Costs of Attending Public Universities in America

With May graduations completed and summer sessions in full swing, we begin looking toward the upcoming fall semester and the beginning of a new academic year. Eyes will also be focused on the legislative session set to begin in Texas on January 10, 2023. From policymakers to pundits to parents of students, one of the key conversations regarding higher education continues to be costs associated with attending colleges and universities. This blog post serves as the first in a summer series that will explore costs ranging from national averages to institution-level data.

Calculating Cost of Attendance Across 4-Year Public Universities

In calculating costs of attendance, numerous variables are typically considered for inclusion. The categories that are most often included are tuition and fees, room and board, and books and supplies. Some calculations also include an “other expenses” category. However, our calculations do not include this category, as the primary categories are central to the academic mission of higher education. Institutions also provide grants and scholarships that serve to offset the cost of attendance and will be included in our calculations. Costs are reported by each institution as the amount that a first-time-in-college student who is paying in-state tuition and living in on-campus housing will pay for 30 student credit hours spanning a full academic year.

National Averages
  • The first visualization below (National Averages) shows the mean amount for each category when averaged across all 4-year public universities in the United States that have complete data in the national database (NCES IPEDS).
  • On average, room and board ($10,725) at public 4-year institutions in the United States exceeds the cost of tuition and fees ($9,580).
  • When adding the primary categories (tuition & fees, room & board, and books & supplies) together, the average cost of attendance calculation is almost $22,000.
  • With the average grant and scholarship aid just over $9,000, the net cost of attendance nationally is just over $12,500 for our calculations. 
NET Cost of Attendance (COA)
  • The second chart below (NET COA (Distribution)) shows the distribution of average net cost of attendance across the universities in the dataset.
  • The average net COA ranges from the lowest cost of $2,700 to the highest cost of $25,124.
  • The median net COA is $12,247 with half of the institutions ranging between $9,900 and $15,000. 
  • The number of institutions falling within each $1,000 band are shown above each bar, as well as the average amount inside each $1,000 band.
NOTE: The size of the chart can be increased by clicking on the “Full Screen” button in the lower-right corner of the visualization window.

So What?

The national averages shown above provide a baseline against which other comparisons can be made. In the next few blog posts, we will explore how institutions in Texas compare to the overall averages while also contextualizing university-level data against peer and Carnegie Classification groups.

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