SAIC’s Student Financial Services (SFS) has made significant changes to cost of attendance for the 2012-2013 academic year, which will lead to lower refunds for many students.

Infographics by Joe Carpentar.

Cost of attendance is calculated by adding direct educational costs (tuition and fees) and indirect educational costs (books and supplies, transportation, room and board, and personal expenses). Each year SFS determines how much students are expected to spend on indirect educational costs, and this year they decided previous estimates were too high. Reducing these amounts can decrease the total amount of loans necessary to cover these expenses.

For example, the estimated cost for books and supplies for a graduate student in a studio program in 2011-2012 was $1370; for 2012-2013 it is $855. SFS also reduced their estimates for all other categories including personal, transportation, and room and board for all students (see infographic for the total amount that indirect educational expenses have been reduced for all students).

The decreases cannot be attributed to an actual decrease in the cost of living. According to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of living in the Chicago area has increased by 1.1 percent since July 2011. This year SFS adjusted the estimates based solely on a student survey they conducted October 2011.

“Our tuition is comparable, give or take, to our peers, but our cost of attendance was significantly higher,” Rose Milkowski, Vice President of Enrollment Management, told F Newsmagazine. “Part of that is because Chicago is an expensive place to live, but our estimates for certain categories like books and supplies seemed disproportionate.

In order to gauge the accuracy of their previous estimates, SFS surveyed 1700 undergraduate students and received about a 33% response rate. “The student responses actually would have decreased [the indirect educational costs] more, but we thought that was drastic and would have impacted their loan availability, so we went on the very high end of student responses,” Milkowski explained.

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