How Much Does College Cost (A Realistic Estimate)

How much college actually costs.If you’ve got a high school senior who will don a cap and gown come spring, you might be wondering how much college costs over the course of four years so you can avoid student loan debt. We took a look at tuition trends across the nation to give you a better picture.

Keep in mind that the cost of tuition and living expenses vary significantly depending on the type of school and/or the area.

Published Prices

When analyzing actual student expense, we must look at net price, which is the cost after aid. According to CollegeBoard’s “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020”:

  • Tuition and fees for a public two-year-in-district undergraduate student is $3,770 (a $70 or 1.9% increase from 2019-2020)
  • Tuition and fees for a public four-year in-state undergraduate student is $10,560 (a $120 or 1.1% increase from 2019-2020)
  • Tuition and fees for a public four-year out-of-state undergraduate student is $27,020 (a $250 or 0.9% increase from 2019-2020)
  • Tuition and fees for a private nonprofit four-year undergraduate student is $37,650 (a $770 or 2.1% increase from 2019-2020)

While a portion of these costs may be covered by financial aid, payment assistance had not kept up with the increasing price of higher education. Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, the increase in average financial aid covered only about $300 (15%) of the $2,000 increase in published tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges/universities.

The vast majority of students have financial need that is not met by their aid awards.

How much will tuition, fees, room and board increase over time?

Trends show that the average published cost (before aid) of tuition, fees, and room and board remains rather steady, with a less than 2% increase per year across all sectors, after adjusting for inflation. Unfortunately, the amount of grant aid and tax benefits is decreasing, so students will pay more out of pocket each year. Plan yearly for a possible 2.8% increase in net price at a public two-year college, a 3.2% increase at a public four-year institution and a 2.4% increase at a private nonprofit four-year college or university.  

What much do college books and supplies actually cost?

The supplies and books a student will need depend on choice of major and many other factors. However, students should budget $1,200 to $1,500 per year. Buying used if possible can save $20 to $30 per textbook, and online textbooks or textbook shares offer other potential cost-saving opportunities for students.

In the long term, the costs of higher education do pay off; workers with a college degree make about $20,000 more per year (on average) than those who have no college education. Ultimately, a college education is an investment in the future of your child and your community. If you’re wondering how to cover this investment, talk with a Farm Bureau financial advisor about your options.


Source: College Board

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