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College Expenses Calculations: Private Versus Public Schools

College Expenses Calculations: Private Versus Public Schools

By: M. Scott Gordon

Most parents in Chicago with children who are approaching college age, or with children who are already in college, know that there is typically a drastic cost difference between private and in-state public universities. Indeed, the cost of attendance for an Illinois resident at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a public university, is markedly less expensive than attending Northwestern University, a private university. Are parents required to pay college expenses for any school their child chooses? Or does Illinois limit the amount of college expenses to in-state, public-university tuition?

To better understand how Illinois law regards college expenses, it is important to understand the marked distinctions between in-state public university tuition and private university tuition, and then to understand precisely what is involved in “college expenses.”

Understanding Differences in Costs of Attendance

According to the website for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the average cost of attendance—including tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses—averages between $30,876 and $35,880 per year for an Illinois resident. According to the website for Northwestern University, the average cost of attendance—including full-time tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and personal expenses—averages $70,496 per year. To put the difference in those costs another way, the yearly price for attendance at Northwestern University is about double that of attendance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for an in-state student.

Are parents responsible for these expenses no matter what? In other words, if the child, who is an Illinois resident, chooses to attend Northwestern University instead of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is the payor parent responsible for the stark difference in cost of attendance?

Illinois Statutory Law and College Expenses

To understand the answer to that question, it is important to learn more about what the law includes in “college expenses.” Under Illinois law, college expenses can include the following:

  • Tuition and fees;
  • Housing expenses (whether on-campus or off-campus);
  • Medical expenses, including medical insurance and dental expenses;
  • Reasonable living expenses during the academic year; and
  • Cost of books and other supplies necessary to attend college.

However, the statute does not require a parent to provide support for these expenses at any college or university regardless of the cost. To be sure, the statute says that, “except for good cause shown,” the expenses are to be those calculated for a “student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year” when it comes to tuition and fees. Further, the expenses for housing must “not exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double-occupancy student room, with a standard meal plan, in a residence hall operated by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

In other words, “except for good cause shown,” college expenses required of the payor parent are those listed for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as opposed to those listed for a private university. Further, the court takes into account the income of the payor parent in determining reasonable college expenses. As such, a payor parent may only be able to contribute a very small percentage of the annual cost of attendance at the University of Illinois. What the statute makes clear, however, is that in most cases, even when the parent can afford to pay more, college expenses will not exceed those at the University of Illinois.

Contact a College Expense Family Law Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about how your divorce will impact college expenses, a dedicated Chicago college expense family law attorney can speak with you today. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates to discuss your situation with an experienced lawyer.