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in Brief
U.S. Department of Education NCES 2019-404 October 2018
What High Schoolers and Their Parents Know About Public 4-Year Tuition and Fees in Their State

This Statistics in Brief describes high school student perceptions of the cost of college using data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). The analyses examine the accuracy of students’ and parents’ estimates of public 4-year college tuition and mandatory fees in their states by comparing their estimates with actual tuition and fee amounts obtained from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The report also examines students’ perceptions about college affordability and their plans to enroll in college.


  • Overall, 11 percent of 9th-graders in 2009 reported estimates of annual tuition and fees at a public 4-year university in their state that were within 25 percent of the actual average tuition and fees. Fifty-seven percent overestimated these costs by more than 25 percent, and 32 percent underestimated them by more than 25 percent.
  • In 9th grade, 27 percent of students were “not at all confident” about the accuracy of their estimates. Two years later, 51 percent “did not know” what tuition and fees cost.1
  • Students’ 2013 plans to attend college were related to their 9th-grade perceptions of its affordability. Thirty percent of 9th-graders who disagreed or strongly disagreed that college was affordable planned, in 2013, to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. In contrast, among 9th-graders who agreed or strongly agreed that college was affordable, 47 and 56 percent, respectively, planned, in 2013, to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program.

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1 Ninth-graders were asked about their confidence in their ability to estimate tuition and fees, whereas in 2012, sample members were asked to provide a cost estimate and allowed to respond, “I don’t know.”

This Statistics in Brief was prepared for the Na-tional Center for Education Statistics under Con-tract No. ED-IES-12-C-0095 with RTI International. Mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.