Despite President Obama's focus on the soaring costs of a college education, area universities are poised to raise their prices again in excess of the core rate of inflation.
Costs at the University of Pennsylvania in 2014-15 will exceed $60,000 for the first time under a fee increase announced at the board of trustees meeting on Thursday. That's a 3.9 percent increase over last year's overall tuition, fees and room and board.
Several other private colleges and universities around the region also have set their cost increases for next year, ranging from a low of 3 percent at Swarthmore College to 4.4 percent at Immaculata University. The core rate of inflation is 1.6 percent.
Most public universities won't set rates until later in the spring after state budgets are finalized.
School officials say they are increasing financial aid budgets to help students in need afford the additional cost - Penn will shell out nearly $200 million next year - and they say the school's rising costs in salaries and other areas require a fee boost.
Penn also notes that it will continue to adhere to its policy of providing students with all grants and no loans to lessen their debt burden. Students on university aid - 47 percent of the student body - actually pay less to attend Penn than they did well before the policy started in 2009, officials said.
But some experts concerned that college costs are increasing at a greater rate than family incomes say schools must do more to control their price tag. To increase accountability, the Obama administration some time this spring or summer is expected to unveil a new college rating system that considers tuition among other measures.
"It strikes me that colleges should be working more assiduously than they are to try and avoid . . . tuition increases" that exceed the cost of inflation, said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability & Productivity. "From the sound of things, it doesn't appear the cries to do that are being heeded."
Joni Finney, vice president of the national Higher Education Policy Institute and a Penn education professor, said the increases at Penn and elsewhere seem to reflect no real policy rationale other than "that's what they think they can charge and get away with without students and others being too upset about it and without committees in Congress being too upset about it."
While Penn is taking care of needy students with its all grants policy, "that is very hard to sustain," she said.
If tuition costs continue to increase, she said, "we're sort of setting ourselves up for failure."
Penn's total costs next year will be $61,132.
At Haverford College, the pricetag is higher. Costs there also will increase by 3.9 percent, to $61,564. The increase, spokesman Chris Mills said, is necessary "to maintain the quality of our program."
Princeton will raise tuition and room and board by 4.1 percent, to $55,440. An Ivy League university like Penn, it also provides all grants and increased its financial aid budget by more than eight percent.
Bryn Mawr College's total costs will rise to $59,890, up 3.7 percent.
At Swarthmore College, costs are increasing 3 percent to $59,610.
Immaculata University will go up 4.4 percent to $44,880. The university, however, has a "fixed rate" tuition program, insuring freshmen that their tuition will remain the same all four years, said spokeswoman Lydia Szyjka.
Rosemont's charges will run $43,480, which reflects a 2 percent increase in tuition and a 4 percent increase in room and board, officials said. Chestnut Hill College has increased undergraduate tuition 3 percent to $31,930. Room and board rates haven't been set.
Some colleges have yet to release their charges for next year. Ursinus mailed letters to parents this week, announcing its planned costs for next year, but declined to release the numbers.
Saint Joseph's University, Neumann University, Drexel University and Philadelphia University all plan to approve new charges in March.
BY THE NUMBERS
Cost of tuition, fees, room and board for 2014-15 at the University of Pennsylvania, up 3.9%.
Cost at Haverford College, up 3.9%.
Cost at Princeton University, up 4.1%.
Cost at Bryn Mawr College, up 3.7%.
Cost at Swarthmore College, up 3%.
SOURCE: The colleges and universities mentioned