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Don't Trust College Off-Campus Living Cost Numbers

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6084 replies100309 postsFounder Senior Member
One of the key costs of attending a school is room and board. For campus housing residents, colleges can provide straightforward numbers. But estimating off-campus costs is a different story.

A NYTimes article by Rochelle Sharp provides examples:

"In setting allowances for off-campus living, the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn decided that about $18,500 should cover it. Two blocks away, St. Joseph’s College determined that $10,000 would suffice.

SUNY College at Old Westbury and Long Island University’s Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., may be in similarly affluent locales just five miles apart, but look at the chasm between their budgets for students living off-campus: The State University of New York computed that its students needed $11,300 last year, while L.I.U.’s needed $27,500."

The article is full of anomalies like this, including multi-campus schools that use the same number for all campuses despite great variations in local costs.

The implications of incorrect estimates can be significant. Students and parents with limited funds (i.e., just about everyone) may set cost limits to control loan amounts and/or total expense. An inaccurate cost of living estimate could rule schools in or out. Cost that proved to be higher than predicted could result in higher loan debt or even the need to withdraw.

These cost estimates also go into government calculations on permissible loan amounts, and significant errors could lead to running out of money or excessive loan debt.

The article also suggests that some schools may tweak their off-campus living cost numbers to appear more affordable. Some schools masked tuition increases with an even greater decrease in living cost.

Best advice: do your own research on local living costs before committing to a school.
edited August 2016
19 replies
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Replies to: Don't Trust College Off-Campus Living Cost Numbers

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77187 replies672 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    The different schools may also have students who choose, on average lower or higher cost off-campus housing. The variation in costs between what different students choose is likely to be much greater for off-campus housing (and also commuting from parents' place) than for campus-operated dorms.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77187 replies672 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    the family has a better handle on the student's standard of living.

    This is true if the student is commuting from the parents' place, or the school is not that far away, but it may be somewhat more difficult for the student and family to know about rental real estate market conditions at a more distant college.
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  • romanigypsyeyesromanigypsyeyes 33218 replies767 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 2016
    In my college town, I lived in a 2 bedroom with 4 people and we paid under $300 a month each for rent. My friends just a block away spent something like $1000 each (2 people) for a 2 bedroom apartment. It was much nicer than ours but we chose frugal and they didn't. Different strokes and all that.

    I'd tell people to completely ignore what the college says about off campus. Many times (though not always) it comes down to people's choices and not actually the state of the market around campus.
    but it may be somewhat more difficult for the student and family to know about rental real estate market conditions at a more distant college.

    I disagree completely. Google is your friend. I live two towns out of Ann Arbor and couldn't tell you anything about the rental market there.
    edited August 2016
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  • kelsmomkelsmom 15525 replies98 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I have no choice but to establish a room/board component for my school's COA. I have students of all ages (23 - 52), from all walks of life and all cities of the world. Their living expectations are wildly different. I tell students who are concerned with costs to research the area - the internet is a wonderful too; use it. You can look up rent, you can look up grocery store ads, etc. There are areas around my school that are very expensive, and there are areas that are very inexpensive. A motivated student can often spend less than the estimated room/board costs off campus.

    I have seen COAs in urban areas of major cities that are almost laughable - it would be very difficult to spend that little on room/board. Maybe they do PJ for living costs ... they can advertise a lower COA & then increase it case-by-case to help those who need a loan increase to afford the actual costs. Or maybe the DON'T do PJ for COA - maybe they keep it low to keep available borrowing eligibility to a minimum.
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  • fallenchemistfallenchemist 24269 replies860 postsHonorary Super Mod Inactive
    edited August 2016
    @ucbalumnus
    This is true if the student is commuting from the parents' place, or the school is not that far away, but it may be somewhat more difficult for the student and family to know about rental real estate market conditions at a more distant college.
    Why? I have a Google search on the term Tulane and I see listings for rental property near campus every day. I live in Rhode Island, and am actually searching for articles related directly to the school, not rental property. But there are descriptions, often pictures, and tons of information. If someone was actually looking for only rental property info, it should be easily available in abundance, especially since we are talking about being near a college, where the market is always active.
    edited August 2016
    Post edited by fallenchemist on
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  • pathwayspathways 262 replies15 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    However, the amount determined by colleges for off-campus housing costs factors into their FA award decisions. My daughter was eligible for more FA when she first indicated she would live in a dorm. After she switched her FAFSA to off-campus she received about $3000 less in grant aid. They figured she would need $8000 for off-campus vs. $11,000 for on-campus.

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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22441 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    If the school was issuing the grant money, they are more generous if it is staying in house. My daughter has a few awards from the school and those are not refundable to us if they exceed her direct billed costs. Other FA is refundable, like Pell grants, state grants, loans, some outside scholarships, but not the school's money.
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  • romanigypsyeyesromanigypsyeyes 33218 replies767 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Only some schools factor in where you live. My undergrad has the same COA for on or off campus. Check with your own schools.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22441 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I bet your undergrad no longer has the same COA for everyone. Most of the Power Five schools started having different COAs for instate and OOS students so they can get the travel costs into the stipends for athletes. Many have those incidental costs much higher now than they were 2 years ago.
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  • romanigypsyeyesromanigypsyeyes 33218 replies767 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Bet you're wrong.
    Students are allotted the same amount for living costs (room and board) whether they live on- or off-campus.

    https://finaid.msu.edu/sampbud.asp
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  • Lilliana330Lilliana330 1578 replies38 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    My school also has same COA for on-campus and off-campus. Both are classified as "living without parents."

    If you commute from home, it's a different story.
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  • paul2752paul2752 4777 replies349 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't really see a glaring problem....it's a student's job to thoroughly and meticulously research off-campus housing costs.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22441 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Michigan state's stipend for athletes was going to be the lowest in the B1G 10 when the new policy to allow a stipend was announced. Many schools were upset that Penn State was allowed to pay a stipend of more than double the other schools were paying.
    The CollegeData.com rankings show Penn State at the top of the Big Ten with $4,788 in stipend allowance, and MSU at the bottom with $1,872.
    http://www.freep.com/story/sports/college/michigan-state/spartans/2015/03/04/msu-football-basketball-hollis-michigan/24386695/

    MSU made adjustments. Two different COAs. The athletic COAs can't be significantly different than the rest of the students or the NCAA will come down on them.
    * Michigan State’s COA is $2,916 out of state and $2,164 in state.
    http://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/2015-16-cbs-sports-fbs-college-football-cost-of-attendance-database/
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  • romanigypsyeyesromanigypsyeyes 33218 replies767 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    @twoinanddone I have no idea what your point is. There are nearly 40,000 undergraduates at MSU- how many of them are NCAA athletes?

    MSU has the same COA for whether you're living on or off campus for the 35,000+ students who are not NCAA athletes.

    You often bring up things that relate to athletes when that has absolutely nothing to do with the thread. Sure, if a thread talks about people who want to play sports, go right ahead. But really, how does your last post affect the 99% of students at MSU, or any college, with regards to off-campus living?
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  • BaylorpolyBaylorpoly 411 replies4 postsRegistered User Member
    Off campus costs vary greatly depending on whether you have 3-5 roommates in a rented house and share all living expenses or live alone in your own luxury apartment. You have to do your own research and compare to the on campus price tag. Having a school that has meal plans that are more part time can really help instead of a full meal plan you can't possibly use all of.
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  • gettingschooledgettingschooled 1917 replies34 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    For families with 529 plans, the max an off campus student can take out as a qualified expense is the school's published COA. Schools that understate the true COA prevent the family from using 529s to pay those expenses without penalty.
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  • foobar1foobar1 191 replies2 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Colleges are supposed to report the room & board numbers accurately on their annual IPEDS filing to the US Dept. of Education. Unfortunately, the IPEDS numbers are self-reported by the colleges and sometimes inaccurate. Reports of room & board inaccuracies may cause the Department of Education to pay more careful attention to these numbers.
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  • MazeArtCrewMazeArtCrew 179 replies18 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    When considering colleges, I'd also suggest looking at the various costs of "on-campus" housing after freshman year..

    My daughter was fortunate to get a good lottery #, and was able to choose an on-campus unfurnished apartment (which she will be able to "dibs" each year,) at a cost of about $4,400 from September - May. This costs over $2,000 less than the freshman dorms, is still considered "on campus housing" therefor the financial aid package awards aid based on the freshman dorm cost. Off campus apartments run about $780 a month per person (from a parent board I belong to) and require a 12 month lease. I gave her a conservative budget of $500 for furnishings for the apartment, and let her deal with that; she found a great price for a foam mattress online, a bed frame, desk and chair through Craigslist, a night table from Ikea, and some very nice kitchen pans through thrifting, along with other incidentals. We will need to pay $200 a year to store her furnishings over the summer, however we will still be spending about $2,000 less a year or "room" than freshman year - board will also be a lot less expensive.
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