COLUMBUS -- Many people believe that Ohio's public universities have skirted state-mandated tuition caps through huge increases in room-and-board costs and mandatory fees, but that doesn't appear to be happening, according to a Dispatch analysis.
Costs continue to rise at the state's 13 four-year public schools. But the overall growth rate has slowed by nearly half since lawmakers started limiting tuition increases in the 2007-08 school year -- first with a two-year freeze, then by a 3.5 percent annual cap on increases that continues today.
From 2002 to 2006, the total of tuition, mandatory fees, and room-and-board costs for Ohio undergraduates at the state universities increased by 31.4 percent, and the highest one-year increase was 14.4 percent.
Since the tuition controls were put in place, those costs have risen 17.4 percent and the highest one-year increase was 5.2 percent.
Still, with an average annual cost of $18,190 last school year, Ohio remained one of the most expensive states for in-state residents to go to college. The national average was $17,131.
It's important to remember that this represents the sticker price, which, because of grants and scholarships, is often different from what students pay. But the cost of going to college rises even higher after figuring in books, supplies, and other expenses.
Ohio ranks seventh in the nation in student debt, at more than $27,000 per student.
But several states are quickly catching up to Ohio as they cut spending for higher education to fill growing budget gaps.
California, which has long been held up as the gold standard for low public-college costs, raised tuition and fees by 20.5 percent last school year, according to the College Board's "Trends in College Pricing 2011" report. That increase propelled California from 25th highest to 17th -- surpassing Ohio.
Meanwhile, Ohio has been moving in the other direction.
In the 2006-07 school year, the state was the fifth most expensive for tuition and fees, the College Board said.
Last year, it had dropped to 18th -- one place below California.