Breaking Down Tuition Into More Easily Understandable Numbers

Breaking Down Tuition Into More Easily Understandable Numbers

This is a sponsored post.

When you think about college tuition, there are a number of things you might think about. Most often, you’re probably going to think that tuition is pretty expensive, which is true. However, tuition doesn’t exactly come with an itemized bill. No one really tells you where your tuition goes, which can make it annoying to try and understand tuition more wholly. If you’ve ever thought about what your college tuition pays for, here’s what you might want to know.

What Does Your College Tuition Actually Pay For?

$100 of Tuition

Although you don’t necessarily get an itemized breakdown of your tuition expenses, the United States Department of Education does collect that type of information from both public and private colleges across the country. From there, you can gain a better understanding of where this money goes.

However, the numbers the Department of Education publishes tend to be very large, as they cover the entirety of a college’s budget. To make it a bit easier to understand, you might want to conceptualize it in terms of what $100 of tuition will go toward.

When you pay your college $100 of tuition, here’s how a college will spend it on average.

  • $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 direct education expenses, like student services and faculty salaries, as well as $38.54 that goes to indirect education expenses, like research and public services.

Private Colleges Versus Public Colleges

These are average numbers and don’t necessarily play out exactly the same between private and public colleges, however. The College Board reported that in the 2019-2020 school year, an in-state public university cost $21,950 yearly, including room and board. A private college cost $49,870 for the same thing.

One year’s worth of tuition may go toward different things at a public university and a private university. For example, a private university will on average use more of its budget for salaries and less of its budget for student grants than a public university.

Increased Student Tuition and Percentage of Revenue

Colleges can almost never cover operating costs just with tuition. They typically need outside help, whether that’s government grants or endowments. However, the balance between third-party help and tuition is something that’s interesting to look at.

In 2000, student tuition made up 29.2% of public universities’ revenue on average. In 2018, however, that number had climbed to 46.6%. During that same time, tuition had climbed by more than 25%. Colleges, especially public colleges, are definitely leaning harder on student tuition than they used to.


As tuition grows and changes and people conceptualize tuition differently, it’s important that you know about the basics of tuition. Most certainly, colleges use your tuition to further educational development, but that balance has also shifted over time. As more people start to advocate for a much more accessible form of public education, you may start to see the balance shifting back. All in all, it’s just interesting to take a look at what student tuition is now and see where it will go in the future.

Lindsey Jenn

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