Consumer Price Index

Measuring Price Change in the CPI: Elementary and high school tuition and fixed fees

Elementary and high school tuition and fixed fees, a component of the tuition, other school fees, and childcare index, is included in the education and communication major group of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Both the tuition, other school fees, and childcare index and the elementary and high school tuition and fixed fees index are published monthly at the U.S. level. The education and communication index are published for all published areas on each area's publication cycle.

Relative importance

The relative importance of an item category is its percent of the CPI weight as of December of the most recent year.

Table A. Relative importance, December 2018
Item Relative importance

Tuition, other school fees, and childcare

2.924

  College tuition and fees

1.627

  Elementary and high school tuition and fees

0.338

  Child care and nursery school

0.806

  Technical and business school tuition and fees

0.032

Sample selection

Elementary and high school tuition and fixed fees (hereafter referred to as E-HS tuition), accounts for about 10 percent of the weight of the tuition, other school fees, and childcare index. This is the third largest component of the index.

The weight for E-HS tuition reflects annual consumer expenditures for studies at elementary schools and high schools (grades K-12) where tuition or fixed fees or both are charged. The CPI sample of elementary and high schools priced are selected proportional to expenditures for students as reported by households residing in the areas sampled by the CPI. In most cases, the schools that were priced were in close proximity to the sampling areas; however, students may attend elementary or high schools that are outside of the pricing areas. These schools are also included in the sample (which is unlike the samples for most other CPI items).

These private schools may be religious or sectarian in nature. Most of those priced in the index are affiliated with a specific religious group (Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, etc.). The overwhelming majority of public schools are not eligible for pricing because they do not charge students specific tuition or fixed fees.

In many cases, families send all of their children to the same school. To accommodate this, multiple students of the same family are eligible for pricing in this index. Charges for room and board, textbooks, supplies, lunch, and uniform rental are covered elsewhere in the CPI sample.

Pricing

Student tuition, whether paid on a yearly or monthly basis, as well as necessary fixed fees (such as registration fees, athletic fees, activity fees, etc.) are eligible for pricing. As a general rule, most private schools are eligible for pricing in the E-HS tuition index because they charge tuition or fixed fees or both.

Institutions being priced for the E-HS tuition index are eligible to be priced on a monthly basis. However, almost all elementary and high schools make adjustments to their tuition and fixed fees before the start of each new academic year. To reduce the burden on the schools' respondents, as well as the cost of the CPI program, the pricing frequency is reduced. Most institutions are required to be priced 2 months per year. The first selected pricing month is normally the month where price changes are most likely to occur. The second selected pricing month is 2 months after the first pricing month, and is normally used to check the accuracy of the data already collected. For nonpricing months, the last collected price for each quote is carried forward for use in the current index.

Tuition and fixed fee changes for academic terms are eligible for collection once the new prices have been set and are payable to the school. Therefore, most of the changes for the E-HS tuition index are captured in the late summer or early fall of each year. Because much of the year's change is captured in one season, we also publish a seasonally adjusted E-HS tuition index. Seasonal adjustment attempts to take index changes that are clustered into a small portion of the year, and spread them over the course of the full year, thereby facilitating the analysis of the underlying trend.

Selection of characteristics to be priced

When CPI data collectors seek prices for E-HS tuition, they first use probability sampling techniques to determine if one student or multiple students in a family are being priced. The data collectors then use probability sampling to determine grade levels for the students, and to specify whether the selected students are or are not members of the group that the school is affiliated with. Next, school policy is checked to see how many hours per day the students attend class, how many days per week classes are attended, and the length of the academic year. In some cases, we may select from different discounts (such as early payment discount) that the priced students may be eligible for. Once these data have been selected, the many characteristics associated with the students are identified to ensure that the same students are priced each collection period, or should the situation change, that the change can be readily identified. The following is an example of characteristic information that could be identified:

  • Number of students—single student
  • Membership—group member
  • Grade level—7
  • Number of hours per day—6
  • Number of days per week—5
  • Length of academic year—9 months
  • Student discounts—none
  • Method of tuition charge—per year
  • Fixed fee—registration
  • Fixed fee—athletic

Quality adjustment

One of the most difficult problems for the CPI is to quantify changes accurately in the quality of an item and to factor these quality changes out of the item's price movements. If an item's characteristics change, a quality improvement or deterioration may have occurred. In some cases, the information supplied by the respondent may be adequate to explain the change but it may not be enough to justify quality adjustment. For example, if a school states only that their length of day has increased by 30 minutes, it could be deemed a quality improvement if the extra time is devoted to additional instruction, but it would not be deemed a quality improvement if the extra time is added to lunch or recess. In this case, further information dealing with the change would need to be supplied before any quality adjustments could be made.

Because quality change often accompanies price change when the price of an item changes significantly, BLS field staff will ask the respondent to identify a cause. For E-HS tuition, many price changes from respondents are not accompanied by resulting causes. When no causes accompany tuition change and the characteristics for the identified items remain unchanged, the price changes are reflected in the E-HS tuition index.

Data

Access data for elementary and high school tuition and fixed fees in our online database.

Additional information

Additional information may be obtained from the Consumer Price Index Information Office by email or calling 202-691-7000. Information on the CPI's overall methodology can be found in the BLS Handbook of Methods.

Last Modified Date: April 24, 2019