College tuition through the years



Imagine buying approximately 25 cookout trays every day for a whole year. Or staying at Disney World for 394 days straight. Picture yourself going to Walmart and buying 111,785 pounds of bananas. With the money spent at a private university in today’s society for only one year these wildest dreams could come true. These facts would have been different, however, at the beginning of a timeline of college tuition fees.

Around 1100 the first universities were established in medieval Europe. Most of these universities were supported by the government or the church so tuition was free. The downside to this benefit, however, was the lack of fields to choose from, and the sacrifice of time that students had to make. Think 8 a.m. classes are rough? Try having to be in class at 5 a.m., and instead of the monotonous four years it takes in modern times to complete a bachelor’s degree, six years were required. Obtaining a higher degree added 12 more years to the academic journey.

In the early 1800s, living conditions at colleges and universities were not as good as they are in most places today, which allowed the tuition fees to be little to nothing. In spite of this fact, only wealthy families could afford to send their children to school. This was because of cost of living: books, clothing and room and board. Another factor keeping young men from continuing their education at a higher level was the fact that the men needed jobs to provide for their families. Money came before education.

In the 1870s, a time filled with innovation and invention, tuition at Harvard only cost $150 per year which is about $6,000 in today’s dollars. Brown University was just half this cost. These ivy league schools now cost between $71,000 and $76,000 per year. These low prices did not last long, however.

In 1900 the Association of American Universities was established to “Advance society through education, research and discovery” according to the website of the organization. Part of the association were prestigious schools like Yale, Cornell, John Hopkins and Harvard. Tuition began to rise after AAU was established and it kept rising over the next couple of decades.

Between 1920 and 1930, college admissions doubled. At this time, 20 percent of college-aged Americans were enrolled in a college or university spending about $250 per year on tuition fees. But not to worry – in 1965 the Higher Education Act was passed which helped provide financial assistance for those who wished to attend college but lacked the funds on their own. This act helped to establish some of the financial aid programs that are still around today.

In the 1970s the cost of college started increasing faster than the rate of inflation. By this time room and board by itself was $1,960 on average. In spite of the price increase, since 1971, annual college enrollment has more than doubled in the U.S. to 19.5 million, according to

The 1990s proved to be a difficult season for college students. Tuition skyrocketed which forced the government to fall behind on providing financial aid. The number of students taking out

loans increased by 20 percent during this time. This caused young people of this generation to push their marriages and childbearing to the back seat.

As America entered the 2000s, tuition continued to rise. In 2007, George Washington University became the first to exceed $50,000 per year. Now, the average cost of a private school is $46,950 a year for tuition and room and board.

Ray Franke, an education professor at the University of Massachusetts said "If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation. That's brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”

Why does tuition go up? The competition between universities is high. Colleges and universities are seeking the best, the brightest and the most financially stable prospect students. To keep ahead, they have to offer more than other schools. They compete to offer the best amenities to win applicants over, like swimming pools, rock climbing walls and other assets that will draw prospect student’s attention. As these facilities and amenities grow nicer, however, the prices for students go higher.

The amenities aren’t all of the cost. Most of what student’s money goes to is routine educational operations like paying faculty. The cost of this is an average of $23,000 per student per year. This is more than twice what other countries like Sweden, Finland and Germany require.

The cost of college is also a result of political and economic changes. Over the past three decades, state legislators have spent less and less per student on higher education.

Rolland Nall, faculty member in the financial aid department at North Greenville University explained a little bit about where student’s tuition money goes at NGU. He explained that it goes to a lot of things. Maintaining buildings, creating new facilities, providing salaries for the staff and covering other various expenses.

The cost tuition isn’t consistent, however. Nall shared that it typically increases about 5 percent a year. “As there is an increase in the expenses the University has to pay there’s also going to be an increase in the tuition students have to pay” he said.

Thankfully for students, when tuition rises, room and board scholarships rise as well, but not all scholarships go up when the yearly fee increases. “It mainly depends on the scholarship” said Nall.