Average College Tuition (and Fees) Increased by 1200% since 1980

The Rising Cost of College in America

The average cost of getting a college degree has soared relative to overall inflation over the last few decades.

Since 1980, college tuition and fees are up 1,200%, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all items has risen by only 236%.

The Average Cost of College Over Time

Back in 1980, it cost $1,856 to attend a degree-granting public school in the U.S., and $10,227 to attend a private school after adjusting for inflation.

Since then, the figures have skyrocketed. Here’s how college tuition and the CPI have both changed since 1980:

YearAvg. Undergrad Tuition and Fees (Public)Avg. Undergrad Tuition and Fees (Private)CPI % Change (College Tuition and Fees)
CPI % Change (All Items)1980$1,856$10,2270%0%1990$2,750$16,590150.2%63.5%2000$3,706$21,698382.5%117%2010$5,814$25,250828.6%178.8%2020$9,403$34,0591198.9%231.82%

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. News
Note: Tuition and fees are in constant 2018-19 dollars. For public schools, in-state tuition and fees are used. All CPI % change values calculated for the month of January.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest year-over-year change in college tuition and fees was recorded in June 1982 at 14.2%— and over that same time period, overall inflation was up 6.6%.

On the other hand, November 2020 saw the lowest year-over-year change in the average cost of college at 0.6%, mainly as a result of the shift to online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, some schools are offering discounts to students, and some are even canceling scheduled tuition increases entirely in a bid to remain attractive.

Why is the Cost of College Rising?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons behind the rapid surge in the cost of education, a few factors could help explain why U.S. colleges hike their prices.

  • Decrease in State Funding
    State funding per student fell from $8,800 (2007-08) to $8,200 (2018-19), while the share of tuition in college revenues increased.
  • Increase in Demand
    The demand for a college education has increased over time. Between 2000-2018, undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 26%.
  • Increase in Federal Aid
    According to a study from the New York Fed, every $1 in subsidized federal student loans increases college tuition by $0.60. Student loan debt has doubled since the 2008 recession.

Furthermore, the costs of providing education, known as institutional expenditures, have also escalated over time. These include spending on instruction, student services, administrative support, operations, and maintenance—all of which are critical to the student experience.

With student debt at unprecedented levels and ongoing public debates surrounding the rising costs of education, it’s uncertain how college tuition will evolve. However, given the onset of virtual cl

What do you think?

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4 months ago

Thanks to the internet and self-publishing, college has been obsolete for over a decade now.

4 months ago

Even if it were free its waste of time.  

4 months ago

When the government is paying for it, costs are only going up.

4 months ago

State funding for colleges has decreased more than they indicate. Much of that funding now goes goes to early childhood education and other to inner city concerns. 

4 months ago

Colleges are the epicenter for wealth redistribution.

4 months ago

It is now twice the cost to attend the same in-state school that I did almost 25 years ago. Twice if not more if you are out of state.
Today I would graduate at 5 years and essentially at or around $100K in debt.

4 months ago

The gov made this problem with taxpayer loans/aid and BK laws.
Get rid of both….that cost goes down 80%.

4 months ago

To put all the idiots through college and expect them to become smart is like putting midgets through basketball training and expect them to become tall. 

4 months ago

Increasing cost, declining value, demographic decline, peak leftard. Hard to imagine what comes next…

Law N Order
4 months ago

We all know the increase was NOT due to a higher quality education….

4 months ago

The market is telling people we have enough college graduates. It is saying go learn a trade and don’t go to college. People who don’t adjust deserve to starve. 

4 months ago

before we give away billions in student loan forgiveness there should be a thorough investigation of the politics involved in allowing these tuition hikes by “tax exempt” institutions. In the end tax payers are entitled to know where their tax dollars are going, and its effects on family savings, income, formation- population declines in general because these think tanks have gotten too fat on the shoulders of the middle class- with far to little to show for it. And everyone feels this is true- so lets just get it all out on the table.

Terrible Fed
4 months ago

Pay $100k and learn:
– how to feel bad about yourself because you are an oppressor (if you are white or asian)
– how to feel bad about yourself because you are oppressed (for everyone else)

4 months ago

At the same time that most college degrees are increasingly worthless.

Call Me Them
4 months ago

My grad State school total annual tuition/room and board/fees cost in 1991 was about $8,750 (which itself was an 85% increase over 1986).
Today that cost is over $33,000.
But no, there’s no inflation…

4 months ago

Since 1980 US colleges have been used as a tool for a backdoor invasion, most are selling a US VISA 

4 months ago

Thank the federal student loan program for destroying price discovery and creating legions of screeching liberal administrators with purple hair.

Me Too
4 months ago

If you have a heart beat you can get unlimited loans. Lenders know the govt will eventually intervene and payoff loans

4 months ago

Whites are racist if they pull their children out of expensive left wing social ethics indoctrination which promotes whites as racist. 

4 months ago

Higher ed is creating nonsensical degrees just to lure in naive students brainwashed by today’s social media propaganda. They are spending thousands of dollars on worthless degrees in things like social justice and gender studies.

4 months ago

The extra money certainly isn’t going to the professors and into better instructional facilities. This is why the value of today’s college degrees are essentially zero.

4 months ago

“According to a study from the New York Fed, every $1 in subsidized federal student loans increases college tuition by $0.60. Student loan debt has doubled since the 2008 recession.”

THIS is where colleges are making a killing. More and more students are going to college because of easy access to federal loans, even for private universities. Tuitions go up and they are looking for some way to spend the extra dough.

4 months ago

Is this the same inflation calculator that just happens to ignore prices on food and housing, the two most essential elements people pay for, and instead focuses on at prices of smartphones and dishwashers?

4 months ago

“Furthermore, the costs of providing education, known as institutional expenditures, have also escalated over time. These include spending on instruction, student services, administrative support, operations, and maintenance—all of which are critical to the student experience.”

This is actually BS. The amount of administrative bloat within colleges and universities today is massive. Higher ed has created numerous fictious “administrative support” positions that provide ZERO value to a student’s education … but they have to pay for them anyway.

Mr Random
4 months ago

Administrative overhead, state of the art athletic facilities, luxury dorms, diversity deans and tons of “counselors” for whatever issue you can come up with, a 5-person purchasing hierarchy for $50 invoices, preferred vendors, etc. 

That's the Way
4 months ago

Those six figure diversity & inclusion administrator salaries don’t just pay themselves!

4 months ago

College Tuition:
Funding for the University Administrators’ pension liabilities with no educational value.




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