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Private college tuition up by almost 5 percent for coming school year

According to a survey of 429 member institutions conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), published tuition fees at private, non-profit colleges and universities are increasing by an average of 4.6 percent for the 2011-12 academic year. At the same time, institutional student aid is growing by an average of 7 percent.

Published tuition increases have held steady for the past three years in the mid-four percent range, according to NAICU. During the 10 years prior to the economic downturn, the average annual increase was 6 percent.

In 2009-10, institutional student aid grew by 9 percent, and in 2010-11, it grew by 6.8 percent.

"In response to the economic downturn, private colleges have worked to slow down tuition increases, while increasing institutional student aid at a faster rate," NAICU president David L. Warren said in a statement. "During a difficult time for students and families, private colleges have stretched their resources to keep out-of-pocket expenses for students as low as possible, enhance the educational value they provide, and remain competitive in the marketplace."

Thanks to the increase in institutional student aid, inflation-adjusted net tuition (tuition minus all grant aid and federal higher education tax benefits) has actually decreased over the past five years. The College Board reports that inflation-adjust net tuition and fees at private colleges declined by 11.2 percent from 2005-06 to 2010-11, from $12,750 in 2005-06 to $11,320 in 2010-11, according to NAICU.

"Because of generous student aid policies and high four-year graduation rates, private colleges are a great value for many consumers," Warren said. "Students and families owe it to themselves to consider all their options."

According to the Project on Student Debt, the average graduating senior at a four-year private, non-profit college with student loans left school with $27,650 in debt in 2008, while the average student loan debt for graduates of four-year public universities was $20,200, and the average debt for graduates of four-year for-profit institutions was $33,050, NAICU reports.

Key drivers for the increases in tuition fees over time, NAICU reports, include a spike in student financial need, as well as increasing costs of employee health care, information technology, insurance premiums and utilities.