beginning of content:

Key Points

  • Student budgets are constructed by institutional financial aid offices. These budgets form the basis for determining the total cost of attendance, which can affect the amount of financial aid for which students are eligible.

  • Room and board and other components of student budgets vary less across sectors than tuition and fees. As a result, while the average in-state published tuition and fee price at public two-year institutions is 64% lower than the price at public four-year colleges, the total student budget is just 31% lower ($18,420 vs. $26,590).

  • The average in-state published tuition and fee price at public four-year institutions is 72% lower than the average price at private nonprofit four-year institutions, but the average student budget is about half the size ($26,590 vs. $53,980).

Figure 1: Average Estimated Full-Time Undergraduate Budgets (Enrollment-Weighted) by Sector, 2019-20

NOTES: Expense categories are based on institutional budgets for students as reported in the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. Figures for tuition and fees and room and board mirror those reported in Table 1. Books and supplies may include the cost of a personal computer used for study. Other expense categories are the average amounts allotted in determining the total cost of attendance and do not necessarily reflect actual student expenditures.

SOURCES: College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges; NCES, IPEDS Fall 2017 Enrollment data.

Also Important

  • Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, tuition and fees rose more than other items in student budgets at private nonprofit four-year institutions; at public two-year and four-year institutions, room and board rose most.
  • People pay for housing, food, and other living expenses whether or not they are in college. However, a significant cost of going to college is forgone earnings from the time devoted to school instead of the labor market. Without adequate earnings, many students struggle to meet daily expenses, and nontuition components of student budgets can easily interfere with student success.
  • According to the National Association of College Stores, in 2018-19, students spent an average of $415 on course materials, $419 on technology, and $108 on supplies. (Student Watch: 2019 Report)