In 1987-1988, students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $3,190 in tuition for the school year, with prices adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars. Thirty years later, the average has risen to $9,970. That’s a 213% increase!
The difference is stark at private schools as well. In 1988, the average tuition for a private nonprofit four-year institution was $15,160, in 2017 dollars. For the 2017-2018 school year, it’s $34,740 - a 129% increase.
Here is College Board’s breakdown of how tuition has changed by decade, with all figures adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars:
Private nonprofit four-year institution
- Tuition for 1987-1988: $15,160
- Tuition for 1997-1998: $21,020
- Tuition for 2007-2008: $27,520
- Tuition for 2017-2018: $34,740
Public four-year institution
- Tuition for 1987-1988: $3,190
- Tuition for 1997-1998: $4,740
- Tuition for 2007-2008: $7,280
- Tuition for 2017-2018: $9,970
To put those numbers into perspective, a 1988 graduate of Harvard University would have spent $17,100 on tuition during their senior year. Now, in their 50s, they’d have to pay $44,990 in tuition for their child to attend Harvard today.
That makes the current cost more than two-and-a-half times as much as it was in 1988 — a markup of 163%.