New website showcases rocketing college costs

For parents and students struggling to figure out how to best compare the price tags of different colleges, life just got a little easier. The Department of Education unveiled on Thursday the College Affordability and Transparency Center, which houses several lists of colleges and their prices.

The new website also showcases how much tuition has changed at some institutions in recent years, highlighting some astronomical leaps. Tuition growth at most universities has outpaced inflation, currently around 3.5 percent, for the past two decades. In recent years, though, some private colleges have struggled with poor returns on endowment investments and public schools have been continually slammed with budget cuts from the state level, even as enrollment in many places has surged. The result is an even faster growing price tag for students.

The top offender in tuition increase for public two years institutions, for instance, was the Charles A. Jones Skills and Business Education Center in California. In 2007-2008, tuition was $1,300 per year. By 2009-2010, that figure had leapt to $3,900 – a 200 percent increase. Itawamba Community College in Mississippi had the largest net price jump, going from $3,842 in 2006-2007 to $10,543. That’s a 174 percent increase.

Dozens of other schools saw tuition and net prices – the average price students pay after scholarships and grants are taken into account – going up less dramatically, but still notably, rising over 30 percent.

Schools that have had the highest tuition and/or net price increases in the past three years are going to have to explain why that is to the Department of Education in a report that also explains what they’re going to do about their rocketing costs.

Yet many public institutions around the country are looking at steep hikes again this year, as higher education budgets are getting hit hard. Recently, CNN Money took a look at the ten biggest increases on the horizon.

Arizona’s state university’s future was among the bleakest, with tuition expected to go up by 22 percent at the University of Arizona, 19.5 percent at Arizona State University and 15 percent at Northern Arizona University, as a result of a $198 million budget cut. Florida’s universities will have a 15 percent tuition increase for the third year in a row and The University of Washington is considering a 20 percent hike.

For all schools, the College Affordability and Transparency Center breaks down the cost by the type of institution as well as by  sticker price and net price.

Perhaps not surprisingly, both sticker prices and net prices range hugely. The Universidad Teologica del Caribe comes in as the cheapest among private not-for-profit four year institutions, with the average student only paying $82 dollars. On the other end of the spectrum, at California’s Art Center College of Design, students are looking at an annual bill of $39,672.