Average Cost of College Has Jumped an Incredible 3,009% in 50 Years

Public college tuition is now 31x higher than it was in 1969.
  • College entrance scams have rocked education and the entertainment world recently.
  • But the admissions scandal pales in comparison to the soaring cost of college in 2019.
  • Both in current dollars at the time and adjusted for inflation, the cost of college has skyrocketed, along with student debt.

Colleges have gotten caught up in the news lately, and not for anything good. Last week, the Department of Justice charged dozens of people in a college entrance scam. What’s been dubbed Operation Varsity Blues involves coaches, exam administrators, students and their parents in an approximately $25 million scandal. The kicker: The parents are well-known celebrities and CEOs, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Related: The Cost of College Tuition Now Includes Fraud Charges for These Celebrity Parents

But there are other less sensational ways colleges and universities in the U.S. are proving costly. Perhaps the simplest way to observe it is in the current cost to go to college compared with the past. Both in terms of current dollars at the time and adjusted for inflation, the cost of college in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last 50 years. Find out how much college used to cost and how much it costs today.

From Elementary to College: Average Cost of Education in Every State

Today’s Average College Tuition Is 31x More Than It Was in 1969

From 1969 to 2019, the average annual cost of a four-year public school has soared 3,009 percent. The average annual cost of a four-year private school has jumped 2,310 percent. Today, the average American needs to earn about $22,000 more than the current median income to afford college.

See: The Average American Needs $22,000 More to Afford College in Their State

Back in 1968-1969, the cost of a four-year public school was $329, according to National Center for Education Statistics data and based on averaging tuition and fees at four-year universities and other four-year colleges. Nowadays, according to The College Board, a public four-year school costs $10,230 in tuition and fees.

Private schools also saw a large surge in tuition prices, but not as much as public schools. In 1968-1969, the cost of a four-year private school was $1,487, growing to $35,830 by 2018-2019.

When you adjust these dollar figures for inflation, the change is smaller, but still unsettling. For instance, $329 for a public four-year school in 1969 adjusted for inflation is $2,323. That works out to an increase of 340 percent from 1969 to 2019 with inflation included, or nearly three and a half times the cost in the past.

For private schools, the inflation-adjusted price of tuition and fees was $10,499. With a current cost of tuition and fees at $35,830, that works out to an increase of 241 percent.

Consider: These Are the Best Colleges You Can Attend for Under $20K a Year

Take a look at the average cost of four-year public and private colleges since 1969:

Average Cost of Four-Year College
Academic YearFour-Year, PublicFour-Year, Private
1968-1969$329$1,487
1969-1970$367$1,639
1970-1971$405$1,792
1971-1972$430$1,830
1972-1973$500$1,950
1973-1974$510$2,050
1974-1975$510$2,130
1975-1976$540$2,290
1976-1977$620$2,530
1977-1978$660$2,700
1978-1979$690$2,960
1979-1980$740$3,230
1980-1981$800$3,620
1981-1982$910$4,110
1982-1983$1,030$4,640
1983-1984$1,150$5,090
1984-1985$1,230$5,560
1985-1986$1,320$6,120
1986-1987$1,410$6,660
1987-1988$1,490$7,050
1988-1989$1,580$8,000
1989-1990$1,700$8,660
1990-1991$1,910$9,340
1991-1992$2,110$9,810
1992-1993$2,330$10,450
1993-1994$2,540$11,010
1994-1995$2,710$11,720
1995-1996$2,810$12,220
1996-1997$2,980$12,990
1997-1998$3,110$13,790
1998-1999$3,250$14,710
1999-2000$3,360$15,520
2000-2001$3,510$16,070
2001-2002$3,770$17,380
2002-2003$4,100$18,060
2003-2004$4,650$18,950
2004-2005$5,130$20,050
2005-2006$5,490$20,980
2006-2007$5,800$22,310
2007-2008$6,190$23,420
2008-2009$6,600$24,820
2009-2010$7,070$25,740
2010-2011$7,630$26,770
2011-2012$8,280$27,880
2012-2013$8,650$28,990
2013-2014$8,890$30,130
2014-2015$9,150$31,280
2015-2016$9,430$32,340
2016-2017$9,670$33,500
2017-2018$9,980$34,700
2018-2019$10,230$35,830
Source: National Center for Education Statistics and The College Board

The Effect of Climbing College Costs: New Report Shows Millennial Student Loan Debt Has Grown to More Than $1 Trillion

Rising Cost of College Tuition Has Resulted in More than $1 Trillion in Millennial Student Loan Debt

The effects of this rise in college tuition cost is the proliferation of student loans — and far worse, student loan debt. In fact, student loan debt, according to the New York Federal Reserve, has reached a record new high of $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, up from $1.44 trillion. Student loan debt has more than doubled in a decade.

Find out the average student loan debt in every state.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the cost of college in 1968-1969 versus 2018-2019 using data sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and The College Board. The cost increase was calculated in terms of current dollars at the time as well as inflation-adjusted dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index calculator. To calculate average college costs in 1968-1969, figures from the NCES for in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions, including (1) universities and (2) other four-year institutions, were averaged to attain overall figures for in-state costs at four-year public colleges. The same was done to calculate the average tuition and fees for private institutions as well. Some figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.