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)


Name

Room and Board’s Share of Total COA

Florida Atlantic University

71%

California State University-Channel Islands

71%

College of Coastal Georgia

69%

Gordon State College

69%

California State University - Los Angeles

67%

California State Polytechnic University - Pomona

66%

Clayton State University

66%

Dalton State College

66%

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

66%

University of Wyoming

66%


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


Name

Room and Board’s Share of Total COA

Beloit College

15%

Kettering University

16%

Simpson College

17%

Kalamazoo College

17%

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

17%

Lake Forest College

18%

Olivet Nazarene University

18%

Earlham College

18%

Coe College

18%

Cornell College

18%


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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