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House vs. College: Which Costs More?

Thinking about buying a house? Does that mean you won't be able to afford a four-year college degree?

According to the FinAid website, in recent years the price of an average four-year college tuition bill has risen at about twice the rate of inflation. More recently, the College Board's Trends in College Pricing released data about the 2010-2011 academic year which calculated average total costs (including tuition, fees, room and board) for public and private institutions. Students attending four-year public colleges and universities could expect to pay $16,140 for in-state and $28,130 out-of-state. Attendees at four-year private colleges and universities face an average annual bill of $36,993.

At a time when our economy is failing to produce any jobs, credit has tightened and American families are experiencing consumer distress at record levels, these price tags feel heftier than ever. For a middle class already struggling, providing children with the education needed to compete in today's global economy can seem financially impossible.

But you know something interesting? It may have seemed unthinkable just a few short years ago, but today it is entirely possible to buy a home, or make a real estate investment, for less than the cost of an four-year college degree. It may be an odd silver lining to a long-depressed housing market, but there you have it.

Don't believe me? Check out the following evidence. All images and data provided courtesy of Zillow.

Stanford University
Current annual tuition, plus room and board: $52,341
Four-year costs: $209,364

2025 California St. Apt 28, Mountain View CA
Sale Price: $190,000

Stanford University is known informally as the Ivy League of the West. Naturally, an education of that quality comes with a hefty price tag, but it's still somewhat mind boggling that one could purchase a two-bedroom, one-bathroom sunny condo just 4.6 miles from campus for nearly $20,000 less than the price of an undergrad degree.

University of Washington
Current annual tuition, plus room and board: $20,117
Four-year costs: $80,468

2152 N 112th St Unit 111, Seattle WA
Sale Price: $79,900

The price of a four-year degree has come down to a more manageable level, given that the University of Washington is a public institution. Even so, you may purchase this nearby one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo with a gas fireplace and still have a grand left.

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
Current annual tuition, plus room and board: $22,102
Four-year costs: $88,408

2064 Cloverly Ln, Ann Arbor MI
Sale Price: $87,500

Forget about condos! In Ann Arbor, you can buy your kid a 1,380 square foot house for less than the price of a chemistry degree. There's plenty of living space with two bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a second-floor balcony, and a kitchen with breakfast bar.

Harvard University
Current annual tuition, plus room and board: $52,652
Four-year costs: $210,608

22 Lincoln St Unit 3, Somerville MA
Sale Price: $213,500

Just to show you this is not a regional phenomenon, we started at the West Coast, moved to the Midwest and are now approaching the far East Coast, and one of the oldest educational establishments in the country. And fine, we cheated a little. This one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo is part of a building constructed at the turn of the 20th century and will cost you about $3,000 more than a degree from Harvard. But the Boston-area real estate market is one of the priciest in the nation, with medium home values sitting at $440,400. With that in mind, it is simply astounding that one can own a piece of property that costs the equivalent to an Ivy League diploma.

Texas A&M University
Current annual tuition, plus room and board: $16,680
Four-year costs: $66,720

904 University Oaks Blvd Apt 57, College Station TX
Sale Price: $62,000

Let's end our tour in the deep South, in the home state of two of our last four Presidents. This loft-style one-bedroom condo with a fireplace is not only trendy and adorable, but situated very close to campus. Even better? By purchasing the unit, you will still have over $4,000 left in your pocket versus the cost of an English degree.

So what do you think parents? Ready to forgo paying for higher education and buy your kids a house instead?
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Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.comand The Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and is Chief Content Strategist at, a community for real estate investors.
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