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How college costs have changed in the last 50 years

  • How college costs have changed in the last 50 years

    For young adults, the one thing harder than getting accepted into their dream university is paying for it. College tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent decades. The average published price of a four-year school has more than doubled what it was 56 years ago when the oldest baby boomers were heading into their freshman year, taking inflation into account. The increased cost of higher education has significantly outpaced the growth of median family incomes and left students and their parents wondering: How do we pay for all of this?

    For many, the answer has been student loans. A 2018 CNBC report found that 70% of college students have taken on a significant amount of loans by the time they put on their cap and gown. Even students who are awarded a generous amount of scholarships and financial aid for tuition may still rely on student loans to cover other essential living expenses, such as food and housing. According to the Federal Reserve’s “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2016–May 2017,” the mean student loan debt among borrowers is $32,731.

    To find out how the price of higher education has changed over the last few decades, Stacker compiled a list of the cost of attending college every year from 1969 to 2018 using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The figures included the cost of tuition and fees, dormitory room, and board for both public and private colleges. The costs are adjusted for inflation to 2017–2018 dollars.

    The data showed that the cost of attending college increased 146.59% at public universities and 156.67% at private universities from 1969 to 2018, after adjusting for inflation. No wonder student debt and college affordability has become the #1 concern among students and their parents.

    Take a look at what’s happened over the last 50 years to see how college costs have changed.

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  • 1969–1970

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,131 (2.3% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,354
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,426
    --- Board: $3,351

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,807 (2.5% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,259
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,861
    --- Board: $3,687

    While college costs in the 1960s were significantly less than they are today, groups like the National Student Financial Aid Council had already started to form to help students come up with tuition dollars. The three-year-old organization became the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in 1969. The organization has grown to more than 28,000 members today.

  • 1970–1971

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,282 (1.9% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,459
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,505
    --- Board: $3,318

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,205 (2.4% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,658
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,899
    --- Board: $3,648

    In February 1970, Harvard University increased its tuition costs two years in a row—a first for the then-320-year-old institution. The annual cost to attend the Ivy League university would go up $200 to $2,600 by the fall of 1971.

  • 1971–1972

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,471 (2.3% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,579
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,591
    --- Board: $3,300

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,599 (2.3% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $11,048
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,941
    --- Board: $3,610

    Scholastically talented youth had a new opportunity to earn some much-needed college tuition dollars in 1971, when the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test teamed up with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The test qualified about 15,000 high school seniors to compete for 3,000 scholarships of up to $1,500 a year for four years of tuition in the 1971–72 contest.

  • 1972–1973

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,004 (6.3% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,913
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,761
    --- Board: $3,330

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,918 (1.8% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $11,293
    --- Dormitory rooms: $3,053
    --- Board: $3,572

    President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments into law in 1972. It prohibits colleges and universities that receive federal funds from excluding students from education programs and activities based on sex, thus creating new opportunities for women in higher education.

    [Pictured: Senator Birch Bayh exercises with Title IX athletes at Purdue University, circa 1970s.]

  • 1973–1974

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,494 (5.7% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,733
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,573
    --- Board: $3,188

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,145 (4.3% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,880
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,847
    --- Board: $3,418

    Rising crime in big cities in the early 1970s started to create financial troubles at some urban universities. In 1973, New York University was forced to sell its Bronx campus to get out of debt.

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  • 1974–1975

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,889 (7.1% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,455
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,449
    --- Board: $2,985

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,309 (4.9% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,206
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,773
    --- Board: $3,329

    In 1974, the California state government provided the funds to cover 32% of its public university system. State funding took a mostly downhill trajectory in the years to come. By the 2017–18 academic year, less than 10% of the University of California’s revenues would come from state educational appropriations.

  • 1975–1976

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,962 (0.9% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,426
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,469
    --- Board: $3,067

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,414 (0.6% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,251
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,812
    --- Board: $3,350

    The City University of New York’s Open Admissions policy, which granted CUNY college admission to every high school graduate in New York City starting in the fall of 1970, had paid off with a more diverse pool of undergraduates. By 1975, only 30% of first-year CUNY students were white, compared with 78% in 1969.

    [Pictured: CUNY School of Medicine - Townsend Harris Hall.]

  • 1976–1977

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,181 (2.8% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,607
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,502
    --- Board: $3,072

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,813 (2.4% increase from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,713
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,754
    --- Board: $3,346

    The year 1976 brought a new opportunity for aspiring health professionals to get an education with the Health Professions Education Assistance Act. It increased scholarships and grants to medical students, some of which came with mandates that recipients work in a needy area for a period after graduation.

  • 1977–1978

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,073 (1.3% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,594
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,501
    --- Board: $2,979

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,797 (0.1% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,697
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,781
    --- Board: $3,319

    College admissions processes started to change at major universities in the mid-1970s. The year 1977 became a “critical date” for Harvard University when a “sex-blind admissions” process worked to make college acceptance more equitable for students of all genders. It previously had a student body with a ratio of just one woman to every four men.

  • 1978–1979

    - Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,769 (3.8% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $2,491
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,405
    --- Board: $2,873

    - Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
    - Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,697 (0.6% decrease from prior year)
    --- Tuition and fees: $10,714
    --- Dormitory rooms: $2,757
    --- Board: $3,225

    The University of Chicago appointed Hanna Gray to become its president in 1978. It was the first time a woman would lead a major university in the United States.

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