How much does a bachelors degree cost? After four years of hitting the books, running between classes, and trying to make the grade, how much can the average student expect to spend for tuition, fees, a roof overhead, and food to eat? The short answer is, more than you might expect. The slightly longer answer is, it depends on what kind of college you attend.

According to statistics collected by the National Center for Educational Statistics (we’re so glad these guys are around), there is a stark difference between what students pay on average at private colleges as opposed to public universities. Here’s what we found:


1. Private colleges and universities tend to be more expensive.

On average, students at four-year private universities paid more than twice what students at four-year private universities forked out for tuition, room, and board. How much of a difference does that make?

On average, a student graduating with a bachelor’s degree from a private university will have paid $127,900 in tuition, fees, room, and board by the time he collects that diploma.

His friend at your average public university? She will have paid $62,420 for tuition, fees, room, and board for the same education. That’s a pretty staggering difference.

But why the huge disparity? Unlike public universities, private schools don’t get public funding from state governments to offset their costs. That means more of those costs get passed onto parents and students in the form of tuition. Ouch!

2. Tuition costs are rising faster at public colleges and universities.

But, before you go running to your local public university, we also found that all is not well with public universities, either. The costs of attending four-year are climbing at alarming rates. How alarming?

Between 2000 and 2011, the cost of attending a public university exploded by 42 percent. During the same time, public university costs went up by only 31 percent (which is frightening enough). For the last 13 years, students at many public universities have seen their tuition rates jump up several hundred dollars every year.

If these schools get public funding, why the scary tuition rate hikes? The recession. Money-starved state governments have taken to cutting funding in order to save their budgets. Therefore, more and more of the cost of running these universities has to get passed to parents and students.

3. This isn’t true for all public or private schools.

Now for the good news. Not all states are cutting their education budgets. Some 30 states are actually putting more money into their public colleges to bring down the costs. Also, not included in our stats about tuition at private universities is the fact that many private schools provide generous scholarships to students to offset costs. Often, these scholarship are paid for by donors, trusts, and other sources that aren’t so affected by the economy.

Bottom line: getting a bachelor’s degree is not cheap. In fact, it’s probably one of the biggest expenses you will ever take on (after a house), and it’s not getting any cheaper. But there’s a lot you can do to minimize how much you’ll pay in the long run.

Our advice is to do your research on the schools you are interested in. Check out how much your tuition could be and how much tuition at those schools has risen over the last few years. Understand what kinds of financial aid are offered at those schools. Armed with this information, you could save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

Want to learn more about costs for online bachelor’s degrees? Visit our Bachelor’s Degrees page.

National Center for Educational Statistics:
Wall Street Journal:

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