By the Numbers: Statistics on the 2016-17 College Year

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Around the U.S., millions of students are heading off for their freshman year of college. Proud parents help them move into their dormitory, tears in their eyes — because they’ve already made their first few tuition payments, and they know they’ve got almost four years of hefty bills remaining. Yes, college costs continue to rise. Students are graduating with more student debt than ever, and they’re entering a job market where employment matching their education is harder to find than in the past. Yet a college degree remains a good value. Here’s a look at some of the numbers defining U.S. higher education today.

Despite rising tuition costs, a college education remains a good value, with graduates earning far more over their lifetime than high school graduates.


Average Annual Cost For a Private Nonprofit College

One look at that figure (for 2015-16) and it’s not hard to see how some students leave college more than $100,000 in debt. Tuition and fees account for $32,405 of that amount.



Average Annual Cost For a Public 4-Year College

This is the average cost for in-state students staying on-campus for the 2015-16 school year. According to, room and board ($10,138) edges tuition ($9,410) make up more than 75 percent of that cost. Expect to spend an average of $1,298 on books and supplies, and $1,109 on transportation, with “Other Expenses” running $2,106.


$1.3 Million

Average Amount College Graduate Earns More Than High School Graduate in Lifetime

This is based on a comprehensive U.S. Census study using 1999 data, which found that those with a bachelor’s degree would earn roughly $900,000 more over a 40-year working career than those with a high school education. That’s $1.3 million in 2016 dollars. A College Board study based on 2009 U.S. Census data found that, in general, college graduates can expect to earn about 1.66 times as much as a high school graduate throughout their career.



Average Amount of Student Debt

This issue has been a hot topic in the past couple of years. In 2015, more than two-thirds of graduates left school with debt, averaging about $35,000. reports that in 1994, about half of graduates left owing student debt, and the figure was a much more manageable $10,000.



Percent Increase in Public 4-Year College Tuition and Fees Over Past 5 Years

This is a surprisingly low figure, compiled by the College Board. Compare that increase with the 2005-06 school year, which saw a 38 percent increase in tuition and fees over the past five years. In fact, that 13 percent increase is the lowest five-year rise since the late 1990s.



Percentage of Recent College Graduates Who Are Underemployed

So you’ve spent all that money earning a degree, be it in chemical engineering or 17th century Russian literature, but you find yourself working at the local coffee shop. You’re certainly not alone. Much has been made of the fact that so many college graduates today end up working in jobs that do not require their degree, or any college degree, for that matter. According to a study published in 2014 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more than 20 percent of recent college graduates (defined as those ages 22-27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher) are working in a low-wage job (about $27,000 per year in 2016 dollars). That’s about double the percentage of such graduates who found themselves underemployed in the mid-1990s.



Percentage of Recent Liberal Arts Graduates Who Are Underemployed

The New York Federal Reserve’s aforementioned study of underemployment among recent college graduates (those ages 22-27) found that 52 percent of those with a liberal arts degree are working at a job not requiring a college education. Other degrees fare even worse: Some 63 percent of recent Leisure and Hospitality graduates are underemployed, while Agriculture and Natural Resources (57 percent) and Communications (54 percent) also fare poorly. On the other hand, only 20 percent of recent Engineering graduates find themselves underemployed, and education (22 percent) and health care graduates (22 percent) also do well.



Percentage of Women With a College Degree

For the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this data in 1940, more women than men held a college degree in 2014. The difference was slight (29.9 percent of men held a college degree that year), but it’s not a surprise, as women have been trending higher than men in obtaining college educations since the mid-1990s.



Number of Crimes Committed on U.S. College Campuses

Welcome to one of the most controversial aspects of higher education. Just how safe are U.S. campuses? They are generally safer than the communities surrounding them. But there are certainly crimes. If you’re a parent or student and have tried to find crime information on colleges in general, or your particular university of interest, you may have discovered that these statistics are woefully inaccurate. Some official statistics are alarming; the U.S. Justice Department reported in 2014 that incidences of sexual assault on college campuses were underreported by 80 percent.

The problem here is that colleges have a vested interest in downplaying the number/location/severity of reported crimes, resulting in grossly skewed data. On the other hand, be wary of any lists out there claiming to represent the “10 Most Dangerous Colleges” or something similar, which tend to penalize universities that at least make an attempt at honest reporting. Bottom line: Crime can occur anywhere, anytime. Take the necessary precautions to increase your safety (walk with a friend, avoid isolated areas, be aware of your surroundings, etc.)

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