We hear a lot about the rising cost of tuition at universities. But the numbers that are usually reported are the published tuition rates. Thats kind of deceiving though. Most people don't pay the full tuition rate at universities due to financial aid and scholarships. The "net tuition" is the amount that students actually pay after grants and scholarships. To get a better idea of what college costs are really doing its better to look at the net tuition rates.
I got the data out of the College board trends in college pricing and then looked specifically in figures 12 & 13. Those figures are reported in 2014 dollars so I adjusted back to current figures using their CPI numbers in table A2.
Here's the trend:
Interestingly you can see that net tuition at private universities is actually down from 2007 to 2014. Of course nobody is reporting on that. In that same period published tuition rates are up ~33%. So while the press can say that tuition is up in the past 7 years the amount that students actually pay is down.
In the past 20 years net tuition at private schools is up 3.2% compounded annually and 4.4% at public schools.