The Rising Cost of College

Can you put a price tag on your child’s education? Analytics helps answer this age-old question.

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Last month I attended my oldest daughter’s kindergarten graduation. I beamed with pride as she crossed the stage, shook her principle’s hand, and accepted her “diploma”.

But when I first received the invitation, I was far from proud. I was incredulous. Kindergarten graduation? What exactly was the criteria for graduating? “Color in-between the lines”? “Cross the monkey bars”? Of course all six-year-olds will “graduate”. Aren’t we watering down the real thing?

But as I watched her cross the stage, I realized that what we were really celebrating was the beginning of a new stage in our children’s lives. And the first graduation of many to come.

Graduation 

And then it hit me—I only have 12 short years before the first tuition check rolls in. So what does college cost these days?

According to a recent report published by the College Board, the annual cost of a 4-year college education in the United States today is one of the highest in the world. On average, a public in-state school will set you back $24,000, while private institutions average $47,000 annually.

And the most expensive schools, according to Business Insider’s annual report, cost up to $67,000. Assuming graduation in four years, which is becoming less common, that’s a total investment of anywhere from $96,000 - $268,000.

Interestingly, the cost of college education is rising at a far greater pace than the rest of the economy. Forbes compared annual inflation rates over a 21-year period, from 1994 – 2015, and education was the big winner:

  • Total inflation = 2.3%
  • Healthcare = 3.7%
  • Education = 5.2%

If education costs continue to rise at that pace, I’ll be paying somewhere between $176,000 and $492,000 by the time my little cherub enters college.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t put a price on education.” But can you? A colleague of mine, Paul Van Siclen, thinks you can come pretty close. His son is currently shopping for colleges, and Paul wanted a consolidated view of the mountains of available data out there on school rankings.

So he pulled data from a number of sources, including the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid, which provides more than $150 billion in financial aid annually to more than 13 million students across 6,200 colleges.

The resulting Qlik Sense app, University Insights, is a treasure trove for anyone interested in exploring college performance and student loan data. It pulls together student demographics, tuition costs, loan and default rates, as well as external factors such as GDP and medial income.

So, are higher tuition costs really worth it? Do students who pay more for college actually earn more? Explore the app for yourself to find out.

And as for me, it might be time to ramp up that college savings plan.

Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives via Foter.com No known copyright restrictions

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