Home > The Cost of College

The Cost of College

May 7th, 2017 at 01:47 pm

I get the sense from college conversations that many are just making stabs in the air as to the actual cost of college.

It's actually kind of ironic because I know many people seem to think I am crazy when I talk actual costs. But the reality is that I have been tracking actual costs and real numbers. That is what we are planning for.

That said, it's apparently been a while so I will adjust my projections today. With a kid starting high school this fall, I will probably make it an annual thing to update actual costs. Should probably start keeping a closer eye on it, as to planning ahead.

So... I heard this tidbit about a decade ago? Every (4-year) college provides a "common data set" report on their website, for every school year. There is a lot of information in these reports, but includes a clear and concise summary of actual tuition + fees that students pay. They also share room and board costs, the cost of books and supplies, etc.

When I first heard this, I looked up my alma mater. My alma mater had this information going back to the years I attended, so I looked through those numbers and I will say that this is really good information.

Confident in the usefulness of the numbers, I started to track public school costs in our state. This is probably easy for us because we live in a large state with so many excellent college choices. So this is all I am bothering to track, for now. & of course, I presume we can narrow down as kids get older and start to zero in on what they might want to study or where they want to go to school.

In a recent college post, I did throw out $20k as the number I have been using to estimate the cost of 4 years of college. I don't remember the last time I looked up the numbers, and was clearly rounding. But as of today, I will revise to $30k. Per information below.

For me personally, I am leaving out room and board, and the cost of books and supplies. Kids need room and board regardless, and dorm living is not a requirement to go to college. I figure at the very least they can pay for their own books and supplies, so I am not going to worry about that part.

So I took the tuition and fees for the 4-year public college, and multiplied by 4 (years). Tuition + fees = $29,762. I will just round up to $30k. & of course I know that costs will increase in the next few years. But I have those years to adjust and save more. For now, I am going to take some time to wrap my brain around this new $30k estimate.

The costs above are from my alma mater. It's probably hard to come up with a better cost/benefit scenario as to college. This is in the middle of Silicon Valley. Location location location.

We have another public option. The UC (University of CA) system:

That comes up to about $14,000 per year, tuition and fees. I would presume community college first 2 years (cost pennies). Rounding up, that's $30,000.

So I know that planning for $30,000 will buy my kids a lot of options.

{Over the years, it's worked out that both options cost about the same}.

As an aside, our community colleges cost $46 per unit. I would just budget -0- as to saving ahead for community college. We can cash flow any community college costs.


I mentioned in earlier post that in-laws were giving us money (annual gifts) for college. We have $40,000 saved already, from these gifts. I'd like to get this up to $60,000 ($30k x 2) to cover a full degree for each of our kids. It seems we are well on track with that. I don't need *all* that money before they start college, but looks like we most likely will, with future gifts and investment gains.

We would like to match this sum, to buy our kids more options and/or maybe cover room and board.

For now, we have $20,000 saved up. We are saving $8,000 per year. This puts us well on track to match their gift money before they start college. We will make $60k our new "college savings" goal.

I know costs will increase and we will have to increase our goals over time. The nice things is we have time. We don't have to have all this money saved up before they even start college. I think knowing this and planning for future increases is why I Feel rather *shrugs* about adjusting my estimates.


Edited to add: Based on comments below, I wanted to edit to clarify a bit.

The colleges I cut and pasted above have very low on-campus living rates. There are several excellent public colleges in the region we grew up in. These are areas we know very well. Also, my kids *can* live at home and earn a profitable college degree. Rent/dorms is just not a necessary cost of college, for us.

13 Responses to “The Cost of College”

  1. Butterscotch Says:

    $46 a unit - does that mean credit? If so that is amazing! My local community college is $148 a credit for in county residents!

  2. My English Castle Says:

    MM: When I chatted with my Fidelity 403b rep in January, she said between $30-40K at state schools here in the Upper Midwest. It makes me a little sick to my stomach, but ...
    I'm sure CCF has something to say about this as she's paying it now!

  3. creditcardfree Says:

    See this, and will read and comment later. Still under the weather.

  4. rob62521 Says:

    I was not aware of this being available. I love learning something new! I looked up my alma So glad I'm old and student loan free. My heart goes out to all of you with college age or soon to be college age children.

  5. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    I think where I am it's around $25-30k/year. I am pretty far behind I think paying for 100%, but we are at the point where my earnings will soon be earmarked for kids educations so we might be able to swing it 100%. I think we could maybe cashflow it but we have a lot of expenses still on the horizon for a good 2-3 years.

  6. MonkeyMama Says:

    @Butterscoth, I suppose units and credits are the same?

  7. creditcardfree Says:

    Interesting about these common set data sheets. I wish this was more well known! Not that the information is hidden, but it isn't compiled in one 30 page easy to find document. I found the first year information for our daughter and the four year (resident cost) is $34,152. She is actually a non resident which is $92,232. She did get a four year scholarship equal in total to $56,000. So the net for non resident four years is $36,232, or $2,080 over a resident (or $520 per year).

    This university requires all freshmen under age 19 to live in the dorms. I think there is an exception if you are recent high school graduate of that city. Notice in the first school you looked at in your post that the cost of housing is more than double the tuition. So this is really where the savings can come in.

    I have found that the living expenses are the biggest cost. We probably have taken the most expensive route by keeping her in the dorms for sophomore and the upcoming Junior year. We are already discussing moving her off campus for senior year. But for anyone planning that their child may not live at home for college, you do need to plan for this. Colleges often expect the money upfront for each semester, although I'm sure they do have payment plans, so these costs are not necessarily monthly payments.

    I will write more on my own blog later.

  8. MonkeyMama Says:

    @ccfree- If you are planning to provide housing/room/board for your kids, you need to plan for that. I am guessing that hell would freeze over before we pay $15,000 room and board in cities above. Just to say, for me, it's more of a *personal* finance thing. Given the high cost of living here, we probably find it more crucial to manage the room/board costs differently.

  9. MonkeyMama Says:

    @ccfree- If you are planning to provide housing/room/board for your kids, you need to plan for that. I am guessing that hell would freeze over before we pay $15,000 room and board in cities above. Just to say, for me, it's more of a *personal* finance thing. Given the high cost of living here, we probably find it more crucial to manage the room/board costs differently.

  10. creditcardfree Says:

    It is absolutely personal. Smile I'm understanding from your post that your kids will live at home? Or you will encourage other off campus type housing, that they possibly pay for? How much are you willing to spend for housing, if any?

    FWIW, we paid over $5,000 for room and board for one semester! Which yes, works out to about $1250 a month. She lives out of state, and there are so many factors that actually make that affordable and worth it.

  11. MonkeyMama Says:

    I am not particularly leaning towards having my kids live at home. It's just significantly cheaper off campus.

    In my first "college" post I did this year I said this: "We both agree that we expect the kids to work significantly during high school and college, that our own financial health comes first, and that we don't want (us or them) to borrow a penny for college. We are willing to help our kids in any way we can as long as we are within these parameters." I can't put a dollar figure on that right now, but that is how much I am willing to spend.

  12. txex86 Says:

    Wow your alma mater's tuition is a bargain. My daughter will graduate in a week from the University of Texas at Austin. Her undergraduate tuition was around $11,200 a year, but it was the housing that was a killer in that we paid about $14,000 for off campus living. On campus was about $12,000. Austin is crazy expensive everywhere and apartment rates near campus are astronomical.

  13. MonkeyMama Says:

    "It's just significantly cheaper off campus."

    I want to edit my last comment. It's not just about cost. IT's significantly better AND cheaper (which is how we tend to roll).

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