How Much Does College Cost

While parents from different generations, social-economic backgrounds, and countries may argue and have divided opinions on various subjects, all of them always agree on one thing: “College is key to success!” Woven profoundly and keenly into our minds, this idea starts to cause real waves of thoughts in our minds as the time for college decision-making approaches.

While numerous wealthy people swear college is not the answer and that many acquired wealth without a college degree, the truth is, for the average American, the statistics show otherwise. While you may be able to count millionaires who made it without a college degree, on one hand, the truth is there are thousands if not hundreds of those who did not manage to create wealth and are struggling and jugging with 2 sometimes even 3 jobs just to pay the rent. You don’t even have to believe the words, numbers are backing it up: currently, college degree holders have a 3.5 times lower poverty rate, and the chances of getting out of poverty through acquiring a college degree increase by 90%. Not to mention the other benefits of holding a college degree such as higher income (high-school degree holders earning only 62% from what bachelor’s degree holders) better health insurance, better job opportunities, better work environment, better retirement plan, etc. So, the question is not really whether or not to go to college, but rather which college to choose from.

Comparing the average prices of college tuition is one of the necessary steps towards making the right decision.

Nonetheless, this is a complex question as the average cost of college does not only vary between public and private colleges, but also between in-state and out-of-state colleges, as well as regions, states, and colleges. To get a better understanding, we have compiled this article that thoroughly examines the costs of college tuition.

Average Cost of College by the Numbers

  • This last year, the average cost of a college degree (4 years) was roughly $122,000 including fees, tuition, rooms and board, textbooks, and other necessities.
  • The average tuition for 4-years public institutions is $10,440 for in-state and $26,820 for out of state colleges.
  • The average tuition for 4-years private, non-profit, institutions is $36,880.
  • The average overall cost of a Bachelor’s degree per year is $30,500.
  • The New England region has the highest average costs of both public 2-years and 4-years colleges with average costs of $5,370 and $12,990 for each.
  • The average Doctoral degree from private colleges is considered to have the highest average costs of all degrees with an average cost of $42,920.
  • The average Doctoral degree from a public college and university is almost 4 times cheaper than the average Doctoral degree from a private school, with an average cost of $10,830.

America’s Average Cost of College – (Infographic)

How Much Does College Cost in The U.S? (Facts & Figures) – 2020

How Much Does 4 Years of College Cost on Average?

The answer to this question is complex as it can vary depending on various factors, such as whether we are talking about in-state or out-state college, public, or private 4-year institutions. 

According to Education data, in the year 2019-2020, in the most general sense, the average total price for a college degree is roughly $122,000. 

Nevertheless, as we mentioned, various factors contribute to this number, so if we implement some of them, we get the following statistics: the average cost of education (overall) in 2019-2020 for a 4-year private nonprofit college is $199,500, for a 4-year public in-state college is $87,800, and for a 4-year public out-state college is $153,320.

Bear in mind that the above statistics refer to the total average price for a 4-year degree assuming that the student finishes his/her education within those 4 years; however, studies showed that only 39% of students finish in this period, and nearly 60% of undergraduate students take on average 6 years to finish the 4-year college – meaning the average price for them will be much higher due to this fact.

When we are talking about the average cost of 4-years College – speaking solely about the college tuition and fees, the numbers again vary depending on the type of college the student attends: the average college tuition costs for a 4-year private nonprofit college are $36,880, for 4-year in-state college are $10,440, and for 4-year out-of-state college are $26,820. 

What is the Average Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree?

The average cost of a bachelor’s degree yearly in 2019-2020 is in total $30,500. However, this price can vary depending on the type of college, whether it is private or public, furthermore, if public whether it is in-state or out-of-state and finally it varies from college to college. The average cost for a bachelor’s degree from a public in-state institution is $21,950, while from public out-of-state institutions his price is $38,330. For a private non-profit, it is $49,879. 

The most affordable bachelor’s degree is from The Great Basin College, which is one of the most popular colleges for online degrees, with tuition costing only $3,128. 

On the other hand, the most expensive bachelor’s degree is from Franklin and Marshall College – a private liberal arts college in Lancaster Pennsylvania with an annual tuition fee of $58,615. 

How Much Does Community College Cost?

One thing that we surely confirmed throughout this paper is the variation of prices for colleges depending on the state, type, region, degree, etc. Generally speaking, the community college cost for 2020, according to Community College Review, is approximately $4,816 yearly for in-state colleges and $8,581 yearly for out-of-state colleges. 

The state is offering the most inexpensive community college in New Mexico, where a student will pay on average $3,846 per year. 

Opposite to this, the state which has the most expensive community college tuition is Pennsylvania where a student has to pay on average $14,212 per year. 

Because 23% of dependent and 47% of independent community college students come from families with income less than 20 000 dollars, it is no surprise that almost 80% of community college students have part-time and 39% full-time jobs to help them get through college.

When it comes to receiving Federal Work-Study aids, the NCES reports that community college students receive 7 times less than the undergraduates at private nonprofit 4-year colleges (14% of these) with only 2% of the community college undergraduates receiving any of the Federal Work-Study aids.

RankingStateAverage TuitionPublic CollegesPrivate Colleges
1Puerto Rico$5,141$2,861$3,583$6,555
3North Dakota$6,093$4,337$6,916$10,764
5West Virginia$7,143$4,026$8,257$12,353
7South Carolina$8,877$6,284$10,399$12,551
11South Dakota$7,545$5,375$5,375$13,334
34New York$10,609$5,512$10,202$16,236
36North Carolina$7,536$3,911$9,514$16,515
42New Jersey$7,751$6,125$7,667$19,721
43New Mexico$3,846$2,084$4,620$22,613
47New Hampshire$11,024$6,952$15,095n/a

General Breakdown of the Costs of College

Tuition and fees are not the only things that matter when it comes to calculating the total cost of college; a contrary, other things, such as materials, room and board, and similar expenses also need to be calculated in the college budget to get an accurate idea of the average costs of college per year and in general. College Data, confirm this by claiming that the tuition and fees are just one component from the COA – Cost of Attendance. Other components that they include in the total college price tag are room and board, books and supplies, and transportation and personal expenses. For 2020, their statistics show that tuition and fees for private colleges on average cost $36,880 for attending a private college, $10,440 for attending an in-state public college, and $26,820 for attending an out-of-state public college. Additionally, public colleges’ room and board, on average, are the same for in-state and out-of-state colleges costing around $11,510, while private colleges cost slightly more $12,990.Often the debate is whether on-campus or off-campus is a better option. The truth is, oftentimes students make the mistake of thinking off-campus is less expensive, but studies showed otherwise; College Data reports that nearly 60% of students are wrong in the off-campus living costs since they haven’t properly researched the local rental markets. And with 87% of students living off-campus, this can be quite significant considering the impact that roams and board have on students’ budgets as well as the statistics shown by several universities: Stanford University reported that their off-campus students are paying almost double – $16,500 for shared apartment compared to $8,301 they would pay for on-campus. Textbooks and other materials are also quite expensive, and College Data estimates that both public and private colleges require at least $1,240 for them. Additionally, they report that students have a difficult time covering these expenses as their survey noted that 31% of the students claim that they took fewer classes to save on material costs, while 43% claimed to skip meals or take on loans to provide those materials. This is not surprising when you learn that in the last 41 years, according to the 2019 Fillet report, the prices of textbooks have risen by an incredible 812%: their report points that the textbook that used to cost $25 in 1878, now costs over $203 today (referring to 2019). Finally, students will also need to calculate some other expenses such as transportation – if they are living off-campus, as well as personal expenses for clothing, hygiene, entertainment, etc. According to the 2019-2020 College Board report, some colleges may estimate these expenses but do not bill you for them, and they claim that the numbers for these expenses are roughly $2,750 in private and $3,280 at public colleges. 

Average College Tuition by State

The average tuition in the United States for public in-state colleges is around 6,072 dollars and for public, out-of-state colleges this number is 13,129 dollars. 

Their data shows that the in-state and out-of-state tuitions vary between states, so the states with the biggest in-state tuitions are: Vermont with $13,128, right behind which is Pennsylvania with $11,495, then New Hampshire with $10,068. 

The lowest in-state tuition is found in New Mexico with $3,246, then North Carolina with $3,356, and right behind it is Florida with $3,851. 

Opposed to out-of-state tuitions where the states with the highest tuitions are: Vermont with $28,190, followed by Rhode Island with $22,424, and Delaware with $21,604.

The lowest out-of-state tuitions are found in New Mexico with an average of $6,918, then followed by Arkansas with $7,743 and North Dakota with $7,904.

RankingStateNumber of SchoolsTuition & FeesLiving Costs
27North Carolina188$3,356$10,842$25,674$13,546$13,576
28North Dakota30$7,049$7,904$12,658$10,834$11,707
30New Hampshire41$10,068$19,242$35,387$15,564$15,563
31New Jersey170$8,595$14,114$22,165$12,808$17,159
32New Mexico54$3,246$6,918$22,386$12,505$14,259
34New York479$7,011$14,183$25,760$14,529$15,998
39Rhode Island24$9,615$22,424$40,570$17,021$13,482
40South Carolina111$7,970$15,462$22,375$12,969$13,645
41South Dakota31$9,419$9,284$17,524$11,790$11,555
49West Virginia77$6,129$12,309$19,058$12,446$11,390
 Average $6,072$13,129$24,664$13,823$14,190

Average Cost of College by Region

When it comes to Regional average college costs, one may freely say that they are varying minimally. 

What the data reported by College Board and Value Penguin shows is that for both 2-year and 4-year public colleges, New England had the highest average costs with $12,990 for 4-years public college and $5,370 for 2-years public college. Middle states are following right behind with $11,220 for 4-year and $5,120 for 2-years public colleges, and third in the Midwest with $10,460 and $4,220 for 4-years / 2-years public colleges respectfully; the other 3 regions have a minimal difference in their average tuition prices for 4-years college with the west being highest with $9,450, and going lower with the southwest having $9,330 and the South having the lowest with $9,290. Interestingly enough, when it comes to 2 years public colleges, the lower 3 are switching places, going from the west now having the lowest with $2,380, to the southwest having $2,730, and the South having $3,770 average tuition cost. 

Average Cost of College by Degree Type

One will expect the prices of degrees to go up as degrees go up. When it comes to public 4-years degrees, the costs go up slightly and not that drastically, as one may expect: with Bachelor’s costing $8,230 on average, Master’s costing $8,670, and Doctoral costing $10,830 on average. But when it comes to the private nonprofit schools, the prices drastically change, with Master’s actually having the lowest average costs of the degrees with $29,960, then Bachelor’s having the average cost of $33,450, and finally doctoral with an incredible $42,920 average cost. These are just the average costs of the degree types, of course, they can vary slightly or significantly from this for different colleges. 

Average Cost of College by Flagship University

Flagship universities, which are the most known, generally the first-ever founded public university in a state, also contribute to the average costs of the college. Average costs for studying in Flagship University varies depending on the state:

  • The state with the highest in-state tuition for their flagship university is Pennsylvania – with tuition of $18,436 for Pennsylvania State University Park. 
  • The second highest in-state tuition is by the University of New Hampshire at $18,067.
  • When it comes to out-of-state tuitions, the university with the highest average cost is the University of Michigan with $47.476, followed by the University of Virginia with $46,604. 
  • On the other hand, the university with the lowest average tuition – in-state tuition is the University of Wyoming with $5,217, followed by the University of Florida with $6,381.
  • If we are looking at the average out-of-state costs for Flagship University then the University of South Dakota has the lowest out-of-state tuition at $12,020.
RankingFlagship universityIn-state tuitionOut-of-state tuition
1University of Alaska Fairbanks$7,518$22,908
2University of Alabama$10,780$28,100
3University of Arkansas$9,062$24,308
4University of Arizona$11,877$35,307
5University of California: Berkeley$13,928$41,942
6The University of Colorado at Boulder$12,086$36,220
7University of Connecticut$14,880$36,948
8University of Delaware$13,160$33,150
9University of Florida$6,381$28,658
10University of Georgia$11,818$30,392
11The University of Hawaii at Manoa$11,732$33,764
12University of Iowa$8,964$30,608
13University of Idaho$7,488$23,812
14The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign$15,868$31,988
15Indiana University: Bloomington$10,533$34,845
16University of Kansas$12,069$29,776
17University of Kentucky$11,772$27,856
18Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College$11,374$28,051
19University of Massachusetts: Amherst$15,596$33,662
20University of Maryland: College Park$10,399$33,606
21University of Maine$10,902$30,282
22University of Michigan$14,826$47,476
23University of Minnesota: Twin Cities$14,417$26,603
24University of Missouri: Columbia$11,008$26,595
25University of Mississippi$8,300$23,564
26University of Montana$7,063$24,943
27The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill$9,005$34,588
28University of North Dakota$8,447$20,324
29University of Nebraska: Lincoln$8,901$24,201
30University of New Hampshire$18,067$32,637
31Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: New Brunswick Campus$14,638$30,579
32University of New Mexico$7,146$22,037
33University of Nevada: Reno$7,538$21,726
34State University of New York at Buffalo$9,828$27,338
35Ohio State University: Columbus Campus$10,591$29,695
36University of Oklahoma$11,538$26,919
37University of Oregon$11,571$34,611
38Pennsylvania State University Park$18,436$33,664
39University of Rhode Island$13,792$30,042
40University of South Carolina$12,262$32,362
41University of South Dakota$8,772$12,020
42University of Tennessee: Knoxville$12,970$31,160
43The University of Texas at Austin$10,414$36,984
44University of Utah$8,824$28,067
45University of Virginia$16,076$46,604
46University of Vermont$17,740$41,356
47University of Washington$10,974$35,538
48University of Wisconsin: Madison$10,533$34,783
49West Virginia University$8,376$23,616
50University of Wyoming$5,217$16,827

Average College Tuition Costs Over the Years

Upon closer inspection of the average cost of college one may note a consistent surge: college tuition and fees are continuing to increase to a point that one may freely describe them as skyrocketing. 

If we were to compare the prices from 1989 and those from 2016 we will notice that it increased almost 8 times faster than the wages – in 1989 the four-year degree cost on average $52, 892 compared to 2016 when the same degree surpassed $104,480. 

This movement of the rise in college tuition seems to be constant throughout the years and that does not exclude this year. Juxtaposing 1989 statistics with the recent 2020 statistics confirms that the average college tuition for any college education is skyrocketing:

  • In 1989, the public 2-year cost of tuition and fees was $1,730, while in 2019-2020 that same cost $3,730; 
  • In 1989, the public 4-year average cost of tuition and fees was $1,730, while in 2019-2020 that same cost $10,440.
  • In 1989, the private nonprofit 4-year cost of tuition and fees was $17,860, while in 2019-2020 that same cost $36,880.

These increases moreover did not happen only in the past. One may argue that the difference is due to the significant period that has passed; to dispute any doubts, we have looked at and compared the statistics for the last 10 years  (2010 vs. 2020) provided by education data, and they showed that the average increase of college tuitions and fees from 2010 to 2020 is noteworthy too, with 2-year college tuitions and fees increasing by $700,00, 4-year public college tuitions and fees increasing by $2,000, and 4-year private college tuition and fees increased by incredible $6,200. 

Private College Tuition Vs Public College Tuition

Private vs. public college – timeless war that even Hollywood movies seem to get tangled in; nonetheless, whatever your position may be, one thing that is common for both is the increase in the colleges’ fees and tuition. 

The prices of colleges, be they private or public continue to increase. Statistics provided by Education Data, show that on average the private college tuitions are over three times more expensive than public college tuitions: in 2018/2019, on average private college students had to pay around $35,830 in tuition compared to public college students who paid $10,230.

The difference between public and private colleges mainly lies in the funding: while public colleges rely on the government to also contribute to some extent with their funding, private colleges do not. That’s why on average private school students are paying roughly 3 times more than the public college students, or in percentage, Education Data reports that (in 2018-2019) the private college students pay on average 71% more than the public college students. Additionally, besides tuitions varying between the public and private colleges, it also varies between the private colleges as well depending on the size, stage, subject, and the type of institution: for example, the average tuition for Columbia University NY is $59,340, compared to Trinity College CT $56,910, to William Carey University MS with $12,600 or Cambridge University AL $9,900. This is a huge gap, so one may note that some private college tuition may be way higher while others are way lower than the public college tuition. This again confirms that many factors contribute and determine how much is the tuition, and private vs. public is not the only criteria.

Why Is College So Expensive?

As with everything else, several factors are contributing to the increased prices of colleges. 

First of all, it is the increasing demand: more than 5.1 million students attended college in 2017 compared to 2000. This number continues to grow, and with higher demand, come higher prices.

Second, colleges include many branches such as administrative branches, instructional, construction, maintenance, supplies, and with prices for living, in general, going higher, so do these expenses. Additionally, the dark side of colleges is that they are increasing their administrative branches and fees – Education data reports explain that just between 1975 and 2005 the number of administrators in colleges has increased by 85% and of administrative staffers by over 240%. This means that while the prices are going up, you are not necessarily paying more to get a better education and teachers, a contrary, studies have shown that in 2018 almost 73% of all faculty positions were not held by college professors but by non-tenure-track who get paid lesser and have lesser experience and education; so these higher costs are going in the pockets of the administrators and administrative staffers who are rather working as college promoters and marketers. This is one of the biggest issues that college education in the states is facing, and as such, I feel we are obliged to mention it, considering that it is one of the biggest, main reasons for increased college expenses and tuition. 

Third, most students chose or are forced to live off-home and this contributes to their expenses, making college a more expensive experience for them. 

Frequently Asked Questions
What is the inflation rate for college tuition?

The inflation rate for college tuition is continuing to increase. According to Find, the inflation rate for college tuition on average increases by about 8% per year. What does that mean? That means that every 9 years, the cost of college doubles. This means that if the current inflation rate for college tuition continues with this tempo, a baby born today will have to pay more than 3 times for college when it comes to the age of college than what a college student is paying now. That’s why it is important to try and save for college and go earlier than to wait and hope that the prices may go down. 

What are the average costs of college per year?

The average costs of college per year according to Education Data, this year (2019-2020) are roughly estimated at $30,500, however, depending on the type of institution you are attending they can vary going from 12,720 dollars for attending a public two-year college within your state, to 21,950 dollars for attending public 4-year college also within the states and 38,330 dollars for public 4-year college out of states, and finally 49,879 dollars for attending a private, nonprofit college. These prices respectfully include tuition and fees and well as room and board. The prices can vary from state to state, from college to college and they may also be influenced by any grants, scholarships, or loans you may use as well as the time you take to graduate. 

Is college worth the cost?

College is worth the cost. Women with college degrees over their careers are earning about $450,000 more than high school women grads, for men this number is $660,000 more. 

Moreover, if you are someone who was growing up in a low-income family, going to college will mean a 90% chance of getting out of poverty. Studies showed that college degree holders have 3,5 times lower poverty rates compared to those with only a high school degree. 

As years are passing by, the gap in earnings between those with and without college degree continues to widen; as the Association of Public Land-Grant University reports, Millennials who have bachelor’s degrees (ages 22-27), in 2019, have $44,000 in median earnings, and those with high school degree only 62% of that, having median earnings of $30,000 per year. 

Another study showed that college degree holders are also 47% more likely to have job insurance with their employers contributing to 74% of their health coverage compared to those holding high school degrees. These are just some of the main reasons why college is worth the cost and time. 

Can I get help paying for college?

Yes, there are several options for you on the market that may help you pay for college. The average tuition in the US can be lower if you have a scholarship. There are private scholarships and free online services like Scholly that can help you check which one you are eligible for. Additionally, you can use loans to cover up to 20% of the cost of the college or get a grant that doesn’t require to be repaid. To get this grant, you need to file for FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid which shows your income and financial need. Grants are given based on the FAFSA score, and according to The College Board, last year students at public colleges received $5,000 and those in private colleges $16,700 as a grant thanks to this program. Federal Pell Grants are also another good option worth considering, and another thing you must check is the American Opportunity Tax Credit – which will reduce your taxes up to $2,500 a year if you pay for your college expenses. All of these are great options and before you sign off going to college because it is too expensive it is worth going through and checking out whether you are eligible for any of these or some other options that can help you lower the average college tuition and the cost of college in general.

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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