Why does college cost so much? Thinking about the price of higher education is enough to break you out into stress-induced hives. Student debt is at an all-time high, and if you’ve ever wondered how much tertiary education would have set you back the year you were born, you’re in for a surprise.

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According to Business Insider, college cost has more than doubled since the 1980s. This is partly due to several factors, including the fact more people are vying for a degree, there’s been an expansion in high interest financial aid, and there’s been a lack of state funding. A 2018 Student Loan Hero report found even though wages have increased by 67% since 1970, college tuition has increased at a faster rate.

24/7 Wall St reported that in 2018, private tuition cost an average of $48,510, while public tuition cost an average of $21,370; these sums include application fees, room, and board. Meanwhile, on average people are earning $53,697 per year, and about 35% of adults had a bachelor’s degree.

This increase feels pretty sudden, and if you’re curious to see how tuition has exponentially climbed over the years – and exactly how much college cost the year you were born – check out our timeline below.

1971: $1,410 Per Year

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This year brought on the advent of the digital age with the invention of the world’s first microprocessor by Intel, the 4004.

At this time, private tuition would have set you back $2,930. Adjusted with inflation, that’s about $18,140 in today’s terms. Public college cost about $1,410, which is $8,450 now. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $4,491, which is about $22,255 when you consider inflation. Only 11.4% of adults had bachelor degrees this year.

1972: $1,550 Per Year

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You could buy a pair of Wrangler jeans for $12 (bargain!) in 1972, but otherwise, it was a pretty tumultuous time.

From the Watergate scandal to the invention of the first handheld scientific calculator and the Munich Olympics Terrorist Attack, this year was intense.

Public tuition cost about $1,550, which is $9,320 in today’s terms. But if you were attending college, private tuition would’ve set you back $3,090. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $18,580, a slight increase from the previous year.  The average yearly income per person was $4,880, which is about $23,385 taking into account inflation. Roughly 12.0% of adults had bachelor degrees this year.

1973: $1,600 Per Year

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We’ve heard a lot about Roe v Wade in 2019, and it was in 1973 that the Supreme Court ruled on this landmark case regarding women’s reproductive rights.

Going to a public university cost about $1,600, which is $9,100 in today’s terms. This year, private tuition would set you back $3,220. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $18,320. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $5,383, or which is about $24,477 with adjusted inflation. About 12.6% of adults held a bachelor’s degree in 1973.

1974: $1,650 Per Year

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Inflation spiraled out of control across the world and reached 11.3% in the USA, which drastically affected the global recession. Yikes!

Recessions often take a heavy toll on college students, including graduates. Private tuition in 1974 would have set you back an average of $3,420. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,450. Public college cost about $1,650, which is $8,420 in today’s terms. The average yearly income per person was $5,852, which is about $24,101 taking inflation into account. About 13.3% of adults had bachelor degrees this year, an almost 1% jump since 1973.

1975: $1,780 Per Year

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Saturday Night Live made its debut on NBC in 1975, and the very first blockbuster movie, Jaws, had people lining up around the block.

Public college cost about $1,780, with inflation tallying up to $8,280. Private tuition would have set you back $3,680. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,110. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $6,340, which is about $24,102 with adjusted inflation. Just 13.9% of the adult population had bachelor degrees this year.

1976:$1,940 Per Year

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This is the year Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple, the $2 bill came to life, and the average house price hovered around $12,704.

Significant shifts started happening in the world, including a price hike for college. Private tuition would set you back $3,980. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,570. Tuition for public colleges and universities cost about $1,940, which is $8,560 in today’s terms. The average yearly income per person was $6,890 which is about $24,831 by today’s measures. In 1976, 14.7% of adults had bachelor degrees.

1977: $2,040 Per Year

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Remember the infamous New York City blackout?

Power was out for 25 hours and the result was looting, disorder, and chaos. Also, punk music became prominent, Elvis Presley died at the age of 42, and Star Wars opened in cinemas.

Private tuition on average jumped to $4,240. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,520. Public tuition cost about $2,040, which is $8,430 in today’s terms. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $7,532, which is about $25,486 today. Adults with bachelor degrees jumped up to 15.4%.

1978: $2,150 Per Year

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Everyone was feeling those “Summer Nights” with the release of Grease, and Garfield the Cat made his comic strip debut.

And college kept steadily increasing in cost. Public college cost about $2,150, which is $8,250 with today’s inflation. Private tuition would set you back $4,610, or about $17,680 in 2019. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $8,371, which is about $26,483 taking into account inflation. Adults with bachelor degrees went up .3% to 15.7%.

1979: $2,330 Per Year

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Technology started to get smaller around this time, and Sony released the Walkman, which was successful despite a steep $200 price tag.

Public college cost about $2,330, which is $8,030 today. Private college cost $5,010. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,270. In 1979, the average yearly income per person was $9,252, which is about $26,881 by modern measurement. About 16.4% of adults could truthfully say they had bachelor degrees this year.

1980: $2,550 Per Year

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The 80s finally arrived. Post-It Notes became a surprise sensation, fur hats and boas were in, and a pound of ground beef cost $1.39.

Public tuition cost about $2,550, which is $7,770 in today’s terms. Private tuition would set you back $5,590. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,030. At the beginning of the 80s, the average yearly income per person was $10,204, or about $26,765 taking into account inflation. Adults with bachelor degrees rose to 17%.

1981: $2,870 Per Year

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The world stopped for Lady Diana and Prince Charles’ royal wedding in 1981, Ronald Reagan became president, and MTV launched.

Going to a public school cost about $2,870, or $7,900 by 2019 standards. Private tuition would set you back $6,330. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $17,410. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $11,326, which is roughly $27,266 taking into account inflation. Only 17.1% of adults had bachelor degrees this year, just a slight increase since 1980.

1982: $3,200 Per Year

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Love Emojis? Well, 1982 was the year Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist, first suggested using emoticons as a way of expressing emotion with a face using symbols in an email: : -)

Public universities and colleges cost about $3,200, or $8,270 today. Private tuition would set you back $7,130. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $18,430. The average yearly income per person was $12,021, which is about $27,416 taking into account inflation. The amount of adults with bachelor degrees inched up to 17.7%.

1983: $3,430 Per Year

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Mario Bros. was first released as a Nintendo arcade game in Japan during July, and with a slight increase to per capita income, it came at a great time.

Attending public university averaged around $3,430, or $8,650 if adjusted for inflation. Private college cost about $7,760. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $19,580. The average yearly income per person jumped up a bit to $12,721 which is about $27,829 by modern standards. Adults with degrees also slowly continued to climb up to 18.8%.

1984: $3,680 Per Year

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Apple launched a few years prior to compete with Microsoft, and the first Apple Macintosh went on sale in 1984.

Public tuition clocked in around $3,680, or $8,910 in today’s terms. Attending a private college would set you back $8,450, or $20,460 when adjusted for inflation. The average yearly income per person was $13,929 which is about $29,362 taking into account inflation. Nearly 19.1% of adults had bachelor degrees this year.

1985: $3,860 Per Year

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Back To The Future was released, and WrestleMania made its debut.

Public universities’ prices continued to rise and cost around $3,860, or about $9,020 today. Going to a private university or college would set you back $8,900. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $20,810. On average, the yearly income per person was $14,779, which is roughly $30,104 when you take inflation into account. The percentage of adults with bachelor degrees rose to 19.4%.

1986: $4,050 Per Year

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With the digital age on the horizon, 1986 saw the invention of The Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP), which eventually paved the way for email.

Public tuition clocked in around $4,050, or $9,320 by 2019 standards. Private tuition would set you back $9,850. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $22,670. The average yearly income per capita was $15,510, roughly $30,920 when you account for inflation. The percentage of adults with bachelor degrees continued to hover at 19.4%.

1987: $4,200 Per Year

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The Simpsons aired for the first time as a cartoon short on The Tracey Ullman Show.

Public tuition continued to climb and reached $4,200 in 1986, which is $9,300 today. Private tuition would set you back $10,460— that’s nearly double what it cost in 1979. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $23,160. The average yearly income did not climb as fast and was only $16,313, or $31,548 for inflation adjustment. The amount of adults with degrees climbed to 19.9%.

1988: $4,460 Per Year

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The cost of living continued to increase and blockbusters became super popular. Rain Man, Die Hard, and A Fish Called Wanda all made a splash at the box office.

Going to a public college cost about $4,460 on average, or $9,480 if you are adjusting for inflation. Private tuition would set you back $11,660, which is roughly $24,800 today. On average, a person earned $17,479 per year, which translates to $32,532 in 2019. The percentage of adults with bachelor degrees reached 20.3%.

1989: $4,720 Per Year

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Where would we be without Microsoft Office?

In 1989, the year of the spreadsheet, Microsoft released word processors as well as database and presentation software.

The tuition for public universities averaged around $4,720. Adjusted for inflation, that is about $9,560. Private tuition would set you back $12,560, which is roughly $25,440 after inflation adjustments. Back then, the average yearly income per person was $18,698, or about $33,345 today. Just before the end of the 80s, 21.1% of adults could say they had bachelor degrees.

1990: $5,070 Per Year

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Enter the 90s! 1990 was all about that Milli Vanilli’s controversy, where the duo’s producer revealed that they were actually lip-synching their Grammy-winning songs.

Public tuition cost about $5,070, which is $9,800 today. If you wanted to go to a private school, tuition would set you back $13,480. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $26,050. The average yearly income per capita was $19,641, or $33,553 taking inflation into account. The amount of adults with bachelor degrees rose .2% from 1989 to 21.3%.

1991: $5,450 Per Year

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This is the year that technological advancements started gaining momentum, from the invention of the airbag to a genetically engineered blue rose, to Tim Berners-Lee introducing the first web browser.

Attending a public institution cost around $5,450, or $10,080 today. Private tuition would have set you back $14,190. Adjusted to today’s rate of inflation, that’s about $26,260. Working citizens had an average income of $20,056 per person, which is about $33,154 when considering inflation. The percentage of adults with bachelor degrees crept up .1% from 1990 to 21.4%.

1992: $5,830 Per Year

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This year, a shipping container filled with 28,000 rubber duckies was lost at sea. To this day, they’re still being found around the world.

Heading to a public school would set you back about $5,830, or $10,460 today. Private college cost averaged around $15,030, or $26,960 when adjusted for inflation. Folks were earning an average of $21,099, or $33,973 by today’s measurements. Adults with bachelor degrees remained stagnant from 1991 at 21.4%.

1993: $6,210 Per Year

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This year Oprah Winfrey interviewed Michael Jackson in what would become the most-watched interview in television history

And at this time public tuition cost about $6,210, which is $10,840 today. If you were at a private institution, the tuition would set you back $15,800. When adjusted for inflation, that is $27,570. Back then the average yearly income per person was $21,738, which is about $34,151 taking into account inflation. The percentage of adults who had bachelor degrees rose to 21.9%.

1994: $6,620 Per Year

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Many important things happened in 1994, one of which was the invention of the Wonderbra.

If you were attending a public college, tuition cost about $6,620, which is $11,240 in today’s terms. Private tuition would set you back $16,500, which is around $28,020 today. A working adult brought in an average income of $22,574, which is about $34,739 when you take inflation into account. Nearly 22.2% of adults had bachelor degrees in 1994.

1995: $6,740 Per Year

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Toy Story hit theaters in 1995, and it was the first entirely computer-generated film.

Tuition for both public and private universities continued to climb. Public colleges cost an average of $6,740, or $11,140 when adjusted for inflation. Private universities would set you back $17,380, which comes out to roughly $28,720 today. Average income was around $23,600, or $35,569 today. By 1995, 23% of adults had their bachelor degrees.

1996: $7,140 Per Year

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Do you remember the first clone?

Dolly the sheep was the first ever cloned animal and lived for seven years.

Public universities had an average cost of $7,140, or $11,460 when adjusting for inflation. For private school, that cost shot up to $18,360 or $29,470 a year by today’s standards. The average yearly income in 1996 was $24,762, or roughly $36,539 today. About 23.6% of adults had bachelor degrees by this year.

1997: $7,470 Per Year

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This year J. K. Rowling released the first book in her cultural juggernaut of a series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Going to a public college or university cost around $7,470 in 1996, or $11,730 by 2019 standards. Private tuition would set you back $19,360, or $30,400 when adjusted for inflation. The per capita average was $25,984, which shakes out to roughly $37,686 when you take inflation into account. About 23.9% of adults had bachelor degrees as of 1997.

1998: $7,770 Per Year

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CDs started to see the last vestiges of their heyday, as 1998 ushered in the era of MP3s.

A public college’s tuition averaged around $7,770 a year, or $12,000 when adjusted for inflation. Private universities continued to get even more expensive, with one year of tuition averaging at $20,460—that’s practically double of what it cost in 1987. When adjusted for inflation, private schools cost about $31,590 a year. The average income hovered around $27,545, or $39,635 today. By this year, 24.4% of adults had bachelor degrees.

1999: $8,080 Per Tear

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That pesky Y2K bug had the world more worried than excited for the new millennium parties with the threat of a wide-scale disruption that would send us back to the dark ages.

Going to a public university cost an average of $8,080, which is roughly $12,210 when adjusted for inflation. Private universities’ costs continued to grow, with one year of tuition averaging at $21,480, or $32,470 today. On average, Americans were making $28,647 a year, which is about $40,615 when considering inflation.

2000: $8,440 Per Year

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J-Lo inspired the creation of Google Images after wearing her iconic plunging Versace dress to the 2000 Grammy Awards.

At the beginning of the millennium, a public university cost an average of $8,440 a year, or $12,310 by 2019 standards. Private colleges would set you back $22,240, or a cool $32,430 today. The average income in 2000 was around $30,640, which is roughly $42,388 when adjusted for inflation. By 2000, 25.6% of adults had bachelor degrees.

2001: $9,030 Per Year

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2001 marked tragic events that forever changed the world, as the US launched its War on Terror after the 9/11 attacks.

Public tuition averaged around $9,030, which is $12,820 with inflation. Tuition for private universities was nearly $23,860, or $33,880 today. Working Americans brought in an average of $31,574 a year, which is roughly $42,856 with inflation. The percentage of adults with bachelor degrees increased to 26.2%.

2002: $9,670 Per Year

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As space exploration increased, the Mars Odyssey found signs of huge ice deposits on Mars, spurring today’s fascination with the possibility of a human colony on the Red Planet.

Costs for public universities kept climbing. One year of college cost around $9,670, or $13,530 when adjusted for inflation. Tuition for a private institution hovered around $24,870, or $34,800 today. Back then, the average income was $31,807, or $42,611 when adjusted for inflation. About 26.7% of adults had bachelor degrees in 2002.

2003: $10,530 Per Year

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It was this year that Apple launched iTunes, which was an instant success,  selling over one million songs in its first week.

Public college tuition cost about $10,530, or $14,430 today. If you went to a private university, that cost went up to $26,060, or $35,710 when adjusted for inflation. The average working citizen brought in $32,645 a year, or $42,901 today. By 2003, 27.2% of adults had their bachelor degree.

2004: $11,380 Per Year

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While the rest of the world didn’t know at the time, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room.

Going to a public college cost around $11,380 a year, or $15,140 when adjusted for inflation. Private college cost was around $27,470, which is a whopping $36,550 when adjusted for inflation. On average, working Americans brought home $34,219 a year, or $43,875 today. About 27.7% of adults had their undergraduate degrees.

2005: $12,120 Per Year

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Can you imagine life without YouTube rabbit holes at random points in the day? The video sharing website was launched in 2005.

Public college cost was about $12,120 per year, which is $15,630 when adjusted for inflation. Tuition for private institutions would set you back about $28,740, which is almost double what it cost in 1991. When adjusted for inflation, private universities cost about $37,070. Working adults earned roughly $35,806 per year, or $44,640 in today’s terms. The amount of adults with bachelor degrees stayed at 27.7%.

 

So there you have it! The cost of college has really has steadily increased throughout the years, becoming financially prohibitive to many. We just hope it comes to a halt soon.

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