Tuition at Stanford University in 1980-81 was $6,285. Thirty years later, Stanford’s tuition had risen to $38,700. Tuition in 2011-12 is $40,050. If the cost of milk had grown at the same rate, a gallon of milk would now cost approximately $15.
I haven’t yet purchased $15 gallons of milk, but as a college advisor I have counseled many students who are charged $50,000 per year for tuition, fees and campus housing. According to just released figures from the Commonfund Institute, the inflation rate for colleges and universities was 2.3% for fiscal year 2011, more than double the rate for 2010 and reversing a decelerating trend that began in 2008. Stanford, which estimates that 75% of its undergraduates receive financial aid, is not out of the norm. Drexel University, Carleton College and the Stevens Institute of Technology were among the 72 other schools that were more expensive than Stanford last year.
Since loans now comprise 70% of financial aid packages, the growing tuition burden falls squarely on student-borrowers who may have saved for college but who still can’t meet the high cost of attendance. Two-thirds of American undergraduates are in debt. This year, student loan debt will grow to more than a trillion dollars, outpacing credit card debt for the first time. As hundreds of thousands of high school seniors prepare their college applications, and their parents compile documents required for financial aid, Congress needs to seriously consider legislation that will rein in future tuition increases.