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When University of Tennessee trustees raised the school’s tuition 15 percent, Angela Leonard got scared.

The factory worker’s daughter saw her 2001-02 tuition jump $422, to $3,234, when the board made its decision Wednesday. That pushed student loans past $9,000 for the incoming senior, who already works nearly full time as a waitress, babysitter and lifeguard to support herself.

Her career goal is public relations. Now she worries about the price she’s paid for an education to get into that field: “What if I don’t get a great job starting out?”

Leonard’s worries are shared by many college students and families around the country as tuition hikes at some public institutions hit double-digit percentages for in-state students. Out-of-state students are paying costs that rival private schools.

Those private colleges and universities are reporting smaller increases – in the 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent range – much the same as the past five years.

While annual increases in college bills have become the norm, it’s particularly acute this year in parts of the country suffering most from the nation’s economic slowdown, experts say.

Some examples:

Clemson University trustees last month raised annual tuition for all students at the South Carolina school by $1,500 – a 42 percent leap for state residents. The board later retreated on in-state tuition, raising it just $900, for a total of $5,090. Out-of-state tuition will still rise as planned, to $11,284.

University of Minnesota tuition is going up 13.3 percent, ranging from $4,626 to $6,141 at its four campuses. Tuition at the state’s less expensive state colleges and universities is rising an average 10.9 percent to $2,538.

Mississippi’s eight public universities hiked tuition 15 percent to as much as $3,626 at the University of Mississippi.

Washington’s research universities got a green light to raise tuition a total of 12.8 percent in two-year increments.

Higher tuition bills aren’t universal: California, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia public institutions are keeping in-state tuition unchanged from last fall.

But in many states, health insurance, faculty salaries, the constant need to upgrade of technology – and for some, energy – pushed up costs at a time when state revenues dropped. An economy that looked uncertain in January had taken a turn for the worse by spring budget season.

“In some states things looked considerably uglier than they had been predicted to be in January,” said Travis Reindl, head of state policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Historically, when state money is tight, tuition goes up, Reindl said.

Despite the tuition hikes, Cheryl Fields, spokeswoman for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, said loans and grants are still available for the roughly 11.3 million students who attend the nation’s public two- and four-year schools.

“Obviously, our institutions are really concerned,” Fields said. “They need to be accessible. I know a lot of them are going to try to bump up their aid packages, so the most vulnerable students aren’t hurt by the tuition increases.”

Private schools, attended by about 3.5 million students, face economic pressures too.

But after double-digit tuition increases in the late 1980s and early ’90s, private colleges now do all they can to avoid them, said David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Big cost hikes were not necessary in recent flush years, enriching schools that invested smartly and raised big donations. Yet like state institutions, Warren said, private colleges need “to keep from losing the ground we gained, as we see the market flatten out and some fairly significant cost areas go up.”

Every fall, the College Board, a higher-learning membership association, releases a survey of college costs.

Last year, the average cost of a year at college topped $8,400 at four-year public schools and $22,500 at private institutions, counting tuition, fees, room and board.

The rise in public school in-state tuition and fees had risen an average 4.4 percent, and room and board, 5.1 percent. Private four-year college tuition and fees rose 5.2 percent from the year before, room and board, 4.2 percent.

The next survey is due Oct. 23.


American Association of State Colleges and Universities:

National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges:

National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

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