Personal Finance

Grab your checkbooks, college can cost as much as $70,000 a year

Key Points
  • When adding in room and board and other expenses, the total college tab can be more than $70,000 a year.
  • Because so few families can shoulder the burden, they have increasingly turned to student loans.
  • President-elect Joe Biden has said he would forgive some of that debt.
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This year, because of the coronavirus crisis, college costs have become an even bigger consideration among students and parents.

At the same time, the price tag for a four-year college or university has never been higher.

Tuition and fees, alone, reached $10,560 for in-state students at four-year public colleges in the 2020-21 academic year, and $37,650 for students at four-year private institutions, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid.

When adding in room and board and other expenses, the total tab can be more than $70,000 a year for undergraduates at some private colleges or even out-of-state students attending four-year public schools.

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For years, college costs have crept up, rising 3% to 5% every year, outpacing inflation and family income.

Now, in the middle of the pandemic, schools are under more pressure to keep these increases in check.

As a result, increases in tuition and fees were the lowest in three decades, the College Board found – increasing just 1% to 2% in 2020-21 at public and private colleges.

"This year's data underscore the profound impact Covid-19 has had on higher education," Jessica Howell, the College Board's vice president for research, said in a statement.

"Although average tuition increased again this year, the increases are among the lowest we've seen since 1990-91."

A man walks through Killian Court at MIT in Cambridge.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The nation’s most expensive schools include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, Duke, Tufts and Brown University, according to a recent report by GoBankingRates, based on data from U.S. News & World Report.

At MIT, for example, tuition and fees, room and board and other student expenses came to over $73,160 last year. The school was among several institutions that freezed tuition during the ongoing economic crisis. (A smaller number announced tuition discounts or even more dramatic tuition cuts.)

Because so few families can shoulder the burden, they have increasingly turned to federal and private aid to help foot the bills, pushing outstanding student debt to a stunning $1.7 trillion.

Despite a steep drop in interest rates, overall student debt has only increased during the pandemic, according to a separate report by Fidelity Investments.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he would forgive $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers, and the rest of the debt for those who attended public colleges or historically Black colleges and universities and earn less than $125,000 a year.

In all, that would slash the country’s outstanding student loan tab by about a third, according to calculations by higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Now, as the payment pause for student loan borrowers nears its end, Biden is under increasing pressure to go even further.

In a recent Pew survey, 58% of student loan borrowers said that it would be difficult for them to resume making payments.

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