Average Cost of College by Year

Last Updated: July 12, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. The average cost of college tuition & fees at public 4-year institutions has increased at an annual rate of 9.0% over the last 20 years.

  • Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years, tuition at the average public 4-year institution increased 1.5%.
  • The average cost of tuition & fees at private 4-year institutions has increased at an annual rate of 6.2% over the last 20 years.
  • Tuition at private 4-year institutions increased by an average 2.8% from the 2018-19 academic year to 2019-2020.
  • Since 1990, the average tuition and fee rates have increased 130% after adjusting for inflation.
  • In the last 50 years, the 1983-1984 academic year saw the largest year-over-year (YoY) tuition growth rate from the previous year at 14.2%.

Jump to a decade: 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

Line Graph: Average Annual Tuition & Fees at Public 4-Year Institutions, from 1969 to 2020, adjusted for inflation as well as current dollars

Annual Cost of College Tuition & Fees
Year Public 4-Year Private 4-Year
2019-20 $9,349 $32,769
2018-19 $9,212 $31,883
2017-18 $9,036 $30,723
2016-17 $8,804 $29,476
2015-16 $8,778 $27,942
2014-15 $8,543 $26,739
2013-14 $8,312 $25,707
2012-13 $8,070 $24,523
2011-12 $7,713 $23,464
2010-11 $7,132 $22,677
2009-10 $6,717 $22,269
2008-09 $6,312 $22,040
2007-08 $5,943 $21,427
2006-07 $5,666 $20,517
2005-06 $5,351 $19,292
2004-05 $5,027 $18,604
2003-04 $4,587 $17,763
2002-03 $4,046 $16,826
2001-02 $3,735 $16,211
2000-01 $3,501 $15,470
1999-2000 $3,349 $14,616
1998-99 $3,229 $13,973
1997-98 $3,110 $13,344
1996-97 $2,987 $12,881
1995-96 $2,848 $12,243
1994-95 $2,681 $11,481
1993-94 $2,537 $10,952
1992-93 $2,349 $10,294
1991-92 $2,117 $9,759
1990-91 $1,888 $9,083
1989-90 $1,780 $8,396
1988-89 $1,646 $7,722
1987-88 $1,537 $7,116
1986-87 $1,414 $6,658
1985-86 $1,318 $6,121
1984-85 $1,228 $5,556
1983-84 $1,148 $5,093
1982-83 $1,031 $4,639
1981-82 $909 $4,113
1980-81 $804 $3,617
1979-80 $738 $3,225
1978-79 $688 $2,958
1977-78 $655 $2,700
1976-77 $617 $2,534
1975-76 $542 $2,291
1974-75 $512 $2,130
1973-74 $514 $2,045
1972-73 $503 $1,948
1971-72 $428 $1,832
1970-71 $394 $1,706
1969-70 $358 $1,562
1968-69 $321 $1,417
1967-68 $310 Unavailable
1966-67 $302 Unavailable
1965-66 Unavailable Unavailable
1964-65 Unavailable Unavailable
1963-64 $243 $1,011

Related reports include: Average Cost of College & Tuition |  Average Student Loan Debt by YearStudent Loan Debt CrisisAverage Cost of Private SchoolAverage Cost of Community College

Line Graph: Average Annual Tuition & Fees at Private 4-Year Institutions, from 1969-70 to

Average Annual Cost of College

Most financial experts attribute he sudden increases that started in the 1970s with an influx of federal funding designed to make college more affordable.

  • Postsecondary institutions raise tuition (and fees) an average 6.8% each year.
  • Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years, colleges increased the cost of tuition 2.0%.
  • Public 4-year institutions raised tuition 1.49%.
  • Private nonprofit 4-year colleges raised tuition 2.98%.
  • Private for-profit institutions raised tuition 1.64%.
  • Ivy League University of Pennsylvania* (U-Penn) raised annual undergraduate tuition and fees 0.2% between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years.
  • For every $1 received by higher learning institutions in subsidized federal student loans, college tuition increases by $0.60.
  • The average cost of attendance for one academic year at any postsecondary institution is $25,281.
  • Tuition and fees total $13,360.
  • Student housing and meal plans average $6,743 and $5,177, respectively.
  • Among 4-year institutions, annual tuition and fees total $16,647.
  • Public 4-year institutions charge $9,349 per year.
  • Federal support for postsecondary education budgets $107.5 billion annually.
  • An additional $91.0 billion comes from off-budget and non-federal support, most of which goes toward student financial aid.

*The University of Pennsylvania is a private research university that keeps meticulous records pre-dating the dawn of the 20th Century.

Line Graph: Tuition & Fees in the 2010s

Average Cost of College in the 21st Century

The latest data indicates that escalation of academic costs may be slowing down, possibly below some YoY growth rates from the 1960s.

  • Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, the total cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, and board) saw an increase of 39.9% at public 4-year schools.
  • At private 4-year schools, costs grew 44.2%.
  • Between 1999-2000 and 2009-10, the cost of attendance at nonprofit private institutions grew from $20,989 per year to $34,920, an annual growth rate of 6.6%.
  • During the same period, for-profit private institutions increased the cost of attendance from $16,124 to $24,118, a 5.0% annual growth rate.
  • From 2009-10 to 2019-20, private nonprofits increased costs to $48,824, an annual growth rate of 4.0%.
  • In the same period, private for-profits increased costs to $27,563, growing at an annual rate of 1.4%.
  • Between 1999-2000 and 2019-20, tuition at the average 4-year institution increased 136.5%, an annual rate of 6.8%.
  • Tuition and fees in the 1990s increased 25% faster than growth rates in the 21st century at a rate of 8.5%.
  • From 1963-64 to 1968-69, academic costs increased at an average annual rate of 4.2% or 110% faster than the increase between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.
  • Federal funding budgeted for postsecondary education totaled $23.0 billion in 2000.
  • In 2010, the budget increased to $58.2 billion, an annual growth rate of 15.3% from 2000.
  • In 2019, the budget was $107.5 billion, an annual growth rate of 8.5% from 2010.
  • Including all off-budget and non-federal funding, federally-mandated costs for postsecondary education increased at an average annual rate of 2.5% from 2010 to 2019.

Line Graph: Tuition & Fees in the 2000s

Average Cost of College in the 20th Century

When the century began, many colleges were very low cost and some were free. After student financial aid became commonplace, college costs escalated beyond those of any other industry.

  • In 1900, undergraduates paid $150 to attend the University of Pennsylvania and its Wharton School.
  • By 1913, the annual cost to undergraduates increased to $160; this is a 0.51% average annual growth rate.
  • In 1999, undergraduates paid $14,890 to attend U-Penn.
  • After adjusting for inflation, the cost of a year as an undergraduate at U-Penn increased 491.1% between 1913 and 1999; this is a 5.1% average annual growth rate.
  • Between the 1969-70 academic year to 1999-2000, the national average cost of tuition and fees at the average 4-year institution increased 790.5%.
  • After adjusting for inflation, the annual growth rate of tuition between 1969 and 1999 was 3.6%.
  • The 1983-84 academic year saw the century’s largest rise in tuition over the previous year.

Line Graph: Tuition & Fees in the 1990s

College Costs in the 1990s

The 1990s saw the rise of the for-profit college, which took advantage of federal funding programs. While such institutions charged less for attendance than their nonprofit counterparts, they would become notorious for hidden expenses, poor instruction, and fraud.

  • In the 1989-90 academic year, tuition at the average public 4-year institution was $1,780.
  • In 1999-2000, tuition at a public 4-year institution averaged $3,349, an average annual growth rate of 8.8%.
  • Between 1989-90 and 1999-2000, the total cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, and board) increased 66.3% at public 4-year schools, from $4,975 to $8,274.
  • At private 4-year schools, the cost of tuition grew 74.1%, from $8,396 to $14,616.
  • In that same period, the cost of attendance at a private 4-year institution increased from $12,284 to $20,737, an annual growth rate of 6.9%.
  • Tuition at the average public 2-year institution increased from $756 to $1,348, an annual growth rate of 7.8%.
  • Tuition at the average private 2-year institution increased 58.3%, from $5,196 to $8,225.
  • Among all postsecondary institutions, the cost of tuition increased at an average annual rate of 8.5%.
  • After adjusting dollar values for inflation, costs increased at an average annual rate of 3.9%.
  • The largest YoY average tuition increase was 9.4% between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 academic years.
  • After adjusting for inflation, the 1991-92 academic year saw a 6.0% increase in tuition over the previous year.
  • The federal budget for postsecondary education amounted to $18.1 billion in 1990.
  • Throughout the decade, the federal budget increased 27.3%.
  • If off-budget and nonfederal funds generated by federal legislation (most of which funded student loans) are included, total federal spending increased 93.9%.
  • Funding for FFEL loans increased by $11.9 billion or 110%.

Line Graph: Tuition & Fees in the 1980s

College Costs in the 1980s

Public investment in high education dropped as college students and their familes began borrowing at never before seen rates.

  • In the 1979-80 academic year, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at public 4-year institutions was $738.
  • By 1989-90, annual tution and fees averaged $1,780, a 14.1% average annual growth rate.
  • Between 1979-80 and 1989-90, the total cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, and board) saw an increase of 113.8% at public 4-year schools, from $2,327 to $4,975.
  • At private 4-year schools, tuition grew 160.3%, from $3,225 to $8,396.
  • Between 1979-80 and 1989-90, the cost of attendance at private 4-year institutions grew from $5,013 per year to $12,284, an annual growth rate of 14.5%.
  • Tuition at the average public 2-year institution increased from $355 to $756, an annual growth rate of 11.3%.
  • Tuition at the average private 2-year institution increased 152.0%, from $2,062 to $5,196.
  • The federal budget for postsecondary education amounted to $11.09 billion in 1980.
  • Throughout the decade, the federal budget increased 62.9%.
  • If off-budget and nonfederal funds generated by federal legislation (most of which funded student loans) are included, total federal spending increased 275%.
  • Funding for FFEL loans increased by $2.96 billion or 211%.
  • The most dramatic increase in costs to all postsecondary students was between the academic years of 1982-83 and 1983-84, when the average cost of attendance at any postsecondary institution grew 14.2%; that is:
    • 115% faster than the rate of inflation at the time (which was 6.6%).
    • 2,684% faster than academic inflation in the first decade of the 20th century.
    • 109% faster than the rate of academic inflation in the 21st century (6.8%).

Line Graph: Tuition & Fees in the 1970s

College Costs in the 1970s

A new national recession began, and federal student loans became commonplace. The average cost of tuition and fees at 4-year institutions doubled.

  • Between 1969-70 and 1979-80, the cost of tuition and fees at the average public 4-year institution increased from $358 to $738, an average annual increase of 10.6%.
  • The total cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, and board) saw an increase of 88.0% at public 4-year schools, from $1,238 to $2,327.
  • During that same period, tuition at private 4-year institutions grew from $1,562 to $3,225, an annual growth rate of 10.6%.
  • The cost of attendance grew 95.9%, from $2,559 to $5,013.
  • Tuition at the average public 2-year institution increased from $178 to $355, an annual growth rate of 9.9%.
  • Tuition at the average private 2-year institution increased 99.4%, from $1,034 to $2,062.
  • The federal budget for postsecondary education amounted to $3.43 billion in 1970.
  • Throughout the decade, the federal budget increased 223%.
  • If off-budget and nonfederal funds generated by federal legislation (most of which funded student loans) are included, total federal spending increased 277%.
  • Funding for FFEL loans increased by $3.83 billion or 497%.

Line Graph: Average Annual Tuition & Fees at Public 2-Year Institutions, 1969-70 to 2019-20

College Costs in the 1960s

In 1965, the Higher Education Act was passed to help make college more affordable through financial aid from the government to students. Most federal data dates to the 1963-64 academic year.

  • In the 1960s, the average cost of tuition and fees at any 4-year college increased at an annual rate of 6.1%.
  • The average cost of attendance at any postsecondary institution grew at an annual rate of 4.2%.
  • In the 1963-64 academic year, tuition and fees at the average public 4-year university totaled $243 annually.
  • The cost of tuition and fees increased to $323 for 1969-70.
  • Between 1963-64 and 1969-70, the cost of tution and fees at the average public 4-year institution increased 32.9%, growing at an annual rate of 5.5%.
  • During this same period, the total cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, and board) saw an increase of 33.3% at public 4-year schools.
  • Between 1963-64 and 1969-70, the cost of attendance at private institutions grew from $1,815 per year to $2,527, an annual growth rate of 6.5%.
  • During this same period, tuition at the average 2-year institution increased 44.4%, an annual rate of 7.4%.
  • Tuition at the average public 2-year institution increased from $97 to $178, an annual growth rate of 13.9%.

Historicaltuitioncostsin2021dollars on EducationData

College Costs in the 1950s

Official data from 1950 or earlier is, for the most part, unavailable. Some institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania, maintain archives of such information.

  • In 1950, the U-Penn charged undergraduates $625 for the academic year.
  • In 1959, the annual cost totaled $1,400.
  • Throughout the decade, college costs rose 124% to the equivalent of $12,907 in 2021 dollars.
  • Undergraduates attending U-Penn in the 2021-22 academic year will pay $61,170, a 373.9% increase over 1959 equivalent costs (that is, $12,907).

Stacked Bar Graph: Average College Costs by Institution Type 2019-2020

College Costs in the 1940s

Tuition was still relatively affordable for most households, and the first federal student aid program began.

  • The 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the GI Bill, provided federal aid for tuition, fees, and other educational expenses for veterans.
  • Veterans would receive a free year of college, $500 in tuition, and monthly living allowance while studying.
  • Under the GI Bill, post-war enrollment surged 10 times higher what had been anticipated.
  • In 1947, veterans accounted for nearly half of college admissions.
  • Also in 1947, the cost to attend Harvard university was $455.
  • One year of Harvard attendance cost the equivalent of 15% of the average household income.
  • Comparatively, attending Harvard for a year in 2011 cost 73% of the national average household income; by 2014, the cost was equivalent to 88% of average household income.

Stacked Bar Graph: Average College Costs by Institution Type 1999-2000

College Costs in the 1930s

Through the height of the Great Depression, some postsecondary institutions kept costs low to account for students’ presumably reduced income.

  • In 1930, first-year undergraduates paid $400 to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
  • In 1939, the cost of attendance at the University of Pennsylvania was still $400.
  • In 1934, the cost of attendance for first-year students at Dartmouth was $1,700, or $34,393 in 2021 dollars.
  • Dartmouth charges $60,648 for the 2021-2022 academic year, $1,695 of it in fees.
  • Dartmouth’s tuition increased at an average rate of 38.71% per year over the last 87 years.
  • Adjusting for inflation, tuition values increase 0.82% per year.

Stacked Bar Graph: Average College Costs by Institution Type 1963-1964

College Costs in the 1920s

Discharged World War I veterans packed postsecondary schools. At the University of Washington, enrollment grew from 3,000 in 1918 to 8,500 in 1931. There was no tuition assistance for veterans in this era.

  • In 1920, Stanford charged $160 ($2,160 in 2021 dollars) per year.
  • At the University of Pennsylvania, the annual cost of tuition and fees for a first-year undergraduate was $300.
  • In 1929, first-year students at U-Penn paid $400, a 33% increase.
  • For the average student, the year’s textbooks totaled between $30 and $40.
  • Throughout the decade, the cost of room and board increased from $400 to $520.
  • Including all costs, college freshman in 1929 paid a total of $225 more than at the start of the decade, a 29% increase.
Annual Cost of Private College Tuition & Fees
Year (Fall) Nonprofit 4-Year For-Profit 4-Year
2019-20 $35,807 $14,957
2018-19 $34,770 $14,715
2017-18 $33,748 $14,677
2016-17 $32,717 $14,423
2015-16 $31,578 $14,150
2014-15 $30,789 $13,924
2013-14 $29,823 $13,714
2012-13 $28,743 $13,691
2011-12 $27,616 $13,712
2010-11 $26,581 $13,727
2009-10 $25,535 $13,769
2008-09 $24,636 $14,423
2007-08 $23,328 $14,644
2006-07 $21,994 $14,593
2005-06 $20,732 $13,315
2004-05 $19,652 $13,197
2003-04 $18,584 $12,398
2002-03 $17,517 $11,407
2001-02 $16,604 $11,069
2000-01 $15,811 $10,411
1999-2000 $15,131 $8,661
Year (Fall) Nonprofit (& For-Profit) 4-Year*
1998 $13,973
1997 $13,344
1996 $12,881
1995 $12,243
1994 $11,481

*For-profit colleges did not become prevalent until the late ’90s.

Public vs. Private College Costs

Private colleges and universities receive no institutional funding from federal or state governments.

  • Annual tuition at the average private institution is $32,417.
  • Average tuition at private institutions is 337.4% higher than tuition at public institutions.
  • Private nonprofit institutions charge 137.9% more in tutition than private for-profit institutions.
  • In the 21st century, annual tuition at the average public institution has increased 196.0%, an annual growth rate of 9.8%.
  • During the same period, annual tuition at the average private institution has increased 130.0%, an annual growth rate of 6.5%.
  • Private nonprofit institutions increased tuition prices increased 139.4% while private for-profit institutions increased 72.2%.
  • Tuition at private nonprofit colleges increased 93.1% faster than tuition at private for-profit colleges.
  • From 1963-64 until the end of the 20th century, annual tuition at the average public institution increased 970.1%.
  • Tuition at the average private college increased 1,293.3%.
  • In the latter half of the 20th century private college tuition increased 33.3% faster than tuition at the average public postsecondary institution.
  • In 1948, tuition for full-time undergraduates at U-Penn was $670.00, the equivalent of $7,517.91 in 2021 dollars.
  • For the 2021-22 academic year, the same tuition is $60,042, representing a 698.7% increase from 1948.
  • In the 1948-49 school year, in-state tuition for undergraduates at the public University of North Carolina was $63, the equivalent $701 in 2021 dollars.
  • For 2021-22, the same tuition is $4,421, representing a 530.6% increase from 1948.
  • In the 1948-49 school year, out-of-state tuition for undergraduates was $132, the equivalent $1,462 in 2021 dollars.
  • For 2021-22, out-of-state tuition is $17,925, representing an 1,126% increase from 1948.

Average Cost of Room & Board

In the first half of the 20th Century, it was not uncommon for the cost of room and board to exceed the cost of tuition and fees. Statistics indicate that the cost of room and board appears to rise along with increases in tuition.

  • In the 1999-2000 academic year, the cost of room and board exceded the cost of tuition at the average public 4-year institution.
  • Between 1999-2000 and 2019-20, the annual cost of the average dorm room has increased 151.0% (65.2% with inflation).
  • The cost of the average board or meal plan increased 105.2% (35.1% with inflation).
  • 4-year institutions updated the cost of dorm rooms from $2,751 to $6,878, a 150% increase.
  • The cost of meal plans increased from $2,558 to $5,250, a 105.2% growth.
Average Annual Cost of Room & Board
Year (Fall) Public 4-Year Private 4-Year
2019-20 $11,686 $13,162
2018-19 $11,386 $12,787
2017-18 $11,012 $12,408
2016-17 $10,684 $11,990
2015-16 $10,426 $11,592
2014-15 $10,089 $11,249
2013-14 $9,787 $10,892
2012-13 $9,404 $10,549
2011-12 $9,073 $10,213
2010-11 $8,788 $9,840
2009-10 $8,319 $9,577
2008-09 $7,900 $9,192
2007-08 $7,486 $8,800
2006-07 $7,133 $8,403
2005-06 $6,757 $8,041
2004-05 $6,399 $7,656
2003-04 $6,088 $7,306
2002-03 $5,741 $6,961
2001-02 $5,461 $6,685
2000-01 $5,153 $6,385
1999-2000 $4,925 $6,121
1998-99 $4,798 $5,956
1997-98 $4,564 $5,725
1996-97 $4,347 $5,561
1995-96 $4,166 $5,368
1994-95 $3,990 $5,121
1993-94 $3,829 $4,951
1992-93 $3,670 $4,716
1991-92 $3,577 $4,498
1990-91 $3,355 $4,154
1989-90 $3,195 $3,906
1988-89 $3,032 $3,752
1987-88 $2,866 $3,543
1986-87 $2,724 $3,381
1985-86 $2,541 $3,108
1984-85 $2,454 $2,895
1983-84 $2,285 $2,666
1982-83 $2,164 $2,487
1981-82 $1,961 $2,217
1980-81 $1,805 $1,977
1979-80 $1,618 $1,788
1978-79 $1,457 $1,651
1977-78 $1,383 $1,540
1976-77 $1,319 $1,442
1975-76 $1,238 $1,378
1974-75 $1,134 $1,274
1973-74 $1,082 $1,177
1972-73 $1,051 $1,143
1971-72 $977 $1,087
1970-71 $932 $1,048
1969-70 $879 $982
1968-69 $822 $939
1964-68 Unavailable Unavailable
1963-64 $685 $799

Sources

  1. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Digest of Education Statistics: Current Tables
  2. Dartmouth, Financial Aid: Cost of Attendance
  3. University of Pennsylvania (U-Penn), Undergraduate Tuition and Fees
  4. U-Penn Archives & Records Center, Tuition and Mandated Fees, Room and Board, and Other Educational Costs at Penn
  5. Overview of the Relationship between Federal Student Aid and Increases in College Prices
  6. Credit Supply and the Rise in College Tuition: Evidence from the Expansion in Federal Student Aid Programs
  7. UNC FACT BOOK
  8. University of Pennsylvania Facts
  9. Annual Financial Report 2018-2019
  10. Page 17 – June 27, 1927, No. 26 – The Vault – TIME
  11. History and Timeline – Education and Training
  12. CPI Home : US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  13. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the US Department of Education