Private colleges freeze tuition at still unaffordable rate

Washington Post:
Savvy families shopping for college know that tuition typically rises faster than inflation. So Lauren Seely and her parents in Northwest Washington were startled to learn this year that an upper-tier private college on her short list had frozen its price.

Tuition and fees at Mount Holyoke — $41,456 in fall 2011 — would not rise one dollar in 2012. That helped clinch Seely’s decision last spring to enroll at the Massachusetts women’s college.

The freeze reflects a growing movement to hold the line on price in higher education’s private sector, a strategy often targeting those who qualify for little or no financial aid but who worry about how to pay for college in uncertain economic times. For many families, aware that sticker prices for private schools can be at least three times higher than for public ones, these concerns are intensifying as application deadlines approach early next month.

At least 24 private schools froze tuition this year and eight cut it, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which said both totals were unprecedented. Other colleges advertise minimal price hikes. Catholic University in Northeast Washington raised tuition and fees 3 percent this year, to $36,520, its lowest increase in three decades. The average increase for private, nonprofit universities was 4.2 percent, according to the College Board.

“The recession that we’ve gotten through and the doldrums we’re in with the economy right now are affecting the ability of families to pay for school,” Catholic University President John H. Garvey said. “It’s something we have to be sensitive to.”

These can be risky moves for nonprofit institutions with high fixed expenses. Hiring a skilled faculty and keeping average class size small — two chief selling points for private colleges — is not cheap. Capping tuition or slowing its growth is especially challenging for schools without major endowments. Skeptics also wonder how such schools can afford to maintain aid for students in need.

One payoff for the schools is prominence in a competitive and turbulent market. Mount Holyoke doubled down on its bet in November, taking the extremely unusual step of freezing tuition for a second straight year. Seely was thrilled.
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This suggest to me there is still some areas to cut that would make education more affordable.  At $41,456 a year a family could buy four doublewides and rent them out  at a better return on investment depending on the major.

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