The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a federal entity that collects and analyzes data related to education in the US and other nations. Although the NCES provides comprehensive information on both private and public institutions, if you’re on a tight budget and seeking a two- or four-year degree, public colleges are the way to go (unless, of course, a private school is offering a fantastic scholarship package). My basic message is that college degrees from public institution are usually very affordable. Scary news stories about the cost of getting a degree usually refer to the “sticker price” of colleges, but that’s a ridiculous metric: only the affluent pay anything close to the full sticker price. What’s important is the net price of college - that is, after grants and scholarships.
Per the NCES, the net price of attending a college is the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books/supplies, room/board, and other basic living expenses) minus grant and scholarship aid from the federal government, state or local governments, or institutional sources. With that in mind, here is the latest information from NCES on how much grants and scholarships are worth these days, as well as the average net price of attending a public college for the 2016-17 school year. First, two-year colleges*:
And here’s the information on four-year public colleges:
During the 2018 - 2019 school year, the average tuition was $3,660 at public two-year schools and $10,230 at public four-year schools institutions. But those are just the sticker prices, which relatively few students pay. As the above tables make clear, students from low- to middle-income households actually receive more in grants and scholarships than the cost of tuition, on average. If the net price of attending a public college still seems high, that simply reflects the cost of living: food, shelter, and the rest. Students with limited resources may have to work to cover these basic living expenses - ideally, part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. But they’d incur these expenses whether they were going to college or not.
Bottom line: there is no need to go into outrageous debt to get a college degree. Professional degrees are another matter. Then again, most professional degrees pay for themselves…eventually.
*Explanations from NCES:
Grant and scholarship aid consists of federal Title IV grants, as well as other grant or scholarship aid from the federal government, state or local governments, or institutional sources. Title IV grants include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACGs), National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grants (National SMART Grants), and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. The average amount of grant and scholarship aid by income level was calculated based on all students who were awarded any type of Title IV aid, even those students who were awarded zero Title IV aid in the form of grants and were awarded Title IV aid only in the form of work-study aid or loan aid.
Net price is the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, and estimated room/board) minus grant and scholarship aid from the federal government, state or local governments, or institutional sources. However, average net price by income level was calculated based on all students who were awarded any type of Title IV aid, even those who were awarded zero Title IV aid in the form of grants and were awarded Title IV aid only in the form of work-study aid or loan aid.
In constant 2018-19 dollars based on the Consumer Price Index, prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.