The Real Cost of College? More Than You Thought

Higher Education

The Real Cost of College? More Than You Thought

Mar 14, 2016

SHOCK BEYOND THE STICKER: Students and their families sometimes have trouble understanding the true cost of college. New research suggests that the figure might be harder to calculate than previously thought—and more expensive.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted four studies on the real cost of college. Researchers interviewed students from campuses across the state of Wisconsin and studied 6,604 colleges nationally, comparing those colleges’ costs with local cost-of-living data, according to NPR.

The Century Foundation produced a summary report of the results:

  • Cost-of-living estimates are likely biased downward. Schools survey students to learn how much they’re spending, but those students out of necessity may have already cut back spending on basic needs like food and healthcare.
  • Students living at home don’t always save money. They may get less access to financial aid because they live at home.
  • The cheapest options are often the least cost-efficient. Meal plans and laptop rentals are two areas where plans with the lowest price gave students the highest per-unit cost.
  • Financial-aid calculators overestimate parents’ ability to contribute. These calculators generally don’t consider parents’ debt, leading to overestimates on affordable parental contributions.
  • Some majors are more costly than others. Textbooks, lab materials and study abroad expenses are just some of the reasons why certain majors cost significantly more than others.
  • Cost to student can increase each year. Students may lose grants that only support for freshman year, or if they don’t refile for FAFSA. Forty percent of students saw a jump in their bills—averaging $1,215—from freshman to sophomore year.


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