Besides death and taxes, another (sad) certainty is skyrocketing college costs. College tuition prices alone have been increasing at about twice the general rate of inflation since 1958. According to a new report from the College Board this year shows a silver lining:

While published tuition and fees at colleges and universities continue to rise more rapidly than the rate of inflation, the rate of increase has slowed. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the percentage increases in published tuition and fees (in all sectors) were smaller than the average annual increases over the previous five, 10, and 30 years, according to the College Board’s 2014 Trends in Higher Education reports — Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing . …

However, price increases continue to accumulate, totaling 17% between 2007-08 and 2014-15 at private nonprofit four-year colleges, and almost 30% at public two-year and four-year institutions, after adjusting for inflation.

Yet many dark clouds remain.

In spite of efforts over the past several years by the federal government, including increases in Pell Grants and tax credits, they have not kept down the net price (what students actually wind up paying out of pocket for their degrees) at four-year public institutions, as the College Board continues:

While grant aid has been sufficient to maintain those net prices in the private nonprofit four-year and public two-year sectors, net prices at public four-year institutions have risen. The average net price in the public four-year sector reached an estimated $3,030 in 2014-15, compared to a published price of $9,139, and to net prices of $2,680 in 2007-08 and $2,140 in 2010-11. …

“This year’s Trends reports make it clear that some of the more visible trends of recent years have slowed or turned around,” said Sandy Baum, research professor of education policy at the George Washington University Graduate School of Human Development, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and coauthor of the 2014 Trends in Higher Education reports. “It is encouraging that published prices are rising more slowly than in the past and that annual education borrowing has continued to decline. However, the reports also document dramatic increases in published tuition and fees over time that outstrip growth in grant aid for many students, as well as rising levels of cumulative debt among graduates.

A better path to college access and affordability is not more government aid, but investing in students directly. How? By keeping more hard-earned tax dollars in the hands of individual earners in the states. Let state citizens work to change their higher education funding systems so that any government funds flow to individual students in the form of grants, instead of lump-sum appropriations to institutions directly.

That way, institutions would have powerful incentives to compete for students and their education funding by keeping program costs down, quality high, and focus more of the institutional aid they offer to students with the greatest financial need.

These simple changes would help keep college affordable over the long term and would better ensure that students actually graduate with the knowledge and skills they need.