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How Does Room and Board Affect the Cost of Attendance?

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The Cost of Attendance (COA) is an estimate of all allowable costs (see more on allowable cost below) for the period of the student’s enrollment. At most colleges and universities, the cost of attendance is calculated annually to accommodate increases in tuition and fees. The cost of attendance includes the following allowable costs:

  • Tuition and fees

  • Books, supplies, transportation, personal, misc.

  • Room and board

  • Dependent care

  • Study abroad expenses

  • Disability expenses

  • Employment expenses for co-op study

  • Loan fees

Federal Guidelines for Room and Board in Cost of Attendance

The federal government gives higher education institutions a lot of freedom in determining their cost of attendance, which is why room and board costs vary widely across the US. For example, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina estimates room and board fees at less than $3,000 per year, while The New York School of Interior Design estimates housing and living expenses at over $21,000 per year.

The guidelines for schools distributing FSA (Federal Student Aid) permit schools to calculate an average cost of attendance, rather than an individual cost of attendance for each student. Average room and board fees don’t necessarily include the most expensive dorm and meal plan, but instead what the average student purchases. This is why a student who chooses the most expensive dorm and the most abundant meal plan may exceed the cost of attendance.

For students living off-campus, federal guidelines stipulate that “the allowance must be based on reasonable expenses for the student’s room and board.” For some schools, the average cost of room and board is the same whether a student lives on- or off-campus, while other institutions reduce the room and board allowance for off-campus students. Some campuses also have housing for single parents and/or married couples with families, such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Students with dependent children may receive additional funding for room and board.

The Share of Room and Board in Cost of Attendance

Colleges with a large share of room and board in COA will typically offer more money for room and board fees. At some colleges, room and board represents over 70% of the cost of attendance, exceeding tuition and fees. If the share of room and board within the cost of attendance is low, this usually means that the institution does not allocate a lot of funding to room and board. This practice is common in areas where the cost of living is more affordable.

Schools with Largest Share of Room & Board in Full COA (In-State Pricing)


Room and Board’s Share of Total COA

Florida Atlantic University


California State University-Channel Islands


College of Coastal Georgia


Gordon State College


California State University - Los Angeles


California State Polytechnic University - Pomona


Clayton State University


Dalton State College


The University of Texas of the Permian Basin


University of Wyoming


Schools with Smallest Share of Room & Board in Full COA  (In-State Pricing)


Room and Board’s Share of Total COA

Beloit College


Kettering University


Simpson College


Kalamazoo College


Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


Lake Forest College


Olivet Nazarene University


Earlham College


Coe College


Cornell College


The above tables of colleges list institutions with the highest and lowest share of room and board in the COA. Remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean the highest and lowest room and board allowances overall. Review each college’s tuition and fees schedule to determine room and board allowances. Also examine the local cost of living. Before committing to a university, do your research and budget living expenses to find out if it’s a good fit for you.

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