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College costs actually got cheaper last month…really

College campus students
Intellistudies | Getty Images

After years of steep tuition and fees increases, students and parents are getting a break, according to new data.

The seasonally adjusted index of college costs dropped 0.4 percent from July — the largest decrease since 1987 when it fell 0.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The August reading was the second-straight monthly decline. The index shed 0.3 percent in July. In the past decade, the monthly index has dipped into negative territory only five times, with three of those drops this year.

"The CPI data is the result of a reduction in tuition inflation rates and a shift in enrollment" to institutions that don't cost as much, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice of strategy at Cappex.com, a college and scholarship search site.

To be sure, increases in college costs over the past decade still greatly outpace overall inflation.

An unadjusted index for college tuition and fees rose 2.3 percent in August from a year ago. This is the smallest rise on an annual basis that the data have ever showed. Most recently, this index peaked in December 2011, when it rose 6 percent on an annualized basis.

Since the beginning of 2006, the index rose a whopping 64.1 percent. During the same time, the overall price index was up only 21.5 percent.

Price hikes were even worse for college textbooks. Prices rose an astounding 90.5 percent during the period.

The College Board estimated that tuition and fees rose 2.9 percent for in-state students at four-year public universities and 3.6 percent for students at private colleges during the 2015-2016 school year.