Where Does Your College Tuition Actually Go?

When you pay for your college tuition, there are a number of things that you’re really paying for. However, because college tuition doesn’t necessarily come with an itemized receipt, you might not know about all those different things. With college tuition something that many people have to think about through their life, it could be very beneficial to learn a bit more about college tuition. Here’s what you should know about where your college tuition really goes.

Splitting Up $100 of Tuition
One great way to get a better understanding of your tuition costs is to split it up in terms of $100 of tuition. If you give your college $100 of tuition, how are they going to spend it?
First off, $61.46 of every $100, on average, goes to direct education costs. That includes things like salaries for staff and professors, and academic support for students. Here’s how that $61.46 splits up:

  • $15.81 – Salaries
  • $11.47 – General Instruction Expenses
  • $9.61 – Auxiliary Student Enterprises
  • $8.26 – Academic Support
  • $8.15 – Institutional Support
  • $4.75 – Student Services
  • $3.41 – Grants and Financial Aid

These are all extremely important elements of making sure a college functions appropriately, and that’s why colleges spend so much of their tuition on them.

However, there are also less direct costs of education, which is where the remaining $38.54 goes. These are the ways in which a college will spend the rest of the money on average.

  • $15.58 – Hospitals and Healthcare
  • $11.66 – Research
  • $6.25 – Other, Including Taxes and Liabilities
  • $4.52 – Public Services
  • $0.53 – Independent Operations 

Some of these costs include things that may be an important element of education. For example, hospitals can be a great training ground for medical students. However, they’re not what you would think of as traditional education processes.

Differences Between Private and Public College

Private college is definitely more expensive than public college; it’s one of the defining characteristics that private college has. However, you might not really know how expensive.

According to the College Board, for the 2019/2020 school season, full-time students attending an in-state public school pay $21,950 yearly on average, which includes tuition, room and board, and fees. Compare that to the average cost of $49,870 yearly for the same things at a private college.

Private and public colleges also allocate their funds differently, with public colleges likely to attribute more of their funds percentage-wise to things like research and student grants. This can be a significant reason for public and private colleges to have such different costs.


At the end of the day, college tuition is something that no one really wants to pay for. However, right now, most people will have to pay at least some college tuition during their lives. Having this inside knowledge about college tuition, including information about the differences between public and private college tuition, is something that can be really useful if you’re trying to make decisions regarding your college choices in the future. Keep this information in mind and you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a high-quality college education at a price you can afford.

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