College Cost Break Down: Why College is So Expensive? Part Two

By Beth Dumbauld

College is expensive. A quick glance at the sticker price of tuition can scare even the most motivated of students. With average in-state tuition at a 4-year public colleges and universities for 2012-2013 costing $8,655 and out-of-state tuition at those same institutions averaging $21,7061 – it can come as a shock. And the implications of that shock show up time and again as increasing, and oftentimes destabilizing, student loan debt. 

Fact: College continues to become relatively more expensive each year. 

Reason: The rising cost of college has been outpacing inflation for years – while income (during that same time period) continues to stagnate. 

The rising cost of college is not, and has not been, a good turn of events if you are planning on earning a college degree. Whether you are an adult considering a return back to higher education or a high school senior looking to attend college for the first time – you will need to remain mindful of exactly what it is you are willing (and realistically able) to pay as you determine which college to attend. Ask yourself what you really need in order to be successful when you graduate? Proven skills and competencies? A network of alum and access to careers? Yes. A mustache and provocative Facebook photos from “Keg-erbration” 2012? Probably not.

Is College Unfairly Expensive? 

While it may be difficult to determine exactly what would be considered a “fair” cost of college, there exists considerable variability when it comes to what percent of income you or your family will need to set aside to pay for college. Among many factors, one of the leading drivers of college affordability is the state where you live. Truth is, depending on where you call home, you may pay considerably more (or considerably less) for your college degree than someone who lives in another state. Is this fair? You decide.

Percent of Median Family Income to Pay for Average In-State Tuition & Fees by State2 

Top 5 States having Highest Percentage of Income Required to Pay for In-State Tuition at 4-year Public College or University3

  • Vermont - 17.6%
  • South Carolina - 17.1%
  • Pennsylvania - 16.2%
  • Michigan - 15.9%
  • Illinois - 15.4%

Top 5 States having Lowest Percentage of Income Required to Pay for In-State Tuition at 4-year Public College or University4

  • Wyoming - 5.5%
  • Alaska - 5.9%
  • Florida - 6%
  • Nevada - 6.1%
  • Utah 6.6%

Other factors influencing your ability to pay for college or pay back student loan debt.

College affordability (ability to pay for and/or comfortably pay back any student loan debt associated with your higher education) and your ROI (return on investment) for a college education are influenced by many factors. 

Some of the leading factors related to college affordability include:

  • How much you pay for college (net tuition)
  • How much student loan debt 
  • Choice of college major
  • Job availability upon graduation (chosen career path)
  • Where you live (city and/or state)

1College Board, Trends in Higher Education, 2012, p.1

2NCHEMS Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, Net Cost of Attendance, Year 2009, p.1