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There is more to college costs than tuition and fees, and neither are the primary drivers of rising college costs, according to a new research report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In addition to those out-of-pocket costs — and the costs of room and board, which are not included in the Fed report — are the opportunity costs that college students forfeit when they attend classes instead of collecting wages. Those costs have been rising steadily since 2012 along with rising wages in a tightening labor market.

“It turns out that the opportunity cost of college is much more substantial than out-of-pocket costs, though both have been climbing in recent years,” write the Fed researchers. “Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree could expect to forgo more than $120,000 in wages, which is almost four times net tuition costs.”

The researchers, Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz, both assistant vice presidents in the bank’s Research and Statistics Group, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and The College Board in their calculations.

According to their report, the average net price tuition and fees, after financial aid, is currently $8,000 a year, or more than three times the average cost of $2,300 in the 1970s using constant 2018 dollars. That’s equivalent to about $32,000 for a bachelor’s degree earned in four years, though far less than the average sticker price for tuition and fees, which also jumped more than three-fold between the 1970s and today, from $15,000 to $54,000 over four years. Room and board, which is not included the New York Fed report, would add about $11,000 per year, or $44,000 to total costs over four years, according to the College Board.

Abel and Deitz note that they are not arguing that college isn’t worth it because its payoffs, not just costs, also need to be considered. That will be the focus of a future post from the New York Fed, which will weigh the economic benefits against the costs of college.

— Check out Why College Is Worth It: New York Fed Data on ThinkAdvisor.


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