Average Costs

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Tutorial.png Unit 2 

Introduction | Review of Fixed, Variable and Semi-Variable Costs | Total Costs | Average Costs | Economies of Sale | Costs of ODL versus Conventional Education | Questions for Consideration

The exercise in the previous section highlights the importance of average costs in the economics of ODL.

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Average costs are simply the total costs of a course divided by the total number of students.

It is important to calculate average costs over the lifetime of a course rather than on a year-by-year basis. This is because some costs, such as those for developing materials, are only incurred once even though the course may run for a number of years without revision. The total costs over the economic life of the course need to be divided by the total number of students expected to enrol for the course during the same period.

The Average Costs equation is as follows:

ACs = TC/TNs


ACs = average cost per student
TC = total costs
TNs = total number of students

The average cost per student behaves in a different way from the total cost of a course. Whereas the total cost of a course continues to rise as student numbers increase, the average cost per student actually falls. This is because the fixed costs of the course can be spread amongst a greater number of students, even though the variable cost per student remains unchanged.

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Exercise 2.2

Open the Hülsmann CD-ROM.

  1. Select Section 3 – Elements of cost analysis.
  2. Go to the bottom of the first page of this section and select Part 2 – Fixed & variable costs.
  3. Scroll down to Activity A10 – Exploring the Average Costs Equation and click the purple letters that read ‘Click here’.
  4. Follow the instructions in the MS Excel worksheet.

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Self Assessment

  • Copy out the table below on a blank sheet of paper.
  • Decide how changes in student numbers will affect fixed and variable costs, both in total and on an average (per student) basis and write your answers in the blank cells of the table you have drawn.
  • Costs will either Increase, Decrease or Stay the Same.

    When Student Numbers Grow When Student Numbers Decline
Fixed Costs In Total    
Average (per Student)    
Variable Costs In Total    
Average (per Student)    

Source: Adapted from Rumble, 1997, Figure 5.2, page 37.

You can check your work by clicking on Answers to Self Test.