As tuition for public colleges in Alabama rises again, college leaders say the state must do more to offset high college costs.
According to a 2022 report by State Higher Education Finance, Alabama College’s net tuition income in 2021 was $13,685 per full-time student, double the national average.
Net income from tuition is the total of tuition minus government and institutional grants.
Add in housing, fees, and other expenses, and Alabama students spent about $26,500 to $32,000 that year to cover college costs. Experts said only students in Michigan, Vermont and Delaware paid more for degrees.
Read more: Alabama commission calls for 11% increase in college funding, citing inflation
“I don’t think we really want that, but some of it requires that we invest and do our fair share of federal contributions to keep those rates down,” Jim Purcell, director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told lawmakers in this spring.
According to the SHEF report, Alabama has provided about half the state average in student financial aid — meaning that as college tuition increases, students and families in Alabama are paying a higher proportion of the cost out of pocket.
“Alabama has been cutting out students for a long time, and it’s not really because the institutions want it to,” Purcell said at a commission meeting in March, citing recent research. “That’s because government support has declined proportionately over the last few years, probably the last decade.”
How much will the tuition fees increase?
According to the Education Data Initiative, tuition rose steadily after 2000, outpacing inflation by more than 170%.
But that rate hit an all-time low during the pandemic and has yet to catch up with rising consumer costs, according to a March 8 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
In Alabama, college tuition has actually fallen in some areas — especially when adjusted for inflation. But that largely depends on what type of school a student attends and where they’re from, an analysis by AL.com found.
See the charts below for your school’s tuition fees, attendance costs, and changes over time. View the graphics online here.
AL.com analyzed 10 years of tuition and fee data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Historical prices have been converted to 2022 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.
Tuition at Alabama’s four-year public universities continues to rise, with out-of-state students paying more than the price of a private school sticker on average.
In 2022, the average foreign student at a four-year public university was paying $20,388 a year in tuition alone.
That compares to about $17,000 in average tuition at private nonprofit universities and about $12,000 at private nonprofit schools.
Meanwhile, average tuition for all two- and four-year universities nationwide has declined slightly over the past decade, with overall unadjusted tuition falling by less than 1% each year.
Out-of-state students paid an average of $16,164 in the 2012-2013 school year, down to $15,921 last year. State tuition fell from $12,368 to $11,555 over the same period.
Adjusted for inflation, average college tuition saw the sharpest declines last year, down 8% for out-of-state students and 9% for in-state students.
Much of this decline is due to a recent drop in tuition at public, historically black colleges and universities, and an even sharper drop in tuition at community colleges and private four-year degree programs.
And that doesn’t take into account grants or other expenses like fees, which are usually set by a board of directors and can vary widely from institution to institution.
Not all universities follow the trends.
At least a third of the state’s public and private institutions, including schools in the UA system, froze tuition during the pandemic.
Troy University and Athens State University were the only public colleges to see increases in both published and inflation-adjusted tuition last year.
Meanwhile, other schools are adapting at drastically different speeds.
Auburn University in Montgomery, a four-year public university, is slowly raising prices after cutting out-of-state tuition by thousands of dollars in 2015 and 2018.
Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts college, cut tuition by more than half in 2018 amid the financial crisis. Spring Hill College also slashed prices over the past year, from $39,336 to $21,100.
“This price reduction makes Spring Hill one of the most affordable private colleges in the country while maintaining our reputation for providing the highest quality Jesuit Catholic educational experience,” the school’s website reads.
If Birmingham-Southern stays afloat next year, school leaders plan to keep tuition the same. But they say they’re being careful, there could be some unintended consequences.
According to AL.com, private schools gave out the highest amount of student grants compared to other categories. At Spring Hill in 2020, 100% of students received some level of aid, with an average of nearly $35,000 in combined scholarships, data shows.
That can make it difficult to compare college costs between institutions — and some students may be more likely to choose a nongovernment school with a higher sticker price if they can get more scholarships, BSC President Daniel Coleman said.
“It’s like buying a car,” Coleman said in a recent interview. “I hate to say it because it shouldn’t be like that, but it is like that and I can’t change it.”
Legislative priorities for 2023
The National Center for Education Statistics provides tuition data through the 2021-2022 school year, making it difficult to forecast for the coming year.
Tuition and fees for Alabama’s public colleges increased about 2% this school year, according to data collected by ACHE — a rate in line with national estimates.
But affordability remains a challenge for some Alabamaans.
A 2018 report by the Southern Regional Education Board found that Alabama households spent more of their income on college expenses than any other state in the region.
In his address to lawmakers last month, Purcell said affordability issues often stem from government funding.
Since 2008, funding for public colleges has shifted from about a third of the state education budget to just over a quarter, he said. Alabama also funds four-year colleges at a level 25% below the national rate, SHEF found.
“The question is how we got there, and some of that is in the room for us to blame,” Purcell said.
The top five colleges in Alabama that saw the largest state tuition increases over the past decade:
University of North Alabama (80%): Increase from $5,328 to $9,600 Troy University (56%): Increase from $5,976 to $9,312 Alabama A&M University (54%): Increase from $5,592 to $8,610 Jacksonville State University (53 %): Increase from $6,360 to $9,720 University of West Alabama (47%): Increase of $6,170 to $9,100.
Most Expensive Colleges in Alabama for Out-of-State Students:
Samford University: 2022 out-of-state tuition was $34,410 compared to $24,570 for domestic students. State tuition was $25,110 compared to $12,090 for state students. State tuition was $24,300 compared to $7,992 for state students.