If college isn't worth it, how about a house?
In light of challenging economic times, the Pew Research Center pursued the question, “Is College Worth It?” and centered their research on whether the high cost of college at private and public universities is worth the investment. One of their findings is that college costs have nearly tripled since 1980. Throughout the recession, that rate has jumped as local governments cut higher education spending, leaving the universities and thus, students and parents, to shoulder more of the cost.
But even with rising tuition, is a college education still more affordable than a buying a home — especially if that home is in a college town? We did a comparison, by taking a cross section of universities located across the U.S.— some private, some public — to see what kind of home you can buy for the price of four-year tuition plus room and board in the surrounding college town (books, Top Ramen and day-old pizza not included).
Annual tuition, plus room and board: $52,341
Four-year costs: $209,364
Location: Stanford, CA
While Stanford University is a private university and high in costs (tuition alone is presently $40,050), it’s also located in a very expensive part of the country. San Francisco’s Bay Area has boasted high home values for years. The median Stanford home value is currently $1,610,500 and is rising 4 percent year-over-year. While four years at Stanford costs over $200,000, there aren’t any homes currently for sale right around the campus for this price. But, we found a home four miles to the south (below), in Mountain View, CA where median home values are a little lower at $722,600 to hit our target price of $209k, or less.
2025 California St. Apt 28, Mountain View CA
For sale: $190,000
Located 4.6 miles from campus in Mountain View, $199,000 gets you a 2-bedroom, 1-bath corner unit. The condo includes a deck overlooking the pool and garden area and features laminate hardwood floors.
Annual in-state tuition, plus room and board: $20,117
Four-year costs: $80,468
Location: Seattle, WA
Seattle, like Stanford, does not have many options in terms of inexpensive housing. Median Seattle home values are currently $348,800. But, compared to Stanford, University of Washington tuition is also on the more affordable side and costs just over $10,000 for in-state students. Still, with a little searching, it’s possible to find a piece of Seattle real estate for around $85,000, but it will most likely fall in the 1-bedroom condo category, such as the one below.
2152 N 112th St Unit 111, Seattle WA
For sale: $79,900
Located in Haller Lake, a residential neighborhood in North Seattle, this 1-bedroom, 1-bath condo includes a spacious corner kitchen and gas fireplace.
Annual in-state tuition, plus room and board: $22,102
Four-year costs: $88,408
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor is a classic college town with less than 150,000 people living in the city. With lots of green space and appealing places for families, home values are a bit higher than its closest big city Detroit. Median Ann Arbor home values are presently $197,600, making it harder for the cost of four years at U of M to stretch into the housing market.
2064 Cloverly Ln, Ann Arbor MI
For sale: $87,500
Although this Ann Arbor home for sale is a condo, it’s significantly bigger than what you would find near Stanford or UW. The end unit has two floors and a total of 1,380 square feet of living space. The 2-bedroom, 2.5-bath home features a second-floor balcony, large master suite and kitchen with breakfast bar and it’s located within close distance of the university and shopping.
Like the University of Michigan, the home of the Tar Heels is located in a predominately college town. Chapel Hill has a relatively small population of 57,233 and relatively high home values for the region, clocking in with a median home value of $302,000. For our comparative home for sale, we looked just outside Chapel Hill in the neighboring city of Durham. Median Durham home prices are $147,300.
2514 N Roxboro St, Durham NC
For sale: $65,700
Priced on the Durham real estate market at an affordable $65,700, this brick one-level home is a perfect starter place with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,628 square feet of living space. The home has a classic brick exterior, hardwood floors, and detached garage.
Annual tuition plus room and board: $52,652
Four-year costs: $210,608
Location: Cambridge, MA
Harvard is a pricey institution, ringing in at just over $50,000 and a few hundred more than Stanford. However, with that price tag comes the prestige of having attended the oldest and arguably most reputable university in the U.S. Cambridge real estate is relatively expensive as well; median Cambridge home values are presently $440,400. Because Cambridge has a small and pricey real estate market, especially under the $215,000 mark, we found a home in adjacent Somerville.
22 Lincoln St Unit 3, Somerville MA
For sale: $213,500
The price on this Somerville home for sale was just slashed $2,500. The top floor 1-bedroom, 1-bath condo unit was built in 1900 and has been completely updated. It has hardwood floors, a roof-top desk off the master bedroom and is just over three miles from Harvard.
Annual in-state tuition, plus room and board: $16,296
Four-year costs: $65,184
Location: Lincoln, NE
Lincoln’s claim to fame is not just for being the capital of Nebraska, but for always fielding a perennial contender in college football. The Cornhuskers have the distinction of being one of a handful of college teams to have over 800 wins. Living in Lincoln is relatively affordable; median Lincoln home values are currently $129,200 and appear to have steadied with a drop of only 1.3 percent year-over-year.
817 N 26th St, Lincoln NE
For sale: $64,900
This home on the Lincoln real estate market is good-sized starter home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 1,188 square feet of living space. The home has new carpet and new paint, as well as a new porch and detached garage.
Annual in-state tuition plus room and board: $16,680
Four-year costs: $66,720
Location: College Station, TX
Although College Station is a small college town, it’s situated in the most populous region of Texas near the huge metropolitan cities of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Texas A&M is one of the largest universities in the U.S., both in terms of enrollment and campus size, and is the primary attraction in College Station.
904 University Oaks Blvd Apt 57, College Station TX
For sale: $62,000
This College Station home for sale is priced at $62,000 and includes 1 bedroom (in a loft) and 1 bathroom. The condo includes a fireplace and kitchen with breakfast bar and balcony.
Annual in-state tuition, plus room and board: $18,690
Four-year costs: $74,760
Location: Auburn, AL
Located in the heart of Alabama, Auburn is a college town and most of its economy and city life is centered around the university. While Auburn boasts affordable living, it’s quite difficult to find a home for sale under $75,000.
1761 Wire Rd Apt 5-15, Auburn AL
For sale: $78,900
Built in 1986, this Auburn condo has been updated with fresh paint, new carpet and appliances in 2010. The complex is quiet and includes a swimming pool and is located on the Tiger Transit system.
If college isn't worth it, how about a house?