Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cost of College

Paying for college is more painful in some states than others. The Census Bureau's State and Metropolitan Area Data Book: 2006 shows just how much it hurts. One year of tuition, room, and board at a four-year public university ranges from a high of $15,109 in New Jersey to a low of $7,494 in Louisiana. In other words, it costs twice as much to go to college in New Jersey as it does in Louisiana. But household incomes are also much higher in New Jersey, reducing the burden on state residents.

Here's a better way to calculate the pain of paying for college—determine what proportion of median household income is required to pay for one year of in-state tuition, room, and board at a four-year public university. Nationally, the figure is 24.6 percent, with median household income at $43,564 in 2003 and one year of college at a public university costing $10,720. In many states the proportion is much higher, with Vermont (33.8 percent), Pennsylvania (33.2 percent), and South Carolina (33.0 percent) the most expensive. In five states, one year of college requires less than 20 percent of household income. Wyoming (19.6 percent), Colorado (19.3 percent), Alaska (19.3 percent), Hawaii (17.2 percent), and Utah (16.8 percent) have the lowest college costs relative to household income.

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