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Average Cost of College Education

Financial planning
Planning ahead can save stress

The average cost of college education must take a laundry list of factors into account, from tuition to books to housing to living expenses. Such costs are all compounded by the profile of the student, particularly as college classes have expanded beyond post-high school enrollments to include adults returning to college, and brick-and-mortar campuses have expanded to include online colleges.

Computing the Average Cost of College Education

You can find a cost average by identifying the specific factors associated with your desired college degree. While that may sound confusing, it doesn’t have to be. To determine an average, you need a list of associated costs. In the case of a college education, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Will I live on campus or off?
  • Will I be a full-time or a part-time student?
  • Do I have a family to support?
  • Do I have a full-time job or career?
  • Do I plan to attend a state university, a two-year junior college, an online college, or a private university?
  • Are my books hard copies of textbooks or e-books?
  • What other supplies will I need to complete class assignments (i.e. art supplies, computer software, etc)?

Answering the above questions will determine the costs that will influence your average total price. According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2010, the following averages apply to the cost of college education:

  • Four-year public colleges: Average tuition is $7,605 per year for in-state students; out-of-state students pay around $11,990 per year.
  • Private four-year colleges: Average yearly tuition is $27,293.
  • Two-year colleges: Average yearly tuition is $2,713.

The average cost of an online college degree varies widely based on the institution from which you take courses. The University of Phoenix, for example, is among the most expensive of the online universities, somewhat comparable to a private four-year university. Many state and local colleges are adding an online or distance learning component to their degree programs. Northern Virginia Community College, for example, is a two-year college that offers distance and online learning classes with the same tuition structure as on-site classes.

Compiling Costs

Private and state universities are alike in offering on-campus housing for four-year, full-time students. Housing costs are an addition to the base tuition, but a good rule of thumb is that housing costs about 1/3 of overall tuition, and fees and books will make up about 20 percent of the total amount. So in the case of a private university, a student paying average costs for everything might owe a total of $161,500.

Including housing costs, books, fees and tuition, a four-year public university would average a student about $46,500 for a bachelor’s degree. The costs are all based on a 2010 pricing average, and inflation will likely result in rising costs on a yearly basis.

Investing in a Collegiate Future

Parents and students looking to invest in education should consider the long-term value of a degree as well as long-term savings plans. If parents were to put money into a savings or money market account when a child is born, for example, they would need to invest $8,400 at a 10-percent interest rate for 18 years to pay for a public college and $30,000 to pay for a private university at the same interest rate.

Average Costs Versus Above-Average Return

The average cost of college will continue to vary between providers, but its value will continue to climb as careers demand more from employees. The average cost of a college education is an investment that returns more with each year that education is put to use through job placement and income benefits.

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Average Cost of College Education