Updated July 2019
I really don’t like laundromats.
I know that they are a necessary evil, but I still don’t like them.
It’s not the overpowering smell of fabric softener or the stained underwear on the floor that you have to dodge like land mines.
It’s having to constantly pump quarters in the machines just to keep them going. Four bucks to get my jeans dry? Come on!
It never ceases to amaze me how differently I think about the cost of something when I have to pay for it at the moment, as opposed to when I’m either paying for something way ahead of time or much, much later.
When I do laundry at home, for instance, I rarely think about how much each individual load costs me. I just close the lid, hit the button, and come back to put in another load 45 minutes later. At the end of the month, my electric bill has everything all lumped together into one number. I don’t know how much it costs to make a pot of coffee, take a long, hot shower, or wash and dry a single load of laundry. And because I don’t know what these things cost individually, I often just do them without thinking.
But imagine how differently I would act if every appliance in my house had a coin slot or a dollar bill feeder like the machines at the laundromat.
What does all this have to do with the cost of your college classes? Be patient, I’m almost there…
Wrapping your head around a really large price tag
I’m guessing that you, like me, probably put a lot more thought into things you are buying when you understand just how much you are paying for them. And you are probably more likely to understand the cost of something when it falls within what you would consider your normal daily expenses.
This is my own little theory, but it seems that when something has an enormous price tag, something that our minds just can’t fully comprehend, they just “disconnect.” Essentially they turn off… leading us to make some rather silly and often rash decisions.
$40 jeans vs a new Honda Civic
Here’s a quick example. When Beth and I were first engaged to be married we made two purchases within the same month. Keep in mind that we were just out of college and flat broke. The first purchase was a pair of Levis 501 jeans. We stood in Sears for over an hour debating about whether or not we could afford the $40 for those jeans, as that was a lot of money for us at the time.
The second purchase was a 2000 Honda Civic, which we got “suckered” into buying by a really convincing salesman. The price? About $15,000. No money down. Only five years of “low” monthly payments. What happened?
Our minds couldn’t comprehend the $15,000 for the car in the same way they could the $40 for the jeans, so they just kind of shut off, and all logic went out the window! (We signed the papers and purchased a new car in about the same amount of time it took to buy the jeans.)
The incomprehensible cost of college
There are few places where this kind of incomprehensible price tag is more evident today than when paying for college.
For the first time in history, the amount of money Americans owe in student loan debt exceeds the amount we owe in credit card debt. As a matter of fact, as a nation, we now owe more than 1.5 trillion dollars on our student loans.
One 1.5 trillion dollars! Talk about a number you can’t wrap your mind around!
On a personal level, you might see your own huge tuition number and ignore it because you simply can’t wrap your mind around it, or you don’t fully understand what it means for you in the long run. And if you are taking out student loans, the bill isn’t going to come due for several years, so you might just choose to think about it later.
But it is absolutely essential for you to think about it now, to fully understand just how much you are paying for your college education. Because doing so will transform the way you think about your choices. Your choices of which college to attend, which major to declare, and which career path you are heading down (if any).
How much are you paying per hour for a college class?
To best understand just how much you are paying for your college education, you are going to break the entire bill down into something you can wrap your head around, how much you are paying per hour for each college class.
There are 3 steps to figuring this out.
Step 1: What is your total annual cost of college?
Find out the total cost of attending your college for an entire year. This number should include your tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and other estimated expenses. Your college or university should have a page on their website with these numbers.
Why not just use the tuition number, you ask? That would give you the specific cost of your classes, but it’s not really giving you the full picture since so many of your additional college expenses are intimately tied to you being there for the purpose of taking those classes. Including expenses such as room and board, student fees, transportation costs, and books will ultimately give you a more accurate look at the total cost of your education.
Here are some numbers I found for a few sample colleges. I included Columbia University and Middle Georgia State College (formerly Macon State College) because they were on the US News and World Report’s lists of most expensive private and least expensive public schools, respectively. I included Ball State University in Indiana because it has great sample class schedules for students, which we will use later on, and I included Illinois State University, just because it is my undergraduate alma mater, for which I know that I paid around $10,000 per year for when I attended in the mid to late ’90s.
I found all of the numbers used below on each school’s website by Googling the name of the university with the words total cost (for example Ball State University total cost) or using the CollegeSimply website.
- Middle Georgia State College: $22,000
- Ball State University: $24,280
- Illinois State University: $28.929
- Columbia University: $$74,199
Step 2: How many hours are you in class per year?
Take a look at your class schedule and figure out the total number of hours you will spend in class this academic year. This is the total of the number of hours you are in class per week multiplied by the number of weeks you are in class. If it is the Fall semester, and you don’t know your Spring schedule yet, just base your estimate on your fall numbers for the sake of ease.
Here is a sample class schedule for a Pre-Business major at Ball State University:
This student is taking 13 hours of class per week, and there are 15 weeks in each semester. 13 hours multiplied by 15 weeks= 195 hours, multiplied by 2 semesters= 390 hours of class per year.
Step 3: Apply some simple division
Divide the cost of attendance by the total number of class hours. To make your life a little easier, we have included a calculator that can crunch these numbers for you just below the following example.
Let’s use the schedule for the Ball State Pre-Business major from above and apply it to our sample schools:
|School||Middle Georgia||Ball State||Illinois State||Columbia|
|Total Cost of Attendance per year||$22,000||$24,280||$28,929||$74,199|
|Total Hours in Class per year||390||390||390||390|
|Cost Per Hour of Class Time||$56.41||$62.26||$74.18||$190.25|
Keep in mind that this is per hour, not per class. At Columbia, your one-hour English class will cost $190.25, but your three-hour chemistry lab will cost $570.76!
In other words, you might want to think twice about skipping that chem lab to play Ultimate Frisbee on the quad, given that you are being charged almost $600 whether you attend the class or not!
OK, by now you should get the concept, so now it’s your turn. Take a minute and find out the total cost to attend your particular school, then figure out how many hours you should be spending in class this year, and plug that number into the calculator to get a rough estimate of what each of your classes is costing you per hour.
|Total Annual Cost of College ($):|
|Hours of Class per Year:|