This is the time of year colleges typically reveal their tuition rate hikes for the coming school year.

Technically, it's the time they announce their tuition rates for the coming school year but have you ever seen them go down?

No, it's always up, up up.

How high can they go?

Well, Penn State trustees last week approved a 3.39 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduates at the University Park campus, which comes to $264 extra per semester and a total of $16,090 per year.

The cumulative effect of years of tuition increases means the grand total for a year at Penn State's main campus, including tuition, room and board and various fees is – brace yourself – $26,362.

Penn State is a state-related school, not state-owned, but the public schools' tuition also are regularly ticking up.

For the 14 public schools that are part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, tuition will increase by 3 percent for the next academic year. The $194 increase puts the tuition for a full-time, in-state undergrad at $6,622. That's not including room, board, fees and books.

For the past 10 years, tuition hikes in the state system have ranged from 2 percent to 4.5 percent, except in 2011-12, which saw a 7.5 increase because of massive cuts in state funding.

The colleges blame inadequate state funding and an increase in operating costs for the tuition increases, but that probably matters little to students and parents.

The only thing that matters is that costs are going up.

Again.

The result is it's becoming harder and harder for students to afford a college education, and more and more are taking out loans to help cover the costs.

According to a Fidelity Investments survey, 70 percent of the class of 2013 graduated with debt, averaging $35,200. That's a massive burden to shoulder before students even have landed a job and that alone is a tall order in this economy.

What's Congress doing to help make college more affordable?

Nothing.

In fact, it's doing just the opposite.

Earlier this month, Congress failed to act and, as a result, allowed the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford Loans to double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The increase will tack on an extra $2,600 to the average bill paid by students, according to Congress' Joint Economic Committee.

Lawmakers say they hope to reach a deal to retroactively lower the rates, but Congress' track record doesn't exactly make us optimistic.

Sure, the added interest isn't much compared to all of the other rising costs associated with college.

But every little bit hurts these days.

By The York Dispatch