The importance of a college education is growing all the time. However, the cost for college ranges widely, from local community colleges at $26 per class unit to the top-ranked, elite private schools at more than $50,000 per year. Many parents are left wondering where all this money goes. Though many parents refer to this yearly cost as their child's "college tuition," the tuition only reflects one part of this cost.

College Tuition

The tuition component of the yearly college bill is usually the largest portion of the total cost, as it is used to pay for the main operational costs of the school. These operational costs generally fit into five categories: faculty and staff salaries; modernization of technology; financial aid; construction and renovations of buildings; and the operation and maintenance of the school libraries.

Residential Housing

Campus housing typically represents the second largest cost of attending college. However, the cost can often be minimized. Most public schools do not require students to live in the dormitories, while most private schools, such as Swarthmore College, only require the first year to be spent in campus dorms. In private schools, the cost of housing can be up to $7,000 per year, while public schools typically have a range of prices, depending on if the room is a single room or double room.

Board

The board cost covers every meal for the student. Typically this cost is only slightly less than the cost of housing itself, as it generally covers three meals in the cafeteria every day of the week while school is in session. If the college is in an urban setting, it can often be cheaper to eat out than in the school cafeteria. Chances are the student will also grow weary of the school cafeteria and crave the delicacies found only in local pizzerias and Chinese takeout.

Activities Fee

This is the smallest portion of college costs and generally only costs a few hundred dollars. The activities fee paid by each student helps fund student organizations and special events on the campus. Many schools use this fee to invite prominent politicians and businessmen to give speeches, fund large celebrations and pay for performances from chart-topping musicians. This cost is typically unavoidable for a full-time student.