Student Housing Costs at the Best Value Colleges

With graduation season coming to a close, most of the high school class of 2017 will know by now where they’re headed this fall. Their decision of which school to attend – or even whether they would go to college – was probably based on cost, their potential earnings and the return they would get on the investment of their (and their parents’) time and money.

These factors not only impact students’ decisions but also influence the student housing market. The combination of low to moderate costs and high potential earnings can lead to increases in enrollment, which helps drive demand for student housing.

The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard recently released a list of affordable four-year schools with good outcomes, which highlights the top 25 percent of public four-year colleges for median earnings and low net price.

We selected 15 universities from this list based on where Axiometrics covers on- and off-campus housing options and analyzed the costs at each. Keep in mind, many other factors play into the decision to attend college and demand for student housing, and many schools with good outcomes are not included in this analysis.

Annual Average Cost with and without Housing

The average annual net cost of tuition and fees across the 15 public four-year universities was about $12,700. With housing included, the cost averages between $16,200 and $33,000. In 2016, housing averaged less than 50% of the total cost for attending these schools, though the share changes by school and between on- or off-campus housing options.

At almost all of the universities, the off-campus housing options come at a premium relative to on-campus housing. Much of the off-campus product is newer than the on-campus housing – which is often at least 40 years old – and includes state-of-the-art amenities like pools, fitness centers, study rooms and more. Off-campus housing also provides the security of on-campus living without an RA, and WiFi and air conditioning are almost guaranteed at every option. Additionally, off-campus pricing is typically based on 12-month lease terms, relative to nine months on-campus.

Two California schools on this list require students living in residence halls to have a meal plan, causing the average on-campus price to be much higher relative to off-campus.

The Outcome and Benefit

The average typical earnings for these universities is about $53,000. College Scorecard’s list gives the median earnings 10 years after entering the school of former students who received financial aid. However, it is important to note that earnings are not driven solely by the university (or quality of education); many other factors contribute to this.

Additionally, the typical total debt (including only federal loan debt of undergraduate borrowers who earned a degree) averages less than $20,000 for this set of universities, and none exceed $25,000.

But every university is different and should be looked at on an individual basis. Below are the universities that had the lowest annual net price and highest annual net price according to College Scorecard’s data.

University of Maryland

Of the 15 universities studied, The University of Maryland had the lowest average annual cost (based on tuition and fees only), at $10,558 per year.

The average monthly effective rent at off-campus properties, based on same-store properties for 2016 and 2017, ranged from $715-$1,150 per bed for Fall 2016, with an average of $963 per bed. On average, these properties were built in 2005 and are located less than one-third of a mile from campus.

Annual prices for a standard double occupancy room at an on-campus property in the 2016-17 school year averaged $6,900, or $772 per month for nine months.

While the University of Maryland had the lowest average net tuition and fees, it ranks fourth in terms of lowest cost including on-campus housing costs and eighth including off-campus housing costs.

The annual cost comes out to $17,502 including on-campus housing and $22,111 including off-campus housing for 2016. Keep in mind, this doesn’t include costs for meal plans and isn’t adjusted for utilities or any other fees. While housing costs account for 40% to 50% of total annual costs, the typical debt (as reported by College Scorecard) is less than one year’s average cost of living off-campus.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech ranked No. 1 for highest typical earnings after attending, at an average of $74,500, and percentage of former students earning more than high school grads ($25,000 or about the average earnings 24-34-year-olds with only a high school degree). Georgia Tech also ranked second for lowest annual average tuition cost or total average four-year cost.

The average monthly effective rent at off-campus properties was $890 per bed for Fall 2016. Prices ranged from $715-$1,160 per bed, relatively close to housing options at the University of Maryland. On average, these properties were built in 2002, but the oldest was built in 1971 (renovated in 2005), and the newest in 2015. Location-wise, they average less than one-quarter mile from campus.

On campus, the standard double occupancy room averaged $6,400 annually or $720 per month.

Housing costs account for less of the annual total compared to the University of Maryland — 37% on-campus and 49% off-campus. Total costs including housing also rank above Maryland for lowest cost, ranking third including on-campus costs and fifth including off-campus.

The typical total debt for undergraduate borrowers is slightly above the annual total cost of living on- or off-campus, at $24,250. However, this is only comparing cost for one year and is still well below the total for four years at Georgia Tech.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University had one of the highest average annual costs of the 15 universities analyzed, at $14,100 for tuition and fees. However, average monthly cost at off-campus properties was among the lowest, ranging from $490-$760 per bed and averaging $568 per bed in Fall 2016.

Off-campus housing stock is slightly older, with an average year built of 1986, though some properties were built as recently as 2016. The total annual average cost including off-campus housing at Iowa State was $20,900, with housing costs accounting for only 33% of that, the lowest share out of the 15 universities.

This might be one reason off-campus housing performance is so strong: On average, properties reach near 100% leased, often early in the leasing season.

On-campus housing at Iowa State also accounts for the lowest share of cost of the 15 universities, at 24% of the total $18,500 with housing included.

University of California – San Diego

Of the 15 schools, the University of California – San Diego had the highest average annual cost for tuition and fees at $14,136. For that price, UC San Diego had the second highest earnings on the list, $59,000.

The monthly cost for off-campus housing, $1,312 on average, was also one of the most expensive, second only to another California institution, San Jose State University.

One reason for the higher off-campus price point is that UC San Diego has no purpose-built options, so prices are based on only student competitive properties. Student competitive properties typically have more studio and one-bedroom units, which translate to a higher per-bed cost. The average off-campus property is also farther from campus – more than three-quarters of a mile away.

On-campus housing at UC San Diego is the cheaper option, and the annual cost for a standard double occupancy room was $7,966 in Fall 2016, 36% of the total cost with on-campus housing of $22,100.

When students consider the price tag of a college education, they may see tuition and fees more than housing costs. But costs add up, and it’s important to seek the best value in housing as well as the best value in education.