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The Cost of a Four-Year College Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66.7% of the 2017 high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities after high school. College tuition has never been more expensive. According to Business Insider, college tuition has grown by more than 260% since 1980. To give you an idea of the cost increase, in 1980, the average cost of tuition, room, and board, and fees at a four-year post-secondary institution was $9,438, according to the Department of Education. Today, the cost is more than $23,872 and it doesn’t appear that this rate is slowing down anytime soon.

So, whether they realize it or not, a majority of graduating high school students today are faced with exploring the rising costs of higher education first hand. And while all colleges and universities are likely considered expensive to the average person. There are many paths students can choose to achieve a four-year degree. For the majority of the paying-out-of-pocket students and loan-bearing students, there are several choices to consider in order to reduce the overall cost. Let’s explore some of these choices: two-year vs. four-year colleges, public vs. private institutions, living on vs. off campus, and others.

The Cost of Public Two-Year Colleges vs. Public Four-Year Colleges vs. Private Four-Year Colleges

According to the College Board, the table below illustrates the average yearly cost of tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 school year depending on the type of college a student attends. Fees may include the library, campus transportation, student government, and athletic facilities. Based on these numbers below students can expect to pay between $25,700 and $129,640 just for tuition and fees for a four-year degree. These numbers don’t reflect the cost of books and school supplies, which all students will need. These costs for the 2017-2018 school year the College Board reports on average for books and supplies was $1,250.

Other College Cost to Consider: Housing and Meals, Personal and Transportation Expenses

For students who live on campus, the price of a degree increases dramatically. During the 2017-2018 school year, the average yearly cost of room and board at a four-year public institution was $10,800, and at a private institution, the cost was $12,210 according to College Board. Roughly, 40% of full-time students attending a four-year institution live on campus, 40% live off-campus, and only 20% live with their parents. This expense alone can increase the cost of a four years degree by $48,840.

The other costs students need to consider are personal and transportation expenses. These will include clothing, personal items, entertainment, and transportation. For the 2017-2018 school year, the College Board reports that this expense will range between $2,730 to $3,270.

So, what can a student expect to pay for a four-year degree?

Students can pay as little as $41,620 for a four-year degree at a public institution for tuition and fees, living at home, books and supplies, and personal and transportation expenses. On the high-end students can pay as much as $196,560 for a four-year degree at a private institution for tuition and fees, living on campus, books, and supplies, and personal and transportation expenses. Students need to be aware of all of their choices to earn a four-year degree and all the associated costs.

How beneficial is it for a student to get a four-year degree?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015, on average, a high school graduate earned $35,256 per year, whereas a four-year degree college graduate earned $59,124 per year. There are several choices to consider even with the rising costs of college, but overall investment in college is still financially beneficial. According to Forbes, “A typical college graduate will earn roughly $900,000 more than the typical high school graduate over their working life.”

About the Author

Chris Copeland is an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department at Moorpark College where he teaches a variety of courses including Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Statistics. Chris has a passion for distance education. Most of the courses he teaches are in an online or a hybrid setting. Since 2017, Chris has served as an MHE Digital Faculty Consultant with a focus on using ALEKS in the classroom.

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