How do you calculate the value and real cost of a college education?

It should not be surprising to anyone to see the costs of higher education rise as the demand rises for it as well. However, many are shocked to see how fast tuition grows, frequently outpacing inflation. 

College Factual ran the numbers on the schools in their database to find the average tuition and net costs of private and public schools. This data is sourced from the Department of Education and includes four-year schools in the United States. Numbers have been rounded and are not exact figures.

The average tuition for a year at a private college in the US is $22,800, and room and board is $9,600 bringing the total average cost for a year at a private school to $32,400.

The average tuition for a year of at a public college for a student paying in-state tuition is $8,200, room and board is $9,400. Total average cost for public in-state is $17,600.

Quoted Costs vs. Actual Costs

One of the confusing parts about shopping for education is that few students actually pay the advertised sticker price of a college. To find the real net price for a particular school College Factual took the quoted cost and subtracted the amount of average aid students receive. This can be dramatically different depending on how much aid a student receives.

For example, even though the average cost for a year at a private school including room and board is quoted as $32,400, the average net price for a student is only $24,100 after subtracting out grants and scholarships.

The net price for a year at an in-state public college is lower too, though not dramatically: $15,100 rather than the quoted $17,600.

Will it Pay Off?

Of course, just knowing how much you pay per year is one thing, knowing whether the education will pay off is another. The average student takes five or six years to graduate, not four, greatly adding to overall college costs. And not every school offers a great return on investment; low average starting salaries, high student loan default and high dropout rates contribute to a poor ROI.

To find schools that offer a great value, College Factual compared a school's quality with it's net price multiplied by the average time to graduate to come up with the total cost of a degree. The resulting list is a ranking of schools that offer a good quality compared to the price. 

Note that actual costs will vary considerably depending on where the student is located and how much financial aid they are eligible for. Use the filter in the widget to further customize the ranking.

Read more about the methodology behind this ranking here.

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Data is sourced from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education. Prices are based on what the schools report and is sourced from the 2013-2014 year.