How much does college really cost?
June 30, 2023
One of the largest and most impactful financial investments that many people make in their lives is the cost of attending a college or university.
According to a cost of attendance calculator on the University’s website, a first-year full-time undergraduate student from the state of Illinois — or their family — can expect to spend between $35,000 and $40,000 for the 2023-24 academic year. This estimate includes their housing and food costs, books, supplies, fees and, of course, tuition.
As indicated in a recent university affordability report from the College Board, 78% of public university students across the country receive federal, state or institutional grant aid. This often means that a student will pay well below the sticker price for their education.
Assuming that a student does not receive financial aid, their bachelor’s degree could cost them between $140,000 and $200,000. When faced with this price tag, first-year Illini may wonder what factors contribute to their cost of attendance.
Food and housing
According to the University Housing website, staying in a double room in an air-conditioned residence hall with the most popular dining plan will cost $13,354 for the full 2023-24 academic year. Including additional room and board-related expenses, the University estimates that a year of sustenance and shelter will run a first-year student around $13,938.
The 10/45 dining plan covers 10 meals per week and 45 dining dollars. The 10 meals included in the plan can be redeemed at any of the four traditional dining halls while the 45 dining dollars can be used at all dining halls and any of the seven retail locations throughout campus.
Generally speaking, renting an apartment with roommates and cooking at home is less expensive than living in University housing and eating at the dining hall. Still, the convenience of on-campus living and “all-you-care-to-eat” meals lures some students into the dorm lifestyle beyond the one-year requirement.
For those students opting to live in private certified housing or an off-campus apartment, room and board costs can vary greatly.
Opting for cheaper housing makes a large difference. Factors that affect apartment prices in Champaign-Urbana are proximity to Green Street and the Quad, number of roommates, age of the apartment building, renovation status and the leasing company renting out the unit.
For some students, the price of on-campus living is a worthwhile investment in their academic success. For others, it is an optional luxury that is not worth the extra dough.
In a study by the College Board, it was found that the average tuition at a four-year public university in the United States was $10,940 during the 2022-23 school year.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the base tuition rate at the University will be $12,254, a 1.9% increase from 2022-23.
Although this number is publicized as the University’s tuition rate, some academic colleges charge up to $5,000 dollar differential payments on top of tuition due to additional costs associated with running their programs.
According to Vicky Gress, the University’s associate chancellor and vice provost for budget and resource planning, differential funds flow directly to the specific program’s budget.
Base tuition contributes to the University’s unrestricted budget, which funds faculty salaries, administrative costs, facilities and services, some research-related costs, centrally-awarded financial aid, campus insurance and other campus-wide programs.
Read more about the destination of your tuition dollars here.
The University administers several specific administration fees alongside tuition to all full-time students. For the 2023-24 school year, these fees will total $4,860.00.
According to the University’s office of the registrar, the fees charged each semester consist of the following.
- Academic Facility Maintenance Fund Assessment (AFMFA)
This fee helps to support ongoing and future renovations of academic facilities on campus.
- General Fee
The definition of this fee is quite broad, but the office of the registrar describes it as funding “improvements and enhancements for facilities within the Auxiliary Facilities System (repairs and replacements), utilities costs, overhead and employment-related costs…eligible grant programs and capital financing and related costs.”
- Health Service Fee
Even if a student opts out of University insurance, they are required to pay the automatic Health Service Fee if enrolled full-time. This cost funds services at McKinley Health Center, a resource that provides care to University students from across campus.
Read more about McKinley’s offerings here.
- Library and Information Technology Fee
Students are assessed a fee that is used to fund the University library system and its technological improvements.
- Transportation Fee
This fee funds unlimited access to public transportation in Champaign through the Mass Transit District, or MTD. Students can ride buses throughout Champaign-Urbana using their iCards.
The transportation fee also helps to fund the SafeRides program, which provides secure transportation for students who have no other means to return home between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6:30 a.m..
- Student-Initiated Fees
These are fees that were approved by students as part of a referendum process in student elections. An itemized list of the fees that fall under this category is available on the office of the registrar’s website.
- Health Insurance Fee (unless opt-out)
The University provides health insurance to students through United healthcare. This plan is accepted by many providers outside of the University’s healthcare center.
If a student is already covered under a health insurance plan, that is deemed “comparable” under the University’s guidelines. According to the Student Health insurance website, among other requirements, the plan must “provide access to in-Network emergent AND non-emergent care within a 50 mile radium of the UIUC campus” in order to qualify.
Books and supplies
The University estimates that a student will spend $1,200 on course-related books and supplies in an academic year, according to the cost of attendance calculator.
According to a 2015 NBC review of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, textbook costs have risen 1,041% since 1977 — or over three times the rate of inflation.
While some courses require students to purchase online access codes for their textbooks, many only ask that students have the required text on hand. This means that students are free to purchase any required texts secondhand — or to take a not-so-legal route.
Some students choose to limit textbook costs by pirating the materials from one of several textbook piracy sites.
While this method is certainly the cheapest means of obtaining necessary texts for class, it also places students at risk of violating copyright law. If found out, a student could face fines between $200 and $150,000 under copyright law.
Beyond books, many students may encounter a time when they need to purchase a laptop, software, iClickers, equipment or other miscellaneous supplies. It may be necessary to maintain space in your budget for unexpected educational needs.
The University’s cost of attendance calculator estimates that students will spend $2,500 on “other expenses” in an academic year.
This cost, however broad and randomly estimated, could be an important one to remember.
There could be instances throughout a student’s academic career when they need to purchase a large winter coat, new shoes, an overpriced cup of coffee, a refrigerator or even a movie ticket to prevent themselves from going insane during finals week.
This cost could vary from person to person depending on frugality, frequency of bar attendance, taste in clothing, Greek house affiliation and any number of other factors.
Lifestyle choices in college contribute greatly to the resulting cost of attendance, so it may be worthwhile to evaluate priorities.