Progressivity of Pricing at US Public Universities

Substantial increases in public university tuition often raise concerns about college affordability. But assessment of the impacts on low- and moderate-income families requires consideration of whether net tuition—tuition less grant aid—has increased commensurately. This paper describes recent shifts in net tuition by family income and institution type and assesses the role of changes in state funding in generating these shifts. Using data reported by universities on net tuition paid by students from different family income levels, we find that public research universities have increasingly shifted to high-tuition, high-aid pricing. From 2012 to 2018, net tuition fell by far more than would have been predicted by the growth in state appropriations, while tuition levels continued to rise, albeit at a slower rate than in the prior years. The increased progressivity in pricing, particularly among research universities, cannot be explained by changes in state appropriations.