The Independent College 500 Index (IC 500) is compiled annually from College Board data about the costs of enrollment in higher education.
Using enrollment-weighting techniques, the College Board can calculate a student's average annual expenses and compute average prices charged by institutions.
The IC 500 measures the rates of change in direct charges (defined as full-time tuition and fees plus room and board) for most first-year, full-time students at 500 participating independent (private) nonprofit colleges. These 500 institutions are the highest priced independent schools based on the data submitted to the College Board as part of the Annual Survey of Colleges. In addition to being the highest priced schools, at least 15 percent of full-time undergraduates must live in college housing at these institutions in order to be included in this study. Collectively, these 500 institutions enrolled approximately 1.6 million students in the fall of 2019.
A look at the last two academic years helps to illustrate the changes in total direct costs:
- IC 500 value for 2019–2020: $56,039
- IC 500 value for 2020–2021: $57,980
This represents an increase of 3.23 percent over one year—important information for anyone concerned with the cost of higher education today. This increase is slightly lower than increases over the last two years and continues a trend of lower annual increase percentages over the past decade. The portion of this cost that represents tuition and fees only was $44,164. The portion of this cost that represents room and board only was $13,685.
It should be noted that although the IC 500 measures with precision average direct charges and rates of change at participating institutions, the College Board cautions against using the IC 500, or any data included therein, as a measure or predictor of year-to-year changes in the costs of attending any private or public educational institution.
It is also important to keep in mind that other factors beyond those measured by the IC 500 also determine a student's annual costs such as books and supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses. The cost of living will vary from region to region and even from student to student. Further, about two-thirds of all the students enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States and three-quarters of all full-time students receive some form of public or private financial aid. This may also affect their final cost for a year of higher education.
Annual Survey of Colleges
This index is based on the College Board Annual Survey of Colleges. While the Annual Survey is distributed to more than 3,700 postsecondary institutions across the country, the scope of the IC 500 project is limited to the 500 institutions contained in the sample that comprise the index.
The Trends reports
For comprehensive results on how much colleges and universities are charging undergraduate students for the upcoming 2020–21 academic year, the College Board releases the survey results each fall in the Trends reports.
These reports, Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid, report on average prices and expenditures for the current academic year, as well as a wealth of data on enrollment and financial aid.