College tuition has increased, with tuition and fees at four-year institutions rising from around $5,000 per year in 1980-81 to more than $16,000 per year in 2020-21, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Record inflation coupled with reduced government aid is forcing institutions to raise everything from tuition and room and board to meet costs. However, there are still a few ways for students to successfully manage rising prices.

Discount rate overview

Over the past decade, the cost of a college education has increased by about $500 a year, taking into account inflation.

Key statistics

  • The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2021-22 academic year at public four-year colleges was $10,740 for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students. the state.
  • The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 academic year at private, nonprofit four-year colleges was $38,070.
  • The average annual tuition inflation rate is 8%.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, tuition inflation has slowed to one of the lowest levels in three decades. In 2020-21, in-state student tuition prices at public four-year colleges increased 1.1%, while tuition prices at private four-year colleges increased 2.1%.
  • The cost of public universities in the United States has nearly tripled since 1980.
  • As a nation, the United States collectively owes approximately $1.75 trillion in student loan debt.
  • In the 2020-21 academic year, undergraduates took out an average of $6,470 in federal student loans.
  • College enrollment has steadily declined over the past decade. In spring 2022 alone, undergraduate enrollment fell 4.7% — or more than 600,000 students — from spring 2021.

College tuition inflation over the years

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1980-81 to 2020-21, the cost of attending a four-year college in the United States rose from $10,631 per year to $29,033 per year, which represents a 173% increase over the past 40 years. . This cost includes tuition and fees, as well as room and board, adjusted for inflation.

Although both public and private colleges have seen substantial cost increases over time, attending a public school is still much more affordable than attending a private school. On average, it costs undergraduates 54% less to attend a public four-year college than a private four-year school.

College Tuition Inflation by State

The cost of college education varies not only by the type of institution you attend (public or private), but also by state. For example, data from the College Board shows that over the past five years, tuition inflation has increased by 13% in North Dakota, while college tuition in Florida has decreased by 11%. .

The states with the highest tuition inflation over the past five years, as well as those where tuition has fallen the most over the years, are:

Average Tuition and Fees in the State Percentage change in in-state tuition and fees over five years
North Dakota $10,020 13.4%
Oregon $12,251 12.3%
Alaska $8,835 10.7%
Nevada $8,548 10.5%
Connecticut $14,549 10.3%
Kansas $9,363 -6.1%
Hawaii $10,999 -7.8%
Wisconsin $9,162 -8.4%
North Carolina $7,389 -8.4%
Florida $6,366 -10.6%

Source: College Council

College Tuition Inflation by School

Aside from the type of college and the state where the school is located, tuition inflation also varies by school. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in-state tuition and fees have only increased 3% over the past 10 years. In Syracuse, tuition and fees have increased by almost 50%.

Middle School Undergraduate Tuition and Fees 2012-13 Undergraduate Tuition and Fees 2021-22 Percent increase
Pepperdine University $42,772 $59,702 40%
Syracuse University $39,004 $57,591 48%
University of California, Berkeley $12,874 $14,226 11%
University of Kansas $8,888 $11,166 26%
The University of Wisconsin-Madison $10,378 $10,720 3%

Source: College Tuition Comparison

Why is college so expensive?

There are several reasons why college costs are rising, including high inflation and an overall increase in the cost of living. However, these are not the only contributing factors.

“One of the most striking reasons that many experts cite for why tuition inflation is higher than “average” inflation is that institutions are providing more and more amenities, modern housing, state-of-the-art facilities and staff to enhance the student experience,” says Derek Brainard, national director of financial education at AccessLex Institute.

However, Brainard admits that while more services and better amenities are the main drivers of college costs, they don’t tell the whole story either. For example, over the past decade enrollment in post-secondary institutions has been steadily falling. Fewer students combined with rising costs means higher cost per head.

Discount rate overview

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that undergraduate enrollment fell 9% between fall 2009 and fall 2020.

Another reason for rising costs is that colleges are still grossly underfunded. According to the College Board, although local and state funding per student has increased over the past eight years, it is still lower than it was between 2007 and 2008.

Finally, there is demand. Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, explains that part of the reason college is considerably more expensive is that in the 1980s demand for a college education soared. skyrocketing to levels never seen before. This gave colleges the ability to charge more simply because people were willing to pay for it, setting a precedent for years to come.

“Colleges can charge whatever the market can bear, and they do,” Carnevale says. “There is no control over costs. The American higher education system is a bit like a huge computer without an operating system.

How to deal with rising college costs

Although rising college prices are beyond our control and will likely continue to rise over time, there are several things you can do to make your education more affordable.

Carnevale’s #1 tip is to check out what your local community college has to offer. “There are now 27 states where community colleges can grant bachelor’s degrees,” Carnevale says. “I would check community colleges first for two reasons. First, you can usually live at home, which can cut costs by the thousands; two, the tuition fees are much cheaper.

Another way to keep costs down is to attend a public school, as resident students usually get a reduced fee, at least at public institutions.

Finally, Carnevale says to shop around. It says to look at more than the colleges list price; Also check how much aid and discounts students receive on average, as well as the average return on investment for that particular program. You can get this information by visiting the Department of Education’s College Scorecard website.


What is college tuition inflation?

Tuition inflation is the rate at which the cost of a college education fluctuates from previous years. This rate is usually expressed as a percentage and is influenced by factors such as demand, cost of living, and the value of a degree.

How much does it cost to go to college?

According to the College Board’s latest report, students across the state in four-year public colleges pay an average of $27,330 per year, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, transportation and other expenses. Foreign students pay an average of $44,150, while private four-year college students pay an average of $55,800.

However, these costs are estimates only. You may end up paying more or less depending on which school you attend and where it is located, in addition to the amount of financial aid you qualify for.

Why is college important?

Although a college education can be difficult, a college education is still the best way to get a high-paying job. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree holders earn about 65% more per week than workers with only a high school diploma.

Employers are also keen to hire workers with college degrees. “Our projections indicate that in 2031, 40% of jobs will go to people with a bachelor’s degree or above, 30% will go to people who have less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma, then you’ll have 30 percent of the jobs going to high school graduates,” Carnevale says. “But the bigger point is that 75 percent of the jobs going to BA graduates or higher will be good jobs.”

How do you pay for college?

The first step to making your college education more affordable is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. This will give you access to different types of aid, including scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans.

Then apply for scholarships. Bursaries are a form of grant aid, which means you don’t have to pay them back. You can find scholarships from local organizations and associations or by looking at scholarship search websites, such as Chegg and Unigo.

Once you are done with your search for gift aid, you can turn to private student loans. These are generally less beneficial than federal student loans, as private loans do not offer the same breadth of repayment plans and can be more expensive in the long run. A student loan calculator can help you work out the numbers to see how much you’ll pay.

Finally, if you work, find out if your employer offers some kind of tuition assistance. This can take the form of a refund or student loan repayment assistance once you graduate. It’s as simple as calling your HR department and asking.