Dorms, Meal Plans Increasing Cost of College

on March 24, 2017

College tuition increases are something many families and students expect when they are planning for college. But the cost of living on campus and eating in the cafeterias has increased considerably in the last several decades, outpacing inflation, according to a recent study from the Urban Institute.


From 1964 to 1980, prices for room and board stayed relatively flat but then began to rise. Between 1980 and 2014, room and board at public and private four-year universities doubled from $4,812 to $9,798.


That might seem like a long time, but if the cost of living and eating on campus only increased with inflation, college would cost $17,316 less at public institutions and $15,720 less at private ones today.


The rising costs can be a barrier for some students planning to attend college. Although federal and merit-based aid can ease the cost of tuition, rising prices for room and board mean covering the cost of college still is a financial burden.


Part of the reason for the increase could be that colleges are doing less to subsidize housing on campus, according to the Urban Institute. Off-campus rent only was slightly more expensive than living on campus in 2014, per the study. Colleges also are investing more in dorms with a sleek feel and additional amenities in hopes of tipping the scales for students deciding among several colleges with similar programs and academics.


Meal plans also are a growing expense and can require students to spend more on food than they might otherwise. The average charge for a meal plan in 2014 was $3,613, although dining at the most expensive colleges can cost about $15,000 per year.


In some cases, colleges are using funds from dorms and meal plans to help fund the university overall. Colleges took in more revenue from auxiliary expenses, which include dormitories and meals, than they spent in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


When considering what college to go to and what potential costs might be, pay attention to what colleges require of students in terms of room and board. Some require students to live on campus or part or all of their time in college. Others might be in more rural areas or small towns where housing options on a student’s income are few and far between.


Either way, make sure you understand what you’re getting when paying to live on the dorms and for a meal plan and factor it into your final college decision.

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