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What is the Cost of College Tuition?

By Ken Black
Updated: May 17, 2024

One of the primary concerns of anyone attending college or hoping to attend college is the cost of college tuition. While it is never easy to pay for college, it seems the costs continue to skyrocket at rates that outpace inflation by a good margin. Determining the cost of college tuition is relatively easy as it is usually clearly listed by the college. Paying for it may be another story.

The cost of college tuition cannot just be looked at as an education cost. It should be looked at as an investment. Yes, the cost of tuition may run several thousand US Dollars (USD) each semester. In some cases, at the elite private schools, it can even run substantially more than this. However, the earning potential of a person with a college degree far outpaces those who do not have college degrees. Of course, this is a general rule to which there are always exceptions.

Once the cost of college tuition is compared with the earning power generated by a college degree, it may not seem like so much of an expense. Further, various grants and scholarships can help offset the cost of college tuition. In some cases, these programs may pay for a college education completely.

It should be noted that when looking at the cost of college tuition, other expenses also may need to be accounted for. Tuition only pays the fees for the classes. It helps cover expenses such as professor salaries, supplies, building and utility costs. Room and board, books and other fees may be added on top of the school tuition. It is vital to understand completely what all the costs associated with a program may be before deciding what to do.

The cost of college tuition often depends on a number of factors. The first, and perhaps most important, factor is the type of school one chooses to attend. Private schools generally charge higher tuition rates than public schools simply because they are not being subsidized. While many may find a private school more desirable, They may also find the cost difference between a private and public school to be too much.

Also playing an important role, if choosing a public school in the United States, is deciding whether to stay in state or go out of state. Out-of-state schools often charge more for non-residents, simply because the feeling is that state residents have already paid for part of the schooling through taxes. Therefore, they deserve somewhat of a break on tuition costs.

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Discussion Comments
By amysamp — On Aug 27, 2011

I know some new parents that are also stressing already about paying for college, because they seriously cannot imagine ever saving enough money for their baby even though they will be starting now as their baby is going on all of six months.

I do not dissuade anybody from saving but another important thing that I remind my friends to remember is student loans. I have read from a financial expert that a student should take out student loans and the parents should focus on saving for retirement.

Yes the student loans may be enormous by the time the child goes to college but if you have the college education and you are more likely to find a job that pays decently so therefore you are making a decent living and are able to pay off that student loan which has a low interest rate and still save money.

Or at least that is the hope!

By tolleranza — On Aug 27, 2011

College tuition is most surely skyrocketing, but I also have another option for students that truly is not as crazy as it sounds - play a sport.

I understand you have to have talent and playing a sport actually takes up as much time as a job in some instances, but it truly is a possibility especially for females since Title IX has been introduced creating many more female sporting teams.

I was able to go to college on a soccer scholarship as well as academic. So for parents that are afraid of shelling out a lot of money for what seems like just an expensive extracurricular, if their child truly enjoys playing then they might just find that they are paid back eventually in scholarship money.

And there is also an avenue for a responsible student who would like to have a scholarship but does not have athletic ability. Apply to become a sports team manager and ask about the scholarships available for the team manager.

It is not an easy job as you are always traveling with the team and helping to prepare them for practice but where I went to school the team manager actually received a full scholarship!

By Eviemae — On Aug 26, 2011

Although I personally believe that if it comes down to not being able to go to school or taking out student loans, that the loans are the way to go.

However, after that it is really crucial that people understand how they should deal with these loans.

You see, while student loans are notorious for being flexible for graduates in terms of repayment, and also in keeping interest rates down there is a down side to these little babies.

Every time you defer that payment and request to have the payment amount lowered, you are also increasing the number of years you’ll be paying on it.

Perhaps even more importantly, you are also increasing the money that you must repay by leaps and bounds.

Even scarier is the fact that at this time there is no way to find forgiveness for these loans. So, if you have deferred, borrowed and spent to the point where you just can’t afford your payment there is no way to get away from it; not even bankruptcy.

These lenders can actually follow you for your entire life if you default on your loan.

By mabeT — On Aug 25, 2011

As a former secondary educator, I always felt that it was extremely important for students to have a firm grasp of the fact that there are ways to finance a college education other than your own pocket.

I taught at a high school where eighty percent of the students came from single-parent homes. I had many students who didn’t have time to do their homework because they literally left school and went to work. That money was to feed their brothers and sisters.

And, they really thought that was all that there was to the world. They believed there was no help for their situations, and certainly no way that they could ever further their education. Their biggest hope was to finish high school.

I always made it a point to take these kids out to visit universities, colleges and two year institutions. I pushed them and helped them to complete FAFSAS and ask for free application submissions.

Believe it or not, I saw many head off to college who never would have thought twice about it otherwise.

By blackDagger — On Aug 24, 2011

You know, I was the first person in my entire family to receive a college degree, and as such, I had to feel my way through the process of how to pay for it.

I, however, was fortunate enough to have a mother who was a huge advocate of education in all of its components. She pushed all of her children to do the absolute best that they could for several reasons.

She wanted us to know that we could do anything we wanted to. She didn’t ever want us to feel that we were less than others because we had less money. And, on a completely different level of practicality, she knew we needed scholarships to go to college.

As a result, I was able to attend a private, four year college of my choosing based almost solely on scholarships and grants. My last couple of years I did have to take out a couple of student loans.

The truth is though that I was able to get about a hundred thousand dollar education for about ten thousand dollar’s worth of loans. The rest was paid for in sweat and study.

By Mykol — On Aug 24, 2011

When it comes to paying for college tuition, I look for every way possible way to save money on that total bill. Most of the high schools in our area have a joint program with a community college where students can receive college credit while they are still in high school.

Our daughter just graduated from high school, and she has almost one full year of college credits. One of the biggest advantages of this program, is that the classes are paid for by the school.

Of course, you have to pass the class and be able to handle the extra work load, but this is one whole year of college that is already done and paid for.

All of her classes were general classes that she would have taken her first year or two at any college she chose to attend. I think this is a great way for students to get an idea of what college classes will be like, and have a semester or two already completed.

By bagley79 — On Aug 23, 2011

I know many kids who are attending two years at a local community college before transferring to a university. This can help reduce the out of pocket college tuition costs by quite a bit.

Many students don't know for sure what they want to study the first year or so of college no matter where they attend school. If the kids live close enough, many of them live at home for those two years and save even more money by doing that.

If you work closely with an adviser, there are usually no problems when it comes to transferring the credits to a university. If you only have to pay for two full years at a university instead of four, that is a significant savings.

The largest community college in our state has had a huge increase in the number of students in the last 5 years. This has become a very affordable option for many people.

By Acracadabra — On Aug 22, 2011

@Potterspop - Major changes to an educational system can be hard to take, and when it is sudden it's even tougher.

The problem with open access education in a developed country is that it levels the playing field too much. If too many people get undergrsduate college degrees then you need more than that to get a good job or a promotion.

Looking at the cost of graduate tuition makes me depressed. I need to go down this route but it's a crazy financial millstone to take on.

By Potterspop — On Aug 22, 2011

In England a university education used to be free. Well the tuition fees were covered by the government snd then they gave you money each term to live on. This applied to pretty much all students, except those from very rich families.

Slowly and surely this system was changed, with maintenance grants being replsced by student loans. More students had to take part time jobs to survive, but the sctual course was still free.

Nowadays the average cost of college tuition is out of reach for msny, because fees for courses have been introduced.

I think that higher education savings plans are a good idea, especially for those having children right now. Who knows how things will change in the next fifteen or twenty years!

By jonrss — On Aug 21, 2011

Everyone knows that the cost of college is skyrocketing with seemingly no end in site. This is a national crisis because it makes college inaccessible for some, and a crippling financial burden for others. Rather than being a stepping stone into the middle and upper classes, college is often a 4 year party that leads to 20 years of debt.

But I have some faith that a solution will be found in the future. A lot of the rising cost of college has to do with the facilities and amenities that colleges feel obligated to offer. There is little difference between many colleges and resorts.

But I recently finished a graduate program that was almost entirely online and the cost was really reasonable. I think in the future there is a huge potential to use the internet and other pieces of technology to lower the cost of college. If you can eliminate the cafeteria, the gym, the dorm and the gigantic football stadium you are just left with the teacher, the student and the education.

Online classrooms are not perfect but they are not bad either. I never felt like I was getting any less of an education. I am hoping that we can leverage this technology to head off what is a looming education crisis in this country.

By nextcorrea — On Aug 20, 2011

I have a friend who had a baby about a year ago. They are obviously concerned about all the predictable stuff; the baby's health, happiness and well being. But both the parents are already sweating bullets thinking about how they are going to manage to send their son to college in 17 years.

First thing they started a college fund. But they soon realized that with their scheduled pace of contribution and the interest they expected to earn they would not come close to raising a useful sum. Think about it. By the time that kid goes to college, 4 years at even a state school could run to be $100,000.

They are nervous but confident they can find a solution. 17 years is a long time. There is lots of chances to win the lottery between then and now.

By Crispety — On Aug 20, 2011

@Moldova - I think that prepaid college plans are an option. The problem is that those plans barely cover the cost of a year in private school and some may only cover a semester. Also, what happens if your child decides to go out of state? Again the amount in the fund is a drop in the bucket compared to what you will have to pay.

I think that the best thing to do is to start looking at scholarships early. There are so many scholarships available and many students don’t take advantage of all that is out there. There is also nothing wrong with kids working a little to pay for their classes. I had to work to pay for my college expenses and I think that it made me more responsible. Kids appreciate the education more because they had to work hard to obtain it. This should help with the average tuition at most schools.

By Moldova — On Aug 19, 2011

@Mutsy - I know that the rising costs of college tuition are hard for a lot of people to handle but there are options. I know that in my state and many others there are prepaid college plans in which the parents can prepay their child’s tuition at today’s rates offsetting the rising tuition costs.

I am doing this with both my kids and finished the prepayment plan for my daughter when she was five. You can start when your children are born and have the option to pay a lump sum, or pay the amount within 5 years. They also allow for monthly payments that will end when your child graduates from high school which allows for a lower monthly payment.

It is a nice low cost way to save for your child’s college expenses. You can also prepay the dorm and local fees which are in addition to the student tuition. There is a site called saving for college.com that offers a ton of information on 529 plans of all of the 50 states. They also rate the plans for you and provide a calculator to help you figure out how much you will need for the yearly tuition.

By mutsy — On Aug 19, 2011

@Subway11- I agree. I had a friend that got a PhD in education that cost her $150,000 in student loans in order to make $50,000 a year as a college professor. While being a college professor was her dream job, you really have to remember that she spent $150,000 to get a job earning $50,000 a year.

I know that she could have done this while spending a lot less had she gone to a public university in her state. I think that the problem is that many people are so focused on now that they are not able to put this debt into perspective. Many people don’t realize that student loan debt is something that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy if you get into trouble so you will always be on the hook for this money.

I think that they should have mandatory personal finance courses regarding college planning while students are in high school so that they can understand how this debt will impact their future. They should also provide career options for students that require vocational studies. For example, a dental hygienist earns an average salary of $65,000 a year and the job prospects are excellent in this field. This job only requires an Associate’s Degree.

By subway11 — On Aug 18, 2011

I know that the rising cost of college tuition is leaving a lot of students saddled with enormous debt. The average private four year college charges about $40,000 a year or more and many college students are graduating with a Bachelor’s degree and well over $100,000 in debt if they received some form of financial aid.

These students are also having difficulty finding work and when they do it does not pay nearly enough to take care of these student loans. I think that you really have to look at what you are studying and determine what the market value of that salary is before you decide on a school. I think that going into a lot of debt when going to college puts a lot of pressure on the college graduate to find a job that pays well enough.

If the college student is studying something that traditionally does not pay well then they should consider going to an in-state public university that will be cheaper. Some of these students are graduating with student loans that would rival many mortgages. It is no wonder why a lot of students are moving back in with their parents after graduation.

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