What students pay on average for tuition at public universities has fallen by nearly one-third since 1998, thanks to new federal tax breaks and a massive increase in state and federal grants to most students and their families.
Allow me to translate this next part from newspeak into plain english:
Contrary to the widespread perception that tuition is soaring out of control,Translate: The price of college tuition has gone up.
a USA TODAY analysis found that what students actually pay in tuition and fees — rather than the published tuition price — has declined for a vast majority of students attending four-year public universities.Translate: Most students don't pay the full price of tuition.
In fact, today's students have enjoyed the greatest improvement in college affordability since the GI bill provided benefits for returning World War II veterans.Translate: The government is doling out more money than ever for college tuition.
Conclusion: Because the "vast majority" of students now receive some financial aid to pay for college USA Today would have us believe that the cost of college tuition has actually gone down as indicated by the fact that most students are paying less than they would have in 1998. Of course they were careful to describe it as the "burden" of college tuition rather than the "cost." By doing so they can look at individual cases while ignoring the big picture.
So let's look at the big picture.
When I was at the University of Georgia the price of tuition went up every single year by anywhere from about 5 dollars to 20 dollars (annually) per credit hour. This was in-state tuition and I have heard that out-of-state, and international tuition went up even more. What was the reason for this? Was education becoming more expensive? Was the demand for an education at UGA going up? (Actually it was but they responded by raising their requirements for admission) None of these were the real culprit. The real issue was the HOPE scholarship. If you have not lived in Georgia you probably think I am talking about the federal plan of the same name that gives tax breaks to the parents of certain students. Previous to the federal HOPE scholarship there was Georgia's HOPE scholarship. It came out of the Governership of now senator Zell Miller, and is funded by the Georgia lottery which also came out of Zell's administration. Basically it promises any Georgia student who makes a B average in high school free tuition at any public university in the state and up to a 3000 dollar a year scholarship to any private in-state university.
As a result the "vast majority" of students in Georgia's public universities and colleges are either on HOPE or have been on HOPE. Consequently the "burden" of college tuition for the average individual college student in the state of Georgia is less than it was previous to the existence of the HOPE scholarship. What does this mean? It means that most of the in-state students at UGA do not care what the cost of tuition is as long as they have HOPE. They not only do not care if tuition goes up, they do not notice if it goes up. Paying tution means clicking the "pay tuition and fees" button on a computer screen when they are registering. They do not even have to look at the price. UGA needs more money in part because their conversion from a quarter system to a semester system was financially disastrous so they edge up tuition every year, make new requests each year to hike the tuition up even further, and they receive very few complaints. It's the out-of-state students, international students, and those who have lost or were never on HOPE who have a problem. Meanwhile UGA has a continued incentive to raise tuition every year. From their perspective all they are doing is milking the HOPE scholarship fund which is paid for through a voluntary state run lottery for a few hundred extra dollars per student per year.
I suspect all this other new government aid will have the same impact on universities nation wide. The government has demonstrated that when the price of tuition goes up the they will give out more money, and the average financial burden on individual students will go down. Why not take this to it's logical end. First we will have every student needing and/or using some financial aid to pay for college tuition. Next the average student will only pay for half of their college tuition. Soon after this will become the case for all students. Eventually the average student will pay nothing for college, and will rely entirely on financial aid, and finally this will expand to every student. A college education will be "free" to every student in America. Meanwhile the quality will not have increased a bit and the cost per student of college tuition will be many times what it is today.
By redistributing the cost onto those not attending they create the perception that the cost of tuition hasn't really changed at all. Consequently no one notices when we do not get an increase in quality in return for the rising expense of tuition. I can tell you one thing; if the quality of education in Georgia has gone up since the inception of the HOPE scholarship it is in spite of it, not because of it. HOPE has created a perverse incentive structure, where students are encouraged to take easier classes, and professors are encouraged to make their classes too difficult to pass (students drop the classes they have already paid for rather than risk lowering their grades and losing HOPE, then have to take another class instead).
So yes college tuition is "soaring out of control," but most students are being paid not to notice. Soon mediocrity will be free for everyone courtesy of Uncle Sam.