Harvard Magazine / Robert Neubecker

The cost to attend a four-year public college may actually be going down.

This is according to two new annual reports released by the College Board, a not-for-profit organization formed to expand access to higher education. As unlikely as it may sound, this is the first time in the last decade that research has indicated the cost of public higher education may be getting less expensive.

Public vs. private institutions

The new research has shown sticker prices for public colleges and universities have increased. But, they haven’t increased faster than the rate of inflation. In addition, the cost of private universities has increased faster than inflation, yet the year-over-year increases are looking much more modest than before.

What’s more, if financial aid continues its pace into the 2018-19 academic year, the net price of public higher education will dip to $14,880. However, this new information does not indicate the cost of higher education is going to majorly decrease anytime soon. At best, it is a promising sign that the cost of higher education may eventually be more affordable.

The price tag on an education

It’s no secret that college costs students a pretty penny. As of this year, it’s estimated there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the United States.

More and more students are having to borrow money for school, and this can largely be attributed to the rising cost of tuition at both private and public universities. But, there’s more than just tuition increases that make college so expensive.

Median family income lags behind

Simply put, gains in median family income cannot keep up with the increase of tuition in fees. In turn, this means tuition bills are taking up more and more of American family incomes. In the past, a year’s worth of education at a public institution took up about 14% of the median family income in 1993. Now, that number is at 20%. For private colleges, those same figures increased from 31% to 36%, respectively.

However, there is still some hope that the price of higher education will become more manageable. Along with the new research mentioned above, state funding for public colleges is starting to increase. This is mainly due to budget recovery from the Great Recession.

Although the price direction of higher education seems murky, these small indicators may be pointing in a more affordable direction.