Average Cost for College Credits: How They Vary and How to Calculate

Average Cost for College Credits: How They Vary and How to Calculate
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How Much Will it Cost Me?

The College Board(1) explains that the average public four-year college student should expect to pay $7,605 in tuition as well as fees for each year of attendance. If the student is not a resident of the state, another $11,990 constitutes the out-of-state tuition charge. Students considering a private college education need to be prepared to dig much deeper into the pockets: the average annual cost for a four-year school is about $27,293 for fees and tuition.

What is missing from this equation is an exact accounting for the amount of credit hours an ‘average’ student takes per year. Moreover, it fails to account for savings the student may be able to realize when testing out of one or more courses. Not surprisingly, it pays to ferret out the average cost of college credits, which helps the student compare and contrast school expenses of various colleges and universities.

Whittling it down to Basic College Credit Costs

Although the figures shift each year, the 2010 Trends in College Pricing brochure(2) offers some basic facts and figures the fiscally savvy student should investigate. To compare apples to apples, remember that an academic year actually measures nine months, during which the typical fulltime student takes about 30 semester or credit hours. Following this caveat, the breakdown of the cost is as follows:

  • In-state tuition for a public four-year college: $7,605 : 30 credit hours = $253.50/credit hour
  • Out-of-state tuition for a public four-year college: $19,595 : 30 = $653.16/credit hour
  • Private four-year college: $27,293 : 30 = $909.76/credit hour

How Do Averaged Figures Compare to the Real World?

Even though College Board does an excellent job of averaging, the real life examples vary greatly. The college student who needs less of a ballpark figure and more of a precise accounting of credit hour costs will do well to narrow down the choice of schools and then compare the cost per credit hour at this level.

Take for example the University of Nebraska at Lincoln(3); resident tuition (as of August, 2010) costs $198 per credit hour while out-of-state learners pay $588. Ivy League Harvard College(4), on the other hand, charges about $1,166 per credit hour.

Other Factors that Affect the Average Cost of College Credits

  • Dual credit enrollment courses: The University of Lincoln(5) explains that these types of courses are open to high school students. They offer concurrent high school and college credit. It is possible that the high school will split the tuition cost with the student, thereby reducing the future graduate’s college tuition bill.
  • Credit by exam: College students may test out of a number of college classes via the CLEP and other exams. Successful testing reduces the number of college credits the student must take and therefore also decrease the cost of the education.

Students will be wise to remember that average cost of college credits is just that: average. Due to the numerous variables affecting the number of required credits and also the student’s in-state versus out-of-state standing, it pays to shop around carefully and get an early start on the comparisons.


  1. College Costs, https://www.collegeboard.com/student/pay/add-it-up/4494.html
  2. Trends in Higher Education, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college_pricing/report_findings/indicator/Tuition_and_Fee_and_Room_and_Board_Charges_2010_11
  3. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Admissions, https://admissions.unl.edu/cost/index.aspx
  4. Harvard College, https://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/financial_aid/cost.html
  5. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, https://www.unl.edu/ous/student_programs/credit.shtml

Photo Credit: “Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex on the north side of Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln” by Fred Hoppe/Wikimedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TomOsborne%26BrookBerringer_Statue.JPG

This post is part of the series: Universities and Colleges in the United States

After high school graduation, the would-be college or university student has a huge number of choices available. Private or public, two-year and four-year, Ivy League and online schools all vie for the student’s enrollment. Which decision is right for you?

  1. Discover the Average Cost of a Four Year College Education
  2. Calculating the Cost Per Credit Hour