So, how much does college really cost?

October 20, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

It seems like every time you read the newspaper you see another article about the cost of college. The problem is, they all seem to say very different things.

You can read one report that says the cost of college is skyrocketing; open the paper a few weeks later and you might see another about how families are overestimating the cost. So, which can you believe?

How much does college really cost?

In September, U.S. Reps. John Boehner and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon introduced a congressional report, "The College Cost Crisis."

The report detailed the "exploding" cost increases that threaten to put college out of reach for low- and middle-income students and their families.

I downloaded the report and read it. It contained some pretty scary information.

The report shows that tuition and fees at four-year colleges and universities have risen by an average of 38 percent in the past decade after adjusting for inflation.


The report also shows that every state in the country has raised tuition at their public four-year schools and that the average tuition and fees this year at those schools is more than $4,000. That's an increase of 10 percent just since last year.

At private schools, the average tuition and fees come to more than $18,000; that's up 6 percent from last year.

On the other hand, in late September, the National Center for Education Statistics, which analyzes educational data for the federal government, issued a report showing that families often overestimate the cost of college tuition.

So, back to the question, how much does college really cost?

The answer is, it depends. There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer.

The cost of your child's college education depends on a number of factors, including where she chooses to go to school - public or private, in-state or out-of-state, two-year or four-year.

It also can depend on your family's financial situation. Lower-income families with a number of members in college at the same time tend to qualify for more need-based financial aid.

You also have to take into account your child's academic, athletic, musical, dramatic or other talents that could qualify her for "merit-based" financial aid.

The NCES report pointed out that families often fail to research the cost of higher education, and that may discourage some students from going on to college. You don't have to be one of those families. There are many things you can do to learn about the real cost of college for you and your family.

Talk to your child's school counselor. Counselors have access to stacks of information about schools, their scholarships, even grants and loans for which you can apply.

Attend a "college night" at a high school or college near you. You can learn a lot about what colleges cost and offer.

Check the Web sites of the colleges your child is interested in attending. Write down the tuition and fees, and read all the information regarding financial aid.

If she still isn't sure about what college she might want to attend, use an online college search such as or

You also need to get an idea about how much financial aid your family can count on based on the federal government's process called FAFSA. You can get a rough idea of the amount you'll be expected to pay by using the financial aid need estimator at

Remember, students and parents need to start planning for college early. Your child needs to take the right courses and entrance exams to be admitted to college, and she needs to know and meet the deadlines.

Don't let your fears about the cost of college keep your children from planning for, applying to and going to college.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Do you have a question for a future column? Send an e-mail to Rennekamp at

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