously, the average yearly tuition increase for the past decade was 4.9 percent. While this is the average, some are feeling more heat than others. The College Board also reveals that 15 percent of students have reported their tuition has gone up 12 percent this past year.

The dramatic tuition hike may be the result of the cuts in state budgets. According to an article in The Washington Post, state schools have had to decrease their budgets anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. USA Today reported that the amount of stress on the entire state resulted in the tuition hike.

"State budgets are in turmoil, it's a balancing act. Just about every revenue source that colleges have is under distress," Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council of Education told USA Today.

Available options

One alternative option that may be lighter on the wallet is community college. While the College Board does point out that tuition has risen 7.3 percent higher than last year, the difference is $172, about 10 percent of the cost of one course at a four-year institution.

However, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) points out that while they have had a higher increase, students spend less time in community college. The AACC points out that four-year institutions have four years of price increases, while community colleges usually only have two. The AACC also reports that community college tuition is 36.2 percent of public school tuition. Currently, according to the Washington Post, 44 percent of all undergraduates are enrolled in community colleges.

The other alternative to four-year institutions is online education. The Sloan Consortium reported a 13 percent increase in online institution enrollment this past year; the National Center of Education Statistics reports that enrollment in public institutions increased 14 percent over a 10 year period.

The Sloan Consortium survey also reports that online education is seen as beneficial to those trying to market themselves in a recession. Findings indicate people are looking to take online classes as it works with their schedules and allows them to sharpen their skills to excel their job qualifications.

While online institutions are slightly more expensive than community colleges, they're still a cheaper alternative to public schools. Some analysts report that the average cost of an online course is around $800, however this usually covers the materials needed for class. The College Board reports that books alone at a public school can cost a little over $1,100.

Obama embraces online education

President Barack Obama sees online education as a way to meet the needs of those who cannot afford college, perhaps causing him to pledge $500 million towards distance learning.

"All along that education pipeline, too many people ... are slipping through the cracks,” Obama recently stated, “It's not only heartbreaking for those students; it's a loss for our economy and our country."

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual over where they wish to study. The government offers many financial grants to students of all different backgrounds. The schools themselves also offer financial grants, and the College Board reported that students receive an average of $5,440 in grant aid, while community college students receive an average of $3,000.