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How Much Will College Cost In The Future?

[Today’s post is educational and offers no guarantee of future education costs, just educated estimates. The full website disclosure statement can be found here.]

Is higher education in your (or a loved one’s) future?

Ah, college. From creative breakthroughs to a better appreciation of the world and its inhabitants, the memories it holds will last my lifetime. However, the world is changing.

While I cherish my years of higher education in university, I recognize that this tradition may fade as the need for trade skills makes a resurgence. (And rightfully so, not everyone needs a four-year degree!)

However, as the landscape for education evolves, one thing remains constant: costs for all types of higher education are on the rise. 

After all, the cost of traditional college tuition has risen on average by ~40% over the past decade!

So, if you have found this post searching for the future cost of college for yourself (or your dependents), then you have come to the right place. Through the remainder of this post, I will explain how you can determine the approximate future cost of higher education, plus its associated expenses, such as room and board.

Determining tuition and additional costs

The annual cost of attending a higher education program is known as tuition, and it fluctuates wildly from public to private and from two-year to four-year institutions. I have included a dataset with national tuition averages for various programs in the table below. However, if you have a particular institution in mind, please visit their website to determine the cost of attending it each year (we will use it later in this post). 

Current Costs

Yearly Tuition$9,580$27,437$37,200$3,372
Yearly Total Cost$25,864$43,721$53,949$16,037
Data provided by Education Data Initiative
In-state refers to a traditional 4-year in-state public college (Bachelors degree)
Out-of-state refers to a traditional 4-year out-of-state public college (Bachelors degree)
Private refers to a traditional 4-year private college (Bachelors degree)
Associates (degree) refers to a 2-year public college/trade school
Yearly Total Cost includes tuition, fees, and room-and-board

Based on tuition alone, you can see that public 2-year associate degrees cost $6,744 to obtain, or 82% less than their 4-year public brethren. Furthermore, those attending public in-state 4-year programs will spend 74% less than if they had participated in private 4-year programs.  

Whether the expenses for each degree type are worthwhile is another matter. I will leave that up to you, the reader, to decide. I want to empower you to understand the total costs involved while not favoring one type of degree more than another.

But college is still __ years away! How can I determine the future cost?

I’m glad you asked. Using mathematics, we can take the average inflation cost of 2 and 4-year degrees and extrapolate them out to a given year in the future, which I have done in the table below (which starts for the 2021/2022 academic calendar year):

Future Yearly Tuition Cost

Years AwayIn-StateOut-Of-StatePrivateAssociates
My table assumes a 3.7% inflation rate for public in/out-of-state 4-year degree, 4.3% for private 4-year degree, and 4.5% for 2-year degree tuition expenses. Notably, tuition includes any fees paid to the college.

And voila! You now have an approximate idea of future tuition costs. To estimate the total tuition cost for a degree, multiply by the number of years you will attend college by the yearly tuition figure above. (For example, multiple by two or four years of tuition.)

Future Yearly Total Cost

Years AwayIn-StateOut-Of-StatePrivateAssociates
My table assumes a 3.7% inflation rate for public in/out-of-state 4-year degree, 4.0% for private 4-year degree, and 4.2% for 2-year degree total costs. Total costs include tuition, fees, and room-and-board expenses.

With this additional table, you can now estimate the total yearly future cost of attending college. To calculate the total cost for a degree, multiply by the number of years you will attend college by the annual cost figure above.

Important Note On Data In Both Tables: The current tuition and total costs data come from the Education Data Initiative. Furthermore, the data used to generate the inflation rates comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The dataset from NCES covers the school year decade beginning in 2009/10 through 2018/19 and includes the cost of tuition, fees, and room-and-board. Despite being three years old, I used the NCES dataset for congruency since it provides costs across all institution types and degree-year durations. However, room-and-board data are estimates, for which the inflation rate they utilized is not explained. Nevertheless, I used their increases for total costs to create my Total Future Costs Table for consistency. Finally, out-of-state data is not included, so I assumed the same inflation rate as in-state.

I want to get more specific! What is the equation used?

Great! Then you will need to know your desired institution’s tuition cost. Once ascertained, you will need to determine the institution’s historical inflation rate by averaging its change in tuition over a given number of years – for example, $10,000 current minus $5,000 historical, divided by 15 years between prices. 

If you cannot determine the applicable average inflation rate for your institution, use one of the averages above or go to this dataset and calculate the average tuition increase for your State over the past ten years. Next, you will use the following formula:

Future Total Tuition Cost/Price Equation:

4year tuition price is the current annual tuition price multiplied by 4. However, if you attend an associate’s program, multiply by 2 instead. EIR stands for estimated tuition inflation rate. Years until college represents the number of years until college will commence.

Next, you will need to estimate the additional yearly costs to attend college in your area. If you plan to live in the dormitories, use the current expense figure. If you plan to live off-campus, use the rent figure likely to be incurred in your area. (Remember, most college students have roommates to bring down rental costs).

If the dorms at your desired institution include a meal plan with rent, that is great. If not, or if you plan to live off-campus, factor in the cost of food during the college year in your additional costs figure.

The resulting sum of your rent and food, plus any amount allocated for textbook and technology costs, will be your yearly sum for additional costs. (I would allocate at least $1,000/year towards books alone, as the average cost in 2018/19 was nearly $1,440. However, you can buy used books to reduce costs dramatically.)

Future Total Additional Costs Equation:

4year additional is the yearly sum of your additional costs, multiplied by 4. FIR is the Federal Reserve targeted inflation rate, or whatever inflation rate you decide to assign to additional costs. I used the datasets inflation rate instead of the FIR in my tables above. However, the dataset estimated additional costs without explaining the inflation rate they used.

Woohoo, you now have your future total tuition and additional costs! Now, all that is left is to add these two sums together, and voila! You have the future total estimated cost of attending college.

Total Future Costs Equations:

Future Total Tuition Cost + Future Total Additional Costs = Total Future Cost

Final thoughts

You now have the tools needed to estimate the future cost of college for yourself or a loved one, and I hope that you have found this post informative. If you are wondering how to save for future college costs, 529 Plans can be a great way to save and you can read more about them here.

Furthermore, if you wish to play around with various estimated figures, I have included an interactive Excel Spreadsheet that can be downloaded here:

So, what do you think the future of higher education holds? Do you think tuition will continue to rise dramatically, or do you think the government will intervene?

Furthermore, do you believe that the future of higher education will continue to trend away from the traditional 4-year degree?

Regardless of your thoughts, I would love to hear them in the comments below. As always, have a great day!

Mile High Finance Guy

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How Much Will College Cost In The Future?

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