Since 1978, college tuition has increased 1,120%.

Growth in tuition and fees.

Growth in student debt.


Charting The Insanely High (And Rapidly Rising) Cost Of College

Students are being saddled with enormous amounts of debt just to get a degree, and how much it costs is going way up. This infographic shows just how much.

One of the cornerstones of the American dream is that a first-rate education be available to anyone who seeks it out. But in 2013, what is a first-rate education worth, and how much does it cost?

Since 1978, the cost of attending college in America has increased 1,120 percent. And as you can see in this infrographic the financial model for higher education looks broken, as tuition costs are rising faster than inflation. This infographic breaks down the small fortunes that students are investing in their academic lives—implicitly asking why it has to be this way, and explicitly advising future students on how to minimize their debt.

The graphic comes on the heels of data saying that half of all employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require college degrees. Now, if you believe that a college education is a path toward wealth acquisition or a tool for class mobility, then this is a problem. The other view is that the goal of a liberal arts education is to have an educated electorate. In either case, the system is failing if it prices the masses out of attendance (or burdens them with lifelong debt). And considering that, according to the graphic, the average graduate’s debt totals $27,500, it’s no wonder that pundits are likening student loans to the housing bubble.

It bears reminding that the graphic was created by CourseSmart, a provider of digital textbooks. Clearly, CourseSmart is in a position to benefit from pointing out how students can save money (say, with digital course materials as opposed to traditional ones). But that shouldn’t mitigate the value of the graphic, which demands we pay attention to classroom costs. We’re already paying the bill.

The full infographic is below:

[ILLUSTRATION: Education via Shutterstock]

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  • rmccaffrey

    You have to go deeper than just looking at a tuition increase. At my school, if a unit of education had a cost of $100 ten years ago, the taxpayers paid $75 and the student paid $25.

    Even if we somehow magically kept the cost at $100 the past ten years, the taxpayers today pick up $40 and the students pick up $60. From the students' perspective, tuition has gone up 240% even if the cost of going to college remains exactly the same.

  • Landscraper

    I would be curious to see a comparison of tuition costs and median household incomes over the same time.

  • Jason

    The true cost of education is paid by state funding, tuition, endowments, grants, and other funding sources. As states have slashed funding, tuition has gone up. Those percentage increases are meaningless as stats, because they don't consider how the proportion of total cost that is paid in tuition has increased over time.

  • Malafactor

    State funding is provided by taxes we pay, it's considerably higher than the funding cuts. The thing I do not see is why is the cost of education is rising so quickly, I can only fathom that it is greed by the Universities. The only way I can see stopping this rise is to find alternative means for higher education.