The Average Yearly College Expenses

As of 2010, college undergraduate costs averaged between $15,000 and $40,000 annually.
As of 2010, college undergraduate costs averaged between $15,000 and $40,000 annually. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

In the United States, college costs a lot of money. Unlike in many other developed countries, students have to pay these costs up front, or else win a scholarship, get a loan, or have their parents pay for them. Nevertheless, the economic value of a college degree is enormous, and a college degree is a prerequisite to many jobs — particularly jobs that pay well. With all this in mind, if you or a family member are considering attending college, it's important to know how much money it would cost.

Factors Affecting College Expenses

College expenses vary considerably depending on the college's status as public or private, the student's residency status, and the student's academic track. Public colleges are subsidized by the government and pass those savings along to their students; thus, they cost much less than private colleges. However, the degree of savings depends on whether the student is a resident of the state. Resident students get a much better bargain than those who attend from out of state. Lastly, on average a two-year degree track is less expensive annually than a four-year baccalaureate degree track.

By the Numbers

According to data from the College Board, the average annual cost of a four-year degree track at a private college is roughly $40,000. For four-year students attending a public college, the average annual costs are $30,000 for out-of-state students and $20,000 for in-state students. Students on a two-year degree track pay on average $15,000 a year. These figures include all costs, such as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation and insurance.

Breaking Down the Data

The New York Times analyzed the figures from the College Board, and was able to break down a student's average expenses by category. In the 2009-2010 academic year, average room and board costs were about $8,000. Books and supplies ran at about $1,100. Transportation costs averaged roughly $1,200. Miscellaneous expenses were about $1,900.

Tuition and other core fees varied according to the type of college and degree-track. Private four-year students paid an average of roughly $26,000. For four-year students at public colleges, costs ran about $19,000 for out-of-state students and $7,000 for in-state ones. Two-year students paid an average of $2,500.

Costs Are Rising

The New York Times noted in its article that college costs are rising much faster than inflation, meaning that college is becoming less of a bargain than it used to be, and is becoming unaffordable to more potential students. The trend has accelerated since the year 2000, with tuition effectively doubling at many public colleges between 2000 and 2010, and at private colleges rising even more steeply in absolute dollar terms. The issue has found its way into the political debate, and many states as well as the federal government are debating what to do about the rising financial barrier to entry.

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