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GAO Examines Trends in Tuition and Enrollment

January 8, 2008

For January 24, 2008 E-Bulletin

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report entitled “Higher Education: Tuition Continues to rise, but Patterns Vary by Institution Type, Enrollment, and Education Expenditures" in November 2007, which examines several trends in higher education between the 1995-1996 and 2006-2007 school years.  In addition to looking at enrollment and tuition, the report shows that increased spending on education-related expenses correlates with tuition increases at private 4-year research/doctoral universities

During the 1995-1996 school year, public four-year research/doctoral institutions spent, on average, $370 million on education-related expenses, which at the time was approximately $33 million more than private four-year research/doctoral institutions.  However, by the 2006-2007 school year private four-year research/doctoral institutions were spending $578 million per year, on average, for education-related expenses--approximately $115 million more than public four-year research/doctoral institutions.  GAO concludes that, at private institutions, tuition increases have supported education-related services for students.

GAO prepared the report in response to a congressional request, developing a series of research questions that addressed the following trends:

  • Patterns in college enrollment over the past decade and differing enrollment patterns by race
  • Patterns in the types of schools students attend, and does the patterns differ by race
  • The increase in tuition and fees over the past decade across different types of higher education institutions
  • An examination of increases in tuition and fees in relation to spending by institutions of higher education 

To get an accurate account of the trends in higher education, GAO used the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to obtain information regarding tuition, fees, and education-related expenditures.  The work, which was conducted from September 2007 to October 2007, found the following to be true:

  • Despite tuition increases, more students are enrolling in college now than ever before
  • While statistics show that minorities are discouraged to attending college because of rising costs, an increasingly larger percentage of all students are minorities.
  • Over the last twelve years, minority enrollments have shifted toward two-year colleges, with almost 60 percent of Hispanic and 50 percent of Black an Asian students attending community college.
  • A large number of minorities matriculate to two-year colleges instead of four-year universities
  • Tuition and fees have increased for all institution types, but the smallest tuition increases occurred at institutions that enroll the largest number of college students
  • Between 2001-2006, increases in average tuition and fees were matched or exceeded by increases in average institutional spending on education at private institutions, but not at public schools.

Although tuition costs are on the rise, enrollment in U.S. higher education institutions increased approximately 19 percent –an estimated 2.2 million students-between the 1995-1996 and the 2006-2007 school years.  In addition, full-time enrollment increased from 58 percent to 62 percent during the same time period.  Nevertheless, many disadvantaged Americans are still unable to attend college due to rising costs.