What Should You Know About College Tuition for Public and Private Universities?

college tuition

The spending of college tuition is something that can be very difficult to assess accurately. When you pay your college tuition, where does it go? Students don’t exactly get an itemized receipt at the end of the year, which is why this can be a tough question to answer. If you’re looking for a clearer answer to the question of what your college tuition actually pays for, look no further — here’s the answer.

Breaking Down $100 of Tuition

Sure, you can look at an average budget for colleges through the United States Department of Education, but this is typically an overarching budget. With numbers that may go into the millions, it’s tough to wrap your head around these budgets.

Instead, consider how a college might spend $100. If you gave the college $100, how would they spend it? On average, a college would spend that $100 approximately like this:

  • $15.81 – Salaries
  • $15.58 – Hospitals and Healthcare
  • $11.66 – Research
  • $11.47 – General Instruction Expenses
  • $9.61 – Auxiliary Student Enterprises
  • $8.26 – Academic Support
  • $8.15 – Institutional Support
  • $6.25 – Other, Including Taxes and Liabilities
  • $4.75 – Student Services
  • $4.52 – Public Services
  • $3.41 – Grants and Financial Aid
  • $0.53 – Independent Operations

This includes $61.46 that goes to academically necessary things, including salaries and instruction expenses, and $38.54 that goes to things that might not be as necessary, including hospitals and research.

The Higher Cost of Private College

If you were to ask a few people the difference between public and private college, you’ll certainly get a number of different responses. However, one common thread between these responses will likely be the fact that private college is much more expensive than public college.

This is certainly true. In the 2019/2020 academic year, the College Board found that a student attending an in-state public school paid $21,950 yearly for tuition, fees, room, and board. On the other hand, a student attending a private school was likely to pay $49,870 yearly for the same thing, which is more than double the public college cost.

Tuition as a Percentage of Public Higher Education Revenue

Tuition trends are one thing that you may want to consider if you really want to understand tuition. One prominent tuition trend to think about is tuition as a percentage of revenue. A public higher education center will often receive money from government grants and from individuals who believe in the organization’s endeavors. That’s why tuition doesn’t have to be a high percentage of their revenue.

However, over the past years, public higher education centers have started to rely more and more on tuition. Here’s how it’s changed since the year 2000:

  • 2000     29.2%
  • 2001     29.5%
  • 2002     30.4%
  • 2003     32.5%
  • 2004     35.2%
  • 2005     36.2%
  • 2006     36.5%
  • 2007     36.3%
  • 2008     35.8%
  • 2009     37.7%
  • 2010     40.6%
  • 2011     42.5%
  • 2012     47.0%
  • 2013     47.7%
  • 2014     47.2%
  • 2015     46.9%
  • 2016     46.9%
  • 2017     46.6%
  • 2018     46.6%

It’s interesting to note that this actually peaked in 2013 at 47.7%; since then, it’s been very slowly but steadily moving down, at 46.6% in both 2017 and 2018. This could mean that it’s on a permanent decline.


College tuition is an extremely confusing and complicated topic, and it’s very important to know more about it before you talk about it. Both public and private higher education centers have increased tuition over the last decade. Remember, tuition is a complicated process, so if you have more information, it’ll always be better.

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