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How college costs have changed in the last 50 years

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debra millet // Shutterstock

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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Wikimedia Commons

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.

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f11photo // Shutterstock

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.

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David Stroble // Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Birch Bayh Senate Office // Wikimedia Commons

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.]

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Detroit Publishing Company // Wikimeida Commons

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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Orange County Archives // Flickr

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.

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Ajay Suresh // Wikimedia Commons

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.]

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pixnio

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.

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Tim Sackton // Flickr

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.

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Jimiwo // Wikimedia Commons

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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Wikimedia Commons

1979–1980

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,439 (4.2% decrease from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,357
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,318
--- Board: $2,764

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,021 (4% decrease from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $10,308
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,655
--- Board: $3,058

After many failed attempts to establish a Department of Education, efforts finally paid off in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law a bill that would establish a Cabinet-level department focused on students and learning. Forty years later, its budget included funds to help approximately 11.5 million students pay for college.

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Matti Blume // Wikimedia Commons

1980–1981

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,305 (1.8% decrease from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,302
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,323
--- Board: $2,680

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,022 (0% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $10,360
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,637
--- Board: $3,025

The first-ever Black College Day drew 18,000 students to Washington D.C. in 1980. The event would shine a national spotlight on black colleges and universities.

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Internet Archive Book Images // Wikimedia Commons

1981–1982

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $7,569 (3.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,398
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,440
--- Board: $2,731

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,689 (4.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $10,845
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,738
--- Board: $3,106

The 1981–82 academic year marked a turning point when women earned more bachelor’s degrees than their male counterparts. They’ve outpaced the guys in earning bachelor’s degrees every year since then.

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Smith College Archives // Wiki

1982–1983

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,080 (6.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,607
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,605
--- Board: $2,868

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $18,015 (7.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $11,727
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,987
--- Board: $3,301

In the early 1980s, scholars were analyzing exactly who was attending college. In 1982, they defined “first-generation college students” as those whose mothers and fathers had no post-secondary education experience.

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U.S. Department of Education // Wikimedia Commons

1983–1984

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,369 (3.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,798
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,705
--- Board: $2,866

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $18,916 (5% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $12,416
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,118
--- Board: $3,382

“A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform,” a 1983 report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned that the American education system was failing its students. It recommended that four-year colleges adopt more rigorous admissions standards.

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Paul Hamilton // Flickr

1984–1985

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,637 (3.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $2,881
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,854
--- Board: $2,902

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $19,825 (4.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $13,034
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,345
--- Board: $3,446

In a landmark case in 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the private Grove City College must follow anti-discriminatory laws because its students receive federal aid for tuition. Rather than choosing to end its unfair practices, the college opted to sever ties with federal financial aid programs.

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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

1985–1986

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $8,798 (1.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,004
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,880
--- Board: $2,914

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $21,042 (6.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $13,956
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,550
--- Board: $3,536

In his first press conference after becoming secretary of education in 1985, William J. Bennett announced his support of President Reagan’s plan to slash federal spending on financial aid for students. He suggested that students who lost aid would need to consider "a stereo divestiture, an automobile divestiture, or a three-weeks-at-the-beach divestiture."

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GoodFreePhotos

1986–1987

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,230 (4.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,153
--- Dormitory rooms: $2,950
--- Board: $3,126

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $22,395 (6.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $14,853
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,733
--- Board: $3,809

The Michigan Education Trust was born in 1986. It allowed families in Michigan to prepay for their children’s future college tuition at the current price of the state’s public universities.

[Pictured: University of Michigan Union on Central Campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.]

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Matt H. Wade // Wikimedia Commons

1987–1988

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,431 (2.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,293
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,019
--- Board: $3,119

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $22,831 (1.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $15,242
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,770
--- Board: $3,819

The value of standardized tests like the SAT started to come under scrutiny around this time. Middlebury College in Vermont and New York’s Union College announced in 1987 that they would no longer require prospective students to take the SATs as part of their admissions processes.

[Pictured: Union College.]

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White House Photo Office // Wikimedia Commons

1988–1989

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,578 (1.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,370
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,063
--- Board: $3,145

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $23,492 (2.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $15,809
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,815
--- Board: $3,868

Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act in 1988. It expanded Title IX to include all programs at colleges, universities, and other educational institutions that accept federal funds, preventing discrimination based on sex.

[Pictured: President Ronald Reagan signs the bill commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday.]

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CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP // Getty Image

1989–1990

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,722 (1.5% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,478
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,043
--- Board: $3,202

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $24,005 (2.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $16,408
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,781
--- Board: $3,816

Chinese university students made international headlines with their 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. After months of demonstrations, Chinese troops shot at the protestors, reportedly killing at least 10,000 people, on June 4–5, 1989.

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PublicDomainFiles

1990–1991

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $9,714 (0.1% decrease from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,498
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,069
--- Board: $3,146

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $24,526 (2.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $16,828
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,849
--- Board: $3,849

The federal government introduced new protections for people with disabilities with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It re quired that public and private colleges increase their accessibility and provide equal access to classes and other educational offerings.

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SD Dirk // Flickr

1991–1992

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $10,221 (5.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $3,800
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,204
--- Board: $3,217

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $25,597 (4.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $17,521
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,023
--- Board: $4,052

The National Collegiate Athletic Association cut sports scholarships by about 10% in early 1991. It also reduced coaching staffs and the time student-athletes had for sports.

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Joe Ravi // Wikimedia Commons

1992–1993

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $10,480 (2.5% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,090
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,162
--- Board: $3,228

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $26,130 (2.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $17,920
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,112
--- Board: $4,098

In the 1992 case United States v. Fordice, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Mississippi’s public universities failed to sufficiently desegregate. It ordered them to re-examine current policies and practices to ensure racial neutrality.

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Pxhere

1993–1994

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $10,801 (3.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,305
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,282
--- Board: $3,215

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $26,988 (3.3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $18,586
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,253
--- Board: $4,149

Colleges were exempt from the Federal Age Discrimination Act until Dec. 31, 1993. After that date, they could no longer use age as a reason to involuntarily retire professors.

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f11photo // Shutterstock

1994–1995

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $11,004 (1.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,422
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,337
--- Board: $3,245

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $27,388 (1.5% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $18,940
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,291
--- Board: $4,157

Judith Rodin became the first woman to permanently head up an Ivy League school when she was named president of the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Eleven years later, she would become president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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COD Newsroom // Flickr

1995–1996

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $11,264 (2.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,573
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,406
--- Board: $3,285

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $28,284 (3.3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $19,662
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,418
--- Board: $4,203

Economist Thomas Kane published a paper on “Rising Public College Tuition and College Entry: How Well Do Public Subsidies Promote Access to College?” in July 1995. It found that tuition hikes widen college enrollment rates between wealthy students and their lower-income counterparts and suggested that financial aid based on need be evaluated as a potential solution.

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Daderot // Wikicommons

1996–1997

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $11,452 (1.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,664
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,457
--- Board: $3,331

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $28,797 (1.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $20,113
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,511
--- Board: $4,172

A 1996 ruling from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. Texas prevented the University of Texas School of Law from continuing to consider race as a criterion when making admissions decisions. It was considered a blow to affirmative action programs.

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Bumble Dee // Shutterstock

1997–1998

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $11,772 (2.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,770
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,529
--- Board: $3,472

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $29,255 (1.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $20,471
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,547
--- Board: $4,236

In 1997 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization adopted a formal set of recommendations that suggest standards for educators at post-secondary institutions across the world. It emphasized the importance of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, among other values.

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JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP //Getty Images

1998–1999

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $12,104 (2.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,869
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,633
--- Board: $3,603

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $30,053 (2.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $21,071
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,661
--- Board: $4,320

On Oct. 7, 1998, President Bill Clinton extended the Higher Education Act. College students saw the interest rates on their student loans drop from 8.25% to 7.46%, saving them $11 billion over the next five years.

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12019 // Wikimedia Commons

1999–2000

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $12,127 (0.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,908
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,692
--- Board: $3,527

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $30,393 (1.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $21,422
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,751
--- Board: $4,220

Kiplinger’s released its first ranking of private colleges by value in 1999. The business forecaster has since turned the ranking into an annual tradition.

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Tomwsulcer // Wikimedia Commons

2000–2001

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $12,263 (1.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $4,961
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,761
--- Board: $3,541

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $30,973 (1.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $21,923
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,807
--- Board: $4,242

The year 2000 once again brought the merits of SAT scores under scrutiny at universities across the nation. That year, the University of Massachusetts began downplaying SAT results and Mount Holyoke College stopped requiring scores from the test as part of its admissions process.

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Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

2001–2002

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $12,805 (4.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $5,201
--- Dormitory rooms: $3,922
--- Board: $3,682

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $31,882 (2.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $22,573
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,980
--- Board: $4,329

Ruth J. Simmons became Brown University’s 18th president in 2001. It was the first time in history that a Black woman would be the leader of an Ivy League school.

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Chris Greenberg/White House // Getty Images

2002–2003

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $13,336 (4.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $5,513
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,127
--- Board: $3,696

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $32,411 (1.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $22,926
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,129
--- Board: $4,356

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed an appropriations bill that increased federal aid available to students to a record $69 billion. The Pell Grant program surpassed $10 billion in funding that year.

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Ken Lund // Flickr

2003–2004

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $14,233 (6.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $6,115
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,283
--- Board: $3,834

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $33,427 (3.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $23,685
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,270
--- Board: $4,472

A 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Gratz v. Bollinger found that the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy for its admissions program was unconstitutional. The ruling established stricter standards for use of race in college admissions.

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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

2004–2005

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $14,789 (3.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $6,506
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,425
--- Board: $3,858

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $33,991 (1.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $24,081
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,401
--- Board: $4,509

Homeownership rates of people under 35 years old peaked in 2004, with over 43% owning their own residence. It has since dropped by almost 19%, which Sen. Bernie Sanders blames on the rise of student debt.

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FEMA/Mark Wolfe // Wikimedia Commons

2005–2006

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $15,098 (2.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $6,672
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,569
--- Board: $3,857

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $34,082 (0.3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $24,055
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,491
--- Board: $4,535

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the Southern U.S., causing around $1.4 billion in losses at 27 colleges in 2005. An estimated 100,000 students faced emergency semester-long closures at their campuses.

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TIM SLOAN/AFP // Getty Images

2006–2007

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $15,557 (3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $6,887
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,714
--- Board: $3,956

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $35,151 (3.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $24,938
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,607
--- Board: $4,607

In 2006, the Pension Protection Act was signed into law. The bill made the tax exemption on withdrawals from 529 plans—which are used to save for college—permanent.

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W Edward Callis III // Wikimedia Commons

2007–2008

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $15,739 (1.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $6,966
--- Dormitory rooms: $4,784
--- Board: $3,990

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $35,426 (0.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $25,113
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,635
--- Board: $4,678

North Carolina’s 2007 General Assembly established the Child Welfare Postsecondary Support Program. Also known as NC Reach, the program covers college tuition and fees for North Carolina students who were once in foster care.

[Pictured: The North Carolina State Legislative Office Building.]

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Punctured Bicycle // Wikimedia Commons

2008–2009

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $16,428 (4.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $7,296
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,006
--- Board: $4,126

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $36,102 (1.9% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $25,476
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,816
--- Board: $4,810

The financial crisis of 2008 impacted enrollment in post-secondary institutions across the U.S. Data shows that while public institutions saw greater numbers of students during the recession, private and for-profit colleges didn’t necessarily benefit in the same way.

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Amanda Lucidon // Official White House Photo

2009–2010

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,214 (4.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $7,689
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,225
--- Board: $4,299

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $36,459 (1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $25,495
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,009
--- Board: $4,956

Barack Obama began his first year in office as President of the United States. Under the guidance of his administration, the Department of Education created an income-based repayment plan to offer people more flexibility in repaying their student debt.

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Pete Souza // Official White House Photo

2010–2011

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $17,866 (3.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $8,004
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,423
--- Board: $4,440

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $36,494 (0.1% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $25,451
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,071
--- Board: $4,972

The government restructured the federal student loan and financial aid program in 2010. It ended the practice of commercial banks offering federal student loans and made a $2 billion investment in community colleges.

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Amanda Lucidon // Official White House Photo

2011–2012

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $18,303 (2.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $8,410
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,486
--- Board: $4,407

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $36,720 (0.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $25,584
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,136
--- Board: $5,001

The year 2011 brought along changes to the Pell Grant program. While it raised the maximum Pell award to an all-time high of $5,500, it also reduced the amount of times students can receive the grant.

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Pete Souza // Official White House Photo

2012–2013

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $18,742 (2.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $8,655
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,621
--- Board: $4,465

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $37,614 (2.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $26,301
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,260
--- Board: $5,054

The year 2012 ushered in staggering rates of student debt throughout the nation. On April 25, it surpassed $1 trillion for the first time.

[Pictured: President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students and parents during a roundtable discussion on affordable higher education at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.]

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Chuck Kennedy // Official White House Photo

2013–2014

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $19,113 (2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $8,777
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,786
--- Board: $4,550

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $38,649 (2.8% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $27,147
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,364
--- Board: $5,139

Millions of students were slammed with higher student loan rates in 2013. Congress failed to prevent an automatic rate hike, which ended up doubling the interest on student loans to 6.8%.

[Pictured: President Barack Obama, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, delivers a statement on college affordability and interest rates on student loans, in the East Room of the White House.]

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Damir Khabirov // Shutterstock

2014–2015

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $19,533 (2.2% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $8,957
--- Dormitory rooms: $5,951
--- Board: $4,625

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $39,825 (3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $28,032
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,530
--- Board: $5,264

The Department of Education renegotiated its federal student loan servicing contracts in 2014. It offered student loan servicers greater incentives for providing better customer service to borrowers and keeping them current on payments.

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NCinDC // Flickr

2015–2016

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $19,998 (2.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $9,141
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,092
--- Board: $4,765

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $41,168 (3.4% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $29,097
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,732
--- Board: $5,340

A 2015 Brookings Institution report looked at how the characteristics of the institutions borrowers attended affected their ability to repay their student loans. It found that increases in defaults on student debt may have been driven by an influx of people attending for-profit colleges.

[Pictured: The Brookings Institution, located in Washington D.C.]

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fizkes // Shutterstock

2016–2017

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $19,928 (0.4% decrease from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $9,003
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,153
--- Board: $4,772

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $42,400 (3% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $30,140
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,868
--- Board: $5,392

Student loan borrowers who were victims of fraud by the schools they attended began to see relief in 2016. The Department of Education announced that students may have some or all of their loans discharged if their school engaged in substantial misrepresentation.

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US Federal Government // Wikimedia Commons

2017–2018

- Public 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $20,050 (0.6% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $9,037
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,227
--- Board: $4,786

- Private 4-year colleges (inflation adjusted)
- Total tuition, fees, room, and board: $43,139 (1.7% increase from prior year)
--- Tuition and fees: $30,731
--- Dormitory rooms: $6,967
--- Board: $5,441

The year 2017 brought along changes that made it easier to file Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which students use to get financial help for college tuition. The FAFSA improvements increased the number of requests for federal financial aid.

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