Price mea­sure shows UA costs’ rise out­paces state’s fam­ily in­comes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JAIME ADAME

FAYET­TEVILLE — An es­ti­mate of the true cost to at­tend the University of Arkansas, Fayet­teville in­creased by about $700 for 2015-16, the most re­cent aca­demic year with data avail­able.

UA’s av­er­age net price of $15,411 in­creased by 4.9 per­cent com­pared with $14,693 a year ear­lier, a steeper rise than the 3 per­cent tu­ition in­crease ap­proved by trustees for the 2015-16 aca­demic year.

The av­er­age net price takes into ac­count ad­di­tional ex­penses be­yond tu­ition and fees while sub­tract­ing what stu­dents re­ceive, on av­er­age, in gov­ern­men­tal and in­sti­tu­tional grant awards.

Three years of fed­eral data for UA and other schools were up­dated ear­lier this month at col­le­ge­nav­i­ga­tor. gov.

The es­ti­mated cost to at­tend UA was be­low that of sim­i­lar large pub­lic schools in nearby states ex­cept at Louisiana State University and the University of Mis­sis­sippi.

But for the three most re­cent years with data avail­able, UA’s av­er­age net price has climbed at a faster rate than the me­dian in­come for

Arkansas fam­i­lies.

“Ev­ery­one, I think, is con­cerned about af­ford­abil­ity,” said Suzanne McCray, UA’s vice provost for en­roll­ment and dean of ad­mis­sions.

For the 2015-16 aca­demic year, she de­scribed an in­crease in hous­ing costs and de­creases in fed­eral, state and in­sti­tu­tional aid for many in-state stu­dents as rea­sons for the ris­ing av­er­age net price. For 2015-16, UA pub­lished an es­ti­mated to­tal cost of at­ten­dance of $23,506 for in-state stu­dents, while this fall the pub­lished es­ti­mate is $24,916.

The av­er­age net price cal­cu­la­tion is defined by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to only in­clude first-year, in-state stu­dents.

McCray said stu­dents and par­ents can go to UA’s web­site to get a feel for what

their costs might ac­tu­ally be to at­tend the state’s largest university.

“We have a net price calculator on our web­site so they can get a look at, prior to get­ting here, just what it is they will be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing for,” McCray said. “And we want peo­ple to un­der­stand what it is, so they know com­ing in.”

All col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties re­ceiv­ing fed­eral fund­ing are re­quired to have net price cal­cu­la­tors on their web­sites, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

McCray said the av­er­age net price can fluc­tu­ate from year to year be­cause in­com­ing fresh­men have dif­fer­ent fi­nan­cial needs and dif­fer­ent qual­i­fi­ca­tions for merit awards.

For 2015-16, she said, UA gave out less in­sti­tu­tional aid than the year ear­lier to stu­dents in the group used to cal­cu­late av­er­age net price.

McCray said the university es­ti­mates how many stu­dents will ac­cept merit awards and en­roll in a given year. But af­ter a year like 2014-15 when more stu­dents who qual­i­fied for awards chose UA, less aid is typ­i­cally given the fol­low­ing year “to main­tain a man­age­able four-year rolling schol­ar­ship av­er­age,” she wrote in an email.

McCray said stu­dents on av­er­age also re­ceived less fed­eral and state aid, lead­ing to the rise in av­er­age net price.

Av­er­age net price “is a help­ful piece of in­for­ma­tion for stu­dents try­ing to eval­u­ate their col­lege options,” said Mamie Voight, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy re­search with the non­profit In­sti­tute for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy.

The group in March pub­lished a re­port stat­ing that low- and mod­er­ate-in­come stu­dents can only af­ford to at­tend 1 per­cent to 5 per­cent of col­leges. The anal­y­sis was based in part on net price and house­hold in­come.

Voight said year-over-year changes pro­vide a “snap­shot” of in­for­ma­tion but that more years of data are needed to check for trends.

An Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette anal­y­sis found that while the av­er­age net price for UA in­creased by 6.5 per­cent from 2013-14 to 2015-16, the state’s me­dian fam­ily in­come in­creased by about 2 per­cent from 2013-15.

Fam­ily in­come es­ti­mates are pub­lished by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau, with the 2015 me­dian fam­ily in­come es­ti­mated to have been $51,782, plus or mi­nus $323, up from the 2013 es­ti­mate of $50,759, plus or mi­nus $417.

The av­er­age net price to at­tend UA in­creased to $15,411 from $14,466 over a sim­i­lar time pe­riod.

“I think that’s a re­ally use­ful com­par­i­son to make, to look at net price ver­sus fam­ily in­come,” Voight said.

The col­le­ge­nav­i­ga­tor.gov web­site also re­ports av­er­age net price by in­come. This is cal­cu­lated for a dif­fer­ent, though over­lap­ping, group of stu­dents than the group used to de­ter­mine av­er­age net price re­gard­less of in­come.

Av­er­age net price by in­come is cal­cu­lated for stu­dents re­ceiv­ing a cer­tain kind of fed­eral aid, known as Ti­tle IV aid, which in­cludes fed­eral loans. But the loan amount never fig­ures into the ex­penses-mi­nus-aid cal­cu­la­tion.

For stu­dents from fam­i­lies earn­ing $30,000 or less an­nu­ally, the 2015-16 av­er­age net price of $11,501 re­flected a 1.5 per­cent in­crease over the av­er­age net price of $11,335 in 2014-15.

The year-over-year per­cent­age in­crease was smaller than for any other in­come group at UA.

Look­ing at three years of data, the av­er­age net price for the poor­est stu­dents in­creased by 7.5 per­cent from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

McCray said in an email that the low­est-in­come stu­dents re­ceive high lev­els of fed­eral Pell Grant sup­port, while oth­ers may re­ceive less aid.

UA “has also been steadily shift­ing or adding schol­ar­ship fund­ing for lower ACT stu­dents, and usu­ally lower scores are as­so­ci­ated with stu­dents from lower-in­come lev­els,” McCray said.

Over three years, stu­dents in the $30,001-$48,000 fam­ily in­come group saw a 12 per­cent in­crease in av­er­age net price, which rose to $13,122 in 2015-16 com­pared with $11,721 in 2013-14.

For the same time pe­riod, stu­dents in the $48,001$75,000 fam­ily in­come range

saw a 10.7 per­cent rise in av­er­age net price, which in­creased to $16,793 in 2015-16 from $15,172 in 2013-14.

Voight said uni­ver­si­ties “have a big role to play here” in help­ing make col­lege af­ford­able for a di­verse group of stu­dents.

“In­sti­tu­tions can set up their fi­nan­cial aid to be need-based and di­rect their aid to stu­dents who ac­tu­ally need that fi­nan­cial sup­port in or­der to ac­cess col­lege,” Voight said.

Chan­cel­lor Joe Stein­metz has called for in­creas­ing need-based schol­ar­ships, and McCray de­scribed sev­eral pro­grams aimed at help­ing low-in­come stu­dents, such as the Ac­cel­er­ate Stu­dent Achieve­ment Pro­gram es­tab­lished last year for stu­dents in a 26-county area that in­cludes the Delta re­gion and east­ern part of the state.

This year, UA an­nounced a fundrais­ing goal to es­tab­lish 50 schol­ar­ships for the 2018-19 school year, with pref­er­ence to be given to stu­dents who are the first in their fam­i­lies to pur­sue bach­e­lor de­grees. A stu­dent’s fi­nan­cial need would be taken into ac­count when giv­ing out the Ad­vance Arkansas schol­ar­ships.

Voight said that in or­der for col­lege to be­come af­ford­able, states and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must help. She said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should con­tinue to pro­vide Pell Grant fund­ing, and state fi­nan­cial sup­port for higher ed­u­ca­tion could lower the cost of col­lege.

“We see a need for shared re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Voight said.

“We have a net price calculator on our web­site so they can get a look at, prior to get­ting here, just what it is they will be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing for. And we want peo­ple to un­der­stand what it is, so they know com­ing in.”

— Suzanne McCray, UA’s vice provost for en­roll­ment and dean of ad­mis­sions

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