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NCES Releases New Data Showing the Impact of Student Grants

December 11, 2013

The National Postsecondary Study Aid Study (NPSAS) is conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The 2012 NPSAS (NPSAS:12) is based on results from a nationally representative survey of 95,000 undergraduates and 95,000 graduate/professional students attending 1,500 U.S. postsecondary institutions any time between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012.

The NPSAS report "Price Estimates for Attending Postsecondary Education Institutions" examines the average price undergraduates and their families paid to attend higher education institutions in U.S. during 2011-12. The report looks at three different price levels for undergraduates:

  • the total listed price of attendance that is charged to students for tuition and fees, room and board, books and materials, and personal expenses before any financial aid is considered (this is also called the "sticker price");
  • the "net price," which is the total price of attendance minus any grant aid received;
  • the "out-of-pocket net price," which is the difference between the sticker price and total financial aid from all sources (grants, loans, and work-study).

The net price measures the immediate- and long-term costs that students and their families paid to attend college (through the use of student loans), while the out-of-pocket net price reflects the immediate amount that students and their families need to pay to attend college. The report also compares each of the price levels with amounts collected in the 2007-08 NPSAS.

Sticker Price Vs. Net Price

As might be expected, the charges that undergraduates face vary greatly by type of institution. Among all undergraduates, the sticker price in 2011-12 was $34,400 for those who attended four-year private nonprofit colleges and universities, $17,900 at four-year public colleges and universities, and $8,700 at two-year public (community) colleges. When adjusted for inflation, sticker prices increased by 19 percent at community colleges, 13 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions, and 10 percent at four-year public schools.

The average 2011-12 net price for undergraduates enrolled at four-year private colleges was $23,000, $14,300 for those attending four-year public schools, and $7,100 at community colleges. Growth in net prices was considerably lower than the increases in sticker costs. When adjusted for inflation, the net price grew by only 3 percent at four-year private nonprofit schools, 8 percent at four-year public institutions, 11 percent at two-year public institutions.

Impact of Student Loans

The inclusion of student loans reduces the average price students had to pay to attend community colleges from $7,100 to $6,000. The out-of-pocket costs for those attending four-year public schools falls to $9,600, and to $15,000 for those enrolled at four-year private nonprofit institutions. Note these out-of-pocket expenses do not include the effects of accrued interest and other charges from loans. Many of these charges are not paid by students until after they leave their postsecondary institutions. In the short run, loans lower the price students pay to attending higher education but in the long-run the costs of loans the costs students ultimately have to pay.

Copies of the NPSAS report are available for no charge from the NCES website. In addition, NCES also has developed a free PowerStats lab that can be used to analyze NPSAS:12 data.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis