Did you know the average cost of attendance (COA) for a full-time undergraduate student in the United States was $26,820 in 2020-21? That’s more than the annual income of many families around the world. To pursue higher education, you must understand COA and how it is determined at different institutions.
Don’t worry in this blog post I will explain the components of COA, the factors that affect it, and the ways to reduce it. By the end of this post, you will have a clear idea of how the cost of attendance COA is determined at an institute of higher education and how you can manage it effectively.
Components of COA
The cost of attendance (COA) is the estimated amount of money a student needs to attend a specific institution for a particular period, usually one academic year. It includes four main components: The expenses that students incur generally include tuition and fees, costs for accommodation and meals, expenditures on books and materials, and miscellaneous personal expenses. Let’s look at each element in detail.
Tuition and Fees
Tuition and fees are the charges a student pays the institution for enrolling in courses and accessing various services and facilities. The expenses that students usually incur include tuition and fees, costs for accommodation and meals, expenditures on books and materials, as well as miscellaneous personal expenses, depending on the type and location of the institution, the program of study, and the number of credits a student takes.
For example, in 2020-21, the average tuition and fees for a public four-year institution were $10,560 for in-state students and $27,020 for out-of-state students, while the average tuition and fees for a private four-year institution were $37,650.
Room and Board
Room and board are the costs of living and eating while attending the institution. Room and board vary depending on the type and location of the institution, the type and quality of the housing and meal plans, and the students’ preferences and needs.
For example, in 2020-21, the average room and board for a public four-year institution was $11,620, while the middle room and board for a private four-year institution was $13,120. The option to reside on or off campus is available to students, depending on the availability and affordability of the options.
Books and Supplies
Books and supplies are the costs of purchasing or renting textbooks, course materials, and other academic supplies students need for their courses. Books and supplies vary depending on the program of study, the course requirements, and the availability and price of the materials.
For example, in 2020-21, the average books and supplies for a public four-year institution were $1,240, while the middle books and supplies for a private four-year institution were $1,260. Purchasing pre-owned books can aid students in reducing their expenses, borrowing from libraries, or using online resources.
Personal expenses include transportation, health care, entertainment, and other miscellaneous costs that a student incurs while attending the institution. Personal expenses vary depending on the institution’s location, the distance from the student’s home, the student’s lifestyle, and the student’s personal choices.
For example, in 2020-21, the average personal expenses for a public four-year institution were $3,400, while the average personal expenses for a private four-year institution were $3,150. Students can reduce personal expenses by using public transportation, sharing costs with roommates, and budgeting wisely.
Factors that Affect COA
The cost of attendance (COA) is not a fixed amount a student must pay to attend an institution. Its fluctuation can be influenced by many factors, leading to either an increase or a decrease, such as scholarships, grants, loans, work-study, family contributions, inflation, and exchange rates.
Let’s look at how each factor can affect the COA and the student’s net price, which is the amount the student has to pay after subtracting financial aid from the COA.
Scholarships and Grants
Financial help that comes in the form of scholarships and grants is provided to students, and these funds are not required to be paid back. They are awarded to students based on their merit, such as academic achievement, athletic performance, artistic talent, leadership potential, or their needs, such as financial hardship, minority status, or exceptional circumstances.
Scholarships and grants can come from various sources, such as the federal government, the state government, the institution, or private organizations. Scholarships and grants can reduce a student’s COA and net price by covering some or all of the tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, or personal expenses. For example, if a student receives a $5,000 scholarship from a private organization, their COA and net price will decrease by $5,000.
Loans are types of financial aid that have to be repaid with interest. They are borrowed from various sources, such as the federal government, the state government, the institution, or private lenders. Loans can help a student cover the gap between the COA and the net price, but they also increase the student’s debt and future financial obligations.
For example, if a student borrows a $10,000 federal loan with a 5% interest rate and a 10-year repayment period, their COA will remain the same, but their net price will increase by $10,000, and they will have to pay back $12,728.
Work-Study and Part-Time Jobs
Work-study and part-time jobs are types of financial aid that require a student to work in exchange for money. Work-study is a federal program that provides funds to eligible students who work on-campus or off-campus in community service or related fields.
Part-time jobs are any other jobs a student can find independently or through the institution’s career center. Work-study and part-time jobs can help students earn income to pay for some or all of their personal expenses, books and supplies, or other costs. For example, if students work 10 hours per week at $10 per hour, they can earn $4,000 annually, reducing their COA and net price by $4,000.
Family Contributions and Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Family contributions are the amount of money a student’s family can or is willing to pay for the student’s education. Expected family contribution (EFC) measures the family’s financial strength calculated based on the information the student and the family provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The EFC determines the student’s eligibility for need-based assistance with finances, including grants, loans, and opportunities for work-study. Family contributions and EFC can affect the COA and the net price for a student by influencing the amount and type of financial aid they receive. For example, if a student’s EFC is $15,000, and their COA is $25,000, they will have a financial need of $10,000, which various forms of financial aid can meet.
Inflation and Exchange Rates
Inflation and exchange rates are economic factors that affect the purchasing power of money over time and across countries. Over time, the cost of goods and services steadily rises, resulting in inflation that decreases money’s worth. Exchange rates represent the values assigned to exchanging one currency for another, which affects the cost of international transactions.
Inflation and exchange rates can affect the COA and the net price for a student by changing the actual or relative costs of the components of COA. For example, if the inflation rate is 3% per year, and the COA is $25,000 in 2020-21, the COA will increase to $25,750 in 2021-22.
Similarly, if the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Nigerian naira is 1:400 in 2020-21, and the COA is $25,000 in 2020-21, the COA will be equivalent to 10,000,000 naira in 2020-21. However, if the exchange rate changes to 1:500 in 2021-22, the COA will equal 12,500,000 naira in 2021-22, a 25% increase.
Ways to Reduce COA
The cost of attendance (COA) is not a fixed amount a student must pay to attend an institution. It can be reduced in various ways, such as choosing a cheaper institution, applying for more financial aid, living frugally, buying used books, and taking advantage of discounts and tax benefits. Let’s look at how each way can reduce the COA and save money on education.
Choosing a Cheaper Institution
One of the most obvious ways to reduce the COA is to choose a cheaper institution that offers the same or similar quality of education and services. More affordable institutions can be found by comparing the tuition and fees, room and board, and other costs of different institutions within and outside the country.
Cheaper institutions can also be found by considering the type and location of the institution, such as public vs. private, in-state vs. out-of-state, urban vs. rural, or online vs. on-campus. For example, if students attend a public four-year institution in their home state instead of a private four-year institution in another state, they can save up to $24,210 per year on tuition and fees alone.
Applying for More Financial Aid
Another way to reduce the COA is to apply for more financial aid to cover some or all of the costs of attending an institution. Financial assistance can be found by searching for various sources and opportunities, such as the federal government, the state government, the institution, or private organizations.
Financial aid can be found by completing and submitting the required applications and documents, such as the FAFSA, the CSS Profile, or the scholarship essays. For example, if a student applies for and receives a $10,000 grant from the institution, their COA and net price will decrease by $10,000.
Another way to reduce the COA is to live frugally and minimize room and board expenses and personal expenses. Living frugally can be done by choosing a cheaper and more convenient housing option, such as living on campus, living with relatives, or sharing an apartment with roommates.
Living frugally can also be done by choosing a cheaper and nutritious meal plan, such as cooking at home, buying groceries in bulk, or using coupons and discounts. Living frugally can also be done by cutting unnecessary or excessive spending, such as transportation, entertainment, or shopping. For example, if a student lives on-campus and spends $500 monthly on personal expenses, they can save up to $6,120 per year on room and board and personal expenses.
Buying Used Books and Taking Advantage of Discounts and Tax Benefits
Another way to reduce the COA is to buy used books and take advantage of discounts and tax benefits to lower the costs of books, supplies, and other expenses. Buying used books can be done by comparing the prices and conditions of new and used books, online and offline, and choosing the best deal.
Buying used books can also be done by selling or returning the books after the semester is over and getting some money back. Taking advantage of discounts and tax benefits can be done using student discounts, coupons, or vouchers offered by various retailers, vendors, or organizations.
Taking advantage of discounts and tax benefits can also be done by claiming education tax credits or deductions provided by the federal or state governments. For example, if a student buys used books, saves $500 per year on books and supplies, and claims a $2,000 education tax credit, they can save up to $2,500 per year on books and supplies and other expenses.
The cost of attendance (COA) is the estimated amount of money a student needs to attend a specific institution for a particular period. It includes four main components: The cost of attending college includes various expenses such as tuition and fees, accommodation and meals, academic materials and equipment, and personal expenditures.
The COA can vary depending on the type and location of the institution, the program of study, the student’s preferences and needs, and various factors, such as scholarships, grants, loans, work-study, family contributions, inflation, and exchange rates. The COA can also be reduced in multiple ways, such as choosing a cheaper institution, applying for more financial aid, living frugally, buying used books, and taking advantage of discounts and tax benefits.
By understanding and reducing the COA, students can save money on their education and achieve their academic and career goals. This post has helped you learn how the cost of attendance COA is determined at an institute of higher education and how you can manage it effectively.