The Gerber Life Parenting Blog

Crash Course on the Cost of College

July 7, 2021

It might not happen this summer, but it’ll sneak up on you before you know it: you’ll be helping your little one get ready for college. Don’t worry, you won’t have to start packing the family car just yet, but it’s never too early to start thinking about how to pay for college.

Kids grow up fast and the cost of college — not just tuition, but also room and board, books and other expenses — is rising. Thinking ahead and having a plan may help you avoid the sticker shock.


As a guideline, we’ve compared a handful of current average costs between both public and private universities, based on research from the College Board conducted in 2020. These comparisons may help you to plan and budget for your child’s college education more easily:

Tuition and Fees

Tuition is the amount charged by colleges and universities for enrollment in classes. Depending on your child’s selected course of study, the cost of tuition may be higher or lower, and it varies by institution. In comparison, fees are the amount that colleges and universities automatically charge for the use of certain services and facilities (such as the library, gymnasium, campus bus system, etc.), whether your child uses them or not. The fees vary depending on the institution. Here are the average combined tuition and fees for public and private universities:

Public 4-year, in-state university: $10,560 (15.5% increase since 2015)

Private 4-year, nonprofit: $37,650 (20.6% increase since 2015)


Room and Board

Room and board are based on the estimated cost of on-campus housing and meal plans, and they can vary depending on the college or university. Most institutions may also provide estimates for the cost of off-campus housing and meals.

Public 4-year, in-state university: $11,620 (18.5% increase since 2015)

Private 4-year, nonprofit: $13,120 (17.2% increase since 2015)


Books and School Supplies

Books can sometimes be very expensive to buy. Less expensive options do exist, through textbook rental companies and/or by purchasing used books. In addition, it’s good to factor in the cost of a laptop among other supplies.

Public 4-year, in-state university: $1,240 (8.2% increase since 2015)

Private 4-year, nonprofit: $1,240 (0.3% decrease since 2015)


Personal and Transportation Expenses

Be sure to budget for personal and transportation expenses, which could cover anything from entertainment, toiletries and gasoline expenses. Include anything else that you might think applicable, such as costs associated with a sports team, social organization, fitness club or campus activities.

Public 4-year, in-state university: $3,400 (4.9% increase since 2015)

Private 4-year, nonprofit: $2,870 (10.0% increase since 2015)

To keep the cost of college in perspective, it’s important to know the difference between the net price and the published price of college. For example, if your child receives a scholarship or if your family qualifies for financial aid, this can significantly bring down the net cost of college.


Different Options for Different Ages

Your child’s current age affects how you should save for college. If your little one is still young, you can think more long-term and grow your money steadily. You can choose tax-free plans like Coverdell Education Savings Account (also known as ESAs), a 529 Plan, or the Gerber Life Insurance College Plan which is an endowment policy that provides the additional benefit of life insurance protection for the adult. Know the pros and cons of different options: for example, an ESA has a contribution limit of $2,000 a year and there is a potential 10% penalty for using 529 funds for expenses outside of education (qualified expenses include tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks, computers and ‘peripheral equipment’).

If you have a teen and college is just around the corner, you may want to start searching for scholarships and financial aid options.

No matter how you choose to save for college, the sooner you start, the better shape you’ll be in. If you plan it right, you can spend the summer before college worrying about how you’re going to fit everything in their dorm room, and not about the bills.

Have questions about your college planning options? Call Gerber Life at 1-866-503-4487 today.

Please consult with your legal, financial, tax and other professional advisors for advice about your particular situation.



College Board, 2015 and 2020


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Categories: College Planning
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