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College Affordability

Room and Board Drive Rising College Costs Too

Room and Board Drive Rising College Costs Too 

The rise in the costs of a college education tend to focus on tuition and fees, as well as the price of textbooks. But a new report has suggested that rising living costs for students should also be a source of concern. According to research by the Urban Institute, charges for room and board at four-year colleges have outpaced inflation, doubling since 1980. The institute is a nonpartisan research organization based in Washington, D.C. The project was funded by the Lumina Foundation.

"Five Facts about the Sharp Rise in College Living Costs" found that while in 1980, public four-year colleges charged an average of $4,812 for room and board (in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars), by 2014 the charges had risen to $9,798. Over that same period, private four-year schools saw a doubling of room and board, from $5,410 to $10,894. Community colleges, on the other hand, which rarely offer residential housing, saw only a 44 percent rise in costs, from $4,439 to $6,400.

The researchers noted that if living costs had increased at the rate of inflation since 1990, a four-year college education would cost $17,316 less at public institutions and $15,720 less at private colleges than it does today.

The housing expense has risen faster than the meal expense. In terms of "absolute" dollars, board charges have gone up by $2,300 compared to meal increases of $1,250 since 1990, when adjusted for inflation.

The pace of growth in room charges has exceeded the growth in rent prices in the surrounding region. To get a comparison, researchers examined the median rent within the institutions' counties for eight months in a one-bedroom apartment. Whereas in 2003 the average college charge for a room was 29 percent under the median rent, by 2014 the charge was under just seven percent of the local median rent.

The institute said it expected to address related topics in future research, including the costs for students who live off-campus and other non-tuition-related expenses, such as transportation.

The report is available on the Urban Institute's website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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