Some of the region's top colleges and universities have begun announcing tuition and room-and-board increases for 2016-17.

At Swarthmore College, the total cost including fees will rise 3.5 percent, to $63,550, under a plan approved by the board of managers last weekend. The University of Pennsylvania on Thursday announced its cost would climb 3.9 percent, to $66,000. Both schools simultaneously announced sizable increases in financial aid for students.

The cost hikes come in the same month that the House Ways and Means Committee sent letters to 56 colleges and universities - including Penn and Swarthmore - noting that many schools with endowments over $1 billion continue to raise tuition in excess of inflation.

The letter said, "We are conducting an inquiry into the activities of colleges and universities related to the numerous tax preferences they enjoy. . . ."

Penn's endowment stood at $10.13 billion as of June 2015, while Swarthmore's was $1.8 billion. The 56 schools, which also include Princeton and Lehigh Universities, have until April 1 to respond.

The committee noted a report that college endowments had average returns on investment of 15.5 percent in 2014, while paying out on average 4.4 percent.

"The more we learn about college endowments, the better situated we will be to make sound policy decisions that may impact colleges," said Emily Schillinger, the committee spokeswoman.

Penn's Stephen MacCarthy declined to comment other than to note that Penn would respond. Swarthmore also plans to comply.

"Because of its endowment, Swarthmore is one of only a handful of institutions that is able to admit students regardless of their ability to pay, meet the full financial needs of all qualified students, and is able to do so without including loans as part of our student aid award," said Greg Brown, vice president for finance and administration. Penn also provides all grants, no loans.

Lehigh, which has a $1.2 billion endowment, hasn't set its costs for next year. Neither has Princeton, with a $21.3 billion endowment last year.

At Villanova, the total price will rise to $62,373, including a 3.5 percent tuition increase. 215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq