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College Costs Growing Faster in Utah than U.S.

SALT LAKE CITY — College costs in Utah rose more quickly than the rest of the country during the past five years, though the sticker prices for public schools here remain among the cheapest in the country, according to a new report from the College Board.

Nationally, college costs look to be leveling off. Tuition and fees in the U.S. grew by 2.9 percent over last year, the smallest one-year increase in more than 30 years, according to the board.

“It does seem that the spiral is moderating,” said Sandy Baum, co-author of the report. “Not turning around, not ending, but moderating.”

While Utah’s cost increase this year was in line with the nation’s at 3 percent, during the past five years, tuition in the Beehive State has shot up by 30 percent, faster than the national average of 27 percent.

Those rising costs affect students such as 19-year-old Patricio Panuncio at the University of Utah. It isn’t easy coming up with more than $7,400 a year, plus hundreds of dollars for books.

“At our research universities, the University of Utah and Utah State University, it’s becoming harder and harder to attend when you’re from a non-privileged background,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being a meritocracy, but if [public institutions] keep increasing tuition, we make it that much harder to obtain success and reach our goals.”

Pam Silberman, spokeswoman for the Utah System for Higher Education, said much of the increase at the state’s public schools was due to cuts in state funding during the recession coupled with record enrollment jumps.

“We’ve seen a shift in the burden of paying for higher education to the student,” she said.

In 2008, public funding covered 63 percent of the higher education tab while tuition paid for 37 percent. That split has changed to 51-49 in just five years. And while higher-education funding is recovering, increases have so far been slow.

“We certainly need to be investing in [higher education] as a state,” she said.

Although Utah’s percentage growth may be slightly above average, dollar costs remain relatively low: The $5,906 average annual four-year tuition price is the third-lowest in the country. The two-year average is $3,311 a year.

While costs might not be rising as quickly nationally, students are paying more due to declines in federal student aid, according to a second report the College Board released Oct. 23. In the two years leading up to the 2012-2013 school year, aid per full-time equivalent undergraduate student declined 9 percent, or about $325.

“The rapid increases in college prices have slowed. However, student and families are paying more because grant aid is not keeping up,” said David Coleman, president of the College Board, which is a not-for-profit membership group that promotes college access and owns the SAT exam.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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