The rising cost of living, not tuition and fees, is the big problem facing most college students in the United States.
“Living expenses are an ‘under discussed’ aspect of college affordability,” according to an article entitled “Forget the Rise in Tuition and Fees, What About Living Expenses?” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
No kidding. Most articles on college affordability in the mainstream media completely conflate tuition and fee rates with the “sticker price” (which often includes room and board, along with tuition and fees).
At my own university, Northern Illinois University, the current rates for 2014-2015 are the following:
NIU in-state tuition and fees: $11,992
NIU room and board: $11,790
So, the “sticker price” at NIU would be $22,782. The problem with this “sticker price” is that most students do not live on campus (or even in the town of DeKalb) and do not pay room and board. Many NIU students live at home with their parents or, alternatively, live with their husbands/wives and families. For these “commuter” students, room and board is not part of the college experience.
But, journalists continue frequently to refer to the “sticker price” as tuition and fees. To add to the confusion, many articles do not explain that many students actually pay full tuition and fees, since they qualify for merit-based or need-based financial aid (scholarships, fellowships, and grants) from their states or from the federal government.
Data on the increasing room and board costs are difficult to ascertain, especially over time, since these rates have not been tracked as consistently as tuition and fee rates. But, the construction of increasingly fancy dorm and dining facilities certainly suggests that room and board costs have been rising substantially over the past generation.
Tuition and fees are rising, too, but they seem to be less of a problem than room and board costs, at least at public universities.
See also previous posts on this subject in the category “Education Policy.”