How much will college cost in the years ahead? Probably an awful lot. The cost of a college education has been increasing faster than the rate of inflation lately. (The growth rate does seem to finally be tapering off, though.)

As you prepare to figure out how much it's likely to cost you to send little Ethelred to Providence College or Brown University in a few years, take a deep breath. Sit down. Now, pop over to's college cost calculator, which will deliver the news. You'll need to plug in the current costs of the kind of college you want to prepare for, so check out these numbers from The College Board:

  • Tuition for 2004-2005:

Four-year private college: $20,082 (up 6% from last year)

Four-year public college: $5,132 (up 11% from last year)

  • Room and board for 2004-2005:

In the neighborhood of $6,000, or even more

  • Tack on, say, a conservative $600 for books, and you get these totals:

Four-year private college: $26,682

Four-year public college: $11,732

Plug $26,682 into the calculator, leaving the expected inflation rate at 7% and imagining that Ethelred is 10 years away from post-secondary matriculation, and you'll see that you can expect to fork over a total of $233,042 over four years. Yowza!

If Ethelred is currently in utero, you can expect to pay more than $400,409 for a pricey private college education -- or nearly $180,000 if he goes to a public school.

If you feel your heart racing and your chest tightening, relax. The College Board also offers some comforting words:

  • Almost 50% of all students attending four-year schools pay less than $6,000 a year for tuition and fees.

  • Roughly 75% of students attending public four-year colleges also pay less than $6,000 annually for tuition and fees.

  • Only 5% of all students attend schools where tuition is $24,000 or more a year.

Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to come up with the moolah for Boolah Boolah U. You'll find lots of tips on paying for college in our College Savings Center. Our Paying for College discussion board is a good place to ask questions, and our book The Motley Fool's Guide to Paying for School by Robert Brokamp is also a handy resource.

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And finally, consider sending any teens you care about to our Teens & Their Money nook. Or consider giving them a copy of our Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens book.