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Public college tuitions spike 15%, even 30%

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter

New York (CNNMoney.com) -- Tuition at many public colleges and universities is skyrocketing, thanks to state budget deficits that have choked off funding for higher education.

The University of California, for instance, estimates a 30% increase in the 2010-2011 year. "California's $20 billion deficit will make it hard for the [state's] legislature to provide funding to the schools," said Patrick Lenz, UC Berkeley's budget administrator.

Next year's tuition numbers aren't final, since many states are still hashing out their budgets. But one thing is certain: Rates are going up, and the schools that will be hit the hardest are in the states that have seen the worst of the economic downturn.

For example, the Universities of Nevada, Florida, and Washington, each estimate that their tuitions will jump 10% to 15% next year.

University of Washington's Associate Vice Provost, Gary Quarfoth said the school expects to raise rates by 14% to help make up for a $21 million cut in funding from Washington state.

The UC system has endured massive cuts in recent years. The state of California slashed $637 million from the UC school system in 2009-2010, and another $814 million in the 2008-2009 school year.

The school doesn't yet know how much funding it will receive for next year, but it estimates that even with the 30% tuition hike it will still be in the red by $237 million, according to UC spokesman Steve Montiel.

But the good news for public college and university students is that this is an election year, notes Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which may make legislators reluctant to vote for more budget cuts.

And regardless of any rate hikes, public schools are still a steal compared to private schools. The average sticker price for four-year public colleges and universities this year was relatively low, at $7,020. The average annual cost of attendance at a four-year private college is $26,273; some schools cost as much as $50,000 a year.

Of course, most students don't pay a public or private school's list price; after financial aid is factored in, the actual cost of college is often much lower. The College Board estimates that aid in the form of grants and tax benefits averaged about $5,400 at public four-year colleges in 2009-2010, putting the net cost at about $1,620.

The bad news is that there is no end in sight to year after year tuition hikes, for the simple reason that the cost of college hasn't hurt school enrollment levels. Demand continues to outstrip supply.

"Even universities charging $50,000 a year will be able to fill their seats because there are enough wealthy people out there willing to pay this price," said Chris Miller, executive director at The Education Advisory Board, a higher education consultancy.

"Price sensitivity hasn't manifested itself yet in empty seats."  To top of page

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