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Private University Experiments with 4-Year Tuition Guarantee

The current high price of college is shocking enough. But when families take into account probable tuition increases, it can be even more troubling. And not being able to forecast the total investment makes it hard to plan.

Not so for those attending the University of Evansville, a private, nonprofit Methodist school with 2,400 undergraduates in southwestern Indiana. The college's board of trustees just approved a four-year tuition freeze, locking in the current price tag of $29,740 per year for the incoming freshman class.

Recently, tuition increases have averaged about 4.4 percent a year for private nonprofit universities, according to the College Board. So this news is welcome for families at the school, where 95 percent of students receive financial aid. The "Big Freeze," however, will only apply to tuition. Fees, room, and board will increase annually at a rate consistent with recent years.

The move is intended to provide students with a high-quality, affordable education and eliminate the financial uncertainty of rising costs, according to a statement by the university president, Thomas Kazee.

Published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions were up 8.3 percent in 2011-12 over the previous year. Much of the cost hike can be traced to deep cuts in state appropriations for higher education.

Where are increases the steepest? A recent article in The Wall Street Journal listed five states with the biggest tuition hikes in the past year at public universities: California (20.5 percent), Arizona (16.8 percent), Georgia (15.9 percent), Washington (15.7 percent), and Nevada (3.7 percent this year, but 65.8 percent compared with five years ago).

As families become more savvy consumers with all the tools developed by the current administration to encourage comparison shopping, it will be interesting to see if other colleges follow the University of Evansville's lead and provide a cost guarantee.

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