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TUITION COSTS STILL RISE AT TWICE RATE OF INFLATION

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College tuition rose 6 percent this year - below the double-digit jumps of the early 1990s but still twice the rate of inflation, a survey found.

The increase, about the same as last year, added fuel to a partisan debate in Congress: Should the government increase federal grants, now lagging far behind college prices, as Democrats suggest? Or should it keep aid the same or less, as the GOP wants, and encourage colleges to hold down costs?Colleges "benefit from student aid," Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan. "I do think they have a responsibility to keep their prices down."

In its annual survey, the College Board found that yearly instate tuition and fees, not counting room and board, now average:

-$2,860 at public four-year colleges.

-$12,432 at private four-year colleges.

-$1,387 at two-year public colleges.

-$6,350 at two-year private colleges. Prices rose less, 4 percent, at two-year-private colleges.

The College Board, an association of 2,800 colleges, found that room and board costs also increased, by 2 percent to 4 percent. That brought total average costs to $6,823 at four-year public universities, $17,631 at four-year private colleges and $10,593 at two-year private colleges.

Most students at two-year public colleges live off campus, which is cheaper. The estimates also leave out books, transportation and personal expenses.

Kathleen Brouder, spokeswoman for the board's financial aid arm, acknowledged that college costs seem daunting to parents and students. But college is still affordable if families save, seek financial aid or take advantage of bargains, she said.

"Families and students must decide if the sacrifices of going to the most high-priced schools are for them," Brouder said.

But Sharon Morris, a 38-year-old mother who works part time and attends the University of the District of Columbia, said losing any aid could keep her from school.

"I probably wouldn't be able to finish my degree - or it would take me a lot longer," Morris said. "I would have to work full time and go to school part time."

Colleges contend they're doing all they can to keep tuition down.

Labor costs, especially health care for faculty and staff, cause much of the increase, said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

The Education Department found that in the last decade colleges also shifted more money from instruction into marketing, financial aid and counselors.

At public universities, tuition is up because states have provided less money since the early 1990s. States cut education spending because of increases in Medicaid and prison spending.

That has slowed somewhat, however, and many state colleges had smaller tuition increases this year. The 6 percent jump nationally reflects big tuition increases in California and New York.

At private colleges, "If they push tuition up much more than 6 percent, they've found they begin to lose their market," said Dave Merkowitz, spokesman for the college group American Council on Education.

Private colleges put half their tuition increases back into private aid to attract lower-income students, who bring additional federal and state aid as revenue.

Some Republicans, such as Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., whose committee oversees education programs, say the practice may actually result in tuition increases, socking the affluent to help poorer students.