Special Report

The Cost of College the Year You Were Born

uschools / E+ via Getty Images

The annual cost of attending a four-year private institution in the United States reached $50,770 last year, more than double what it was less than two decades ago and the first time it has exceeded $50,000.

For many Americans, a college degree is often regarded as a measure of success, yet a postsecondary education has become cost-prohibitive for many young people, even when they receive financial aid. 

In order to be able to get a degree, millions of students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, sometimes amassing a debt burden that will take decades to fully pay off. 

Based on data from the College Board, a nonprofit group associated with American postsecondary institutions, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the average cost nationwide of attending four-year public and private colleges each year since 1971. Both figures include tuition, fees, and room and board.

In 1971, a four-year education at a private college in the United States cost less than one-tenth what it does today. Even after adjusting for inflation, a year of private college today costs more than two and a half times what it did back then. This means college prices are disproportionately high for potential undergraduates at a wide array of institutions, and not just at the most expensive college in each state.

Click here to see the cost of college the year you were born.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.

Source: Keystone Features / Getty Images

1971
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,930 (inflation adj.: $18,650)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,410 (inflation adjusted: $8,980)
> Per capita income: $4,471 (inflation adjusted: $28,571)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 16.9%

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1972
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,090 (inflation adj.: $19,110)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,550 (inflation adjusted: $9,580)
> Per capita income: $4,857 (inflation adjusted: $30,073)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.0%

Source: Ed Uthman / Flickr

1973
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,220 (inflation adj.: $18,830)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,600 (inflation adjusted: $9,360)
> Per capita income: $5,363 (inflation adjusted: $31,261)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.0%

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

1974
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,420 (inflation adj.: $17,940)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,650 (inflation adjusted: $8,650)
> Per capita income: $5,836 (inflation adjusted: $30,637)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.7%

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Source: Ed Uthman / Flickr

1975
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,680 (inflation adj.: $17,590)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,780 (inflation adjusted: $8,510)
> Per capita income: $6,324 (inflation adjusted: $30,422)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.9%

Source: Tony Duffy / Getty Images

1976
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,980 (inflation adj.: $18,060)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $1,940 (inflation adjusted: $8,800)
> Per capita income: $6,875 (inflation adjusted: $31,271)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.7%

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Source: Peter Keegan / Keystone / Getty Images

1977
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,240 (inflation adj.: $18,010)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,040 (inflation adjusted: $8,670)
> Per capita income: $7,516 (inflation adjusted: $32,099)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 24.0%

Source: Tony Duffy / Getty Images

1978
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,610 (inflation adj.: $18,180)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,150 (inflation adjusted: $8,480)
> Per capita income: $8,356 (inflation adjusted: $33,169)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.3%

1979
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $5,010 (inflation adj.: $17,760)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,330 (inflation adjusted: $8,260)
> Per capita income: $9,232 (inflation adjusted: $32,911)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.1%

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1980
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $5,590 (inflation adj.: $17,510)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,550 (inflation adjusted: $7,990)
> Per capita income: $10,180 (inflation adjusted: $31,974)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.5%

Source: Courtesy of BU Photography / Boston University

1981
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $6,330 (inflation adj.: $17,910)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $2,870 (inflation adjusted: $8,120)
> Per capita income: $11,300 (inflation adjusted: $32,173)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.3%

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Source: David Herman / Getty Images

1982
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $7,130 (inflation adj.: $18,950)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,200 (inflation adjusted: $8,500)
> Per capita income: $11,999 (inflation adjusted: $32,181)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.7%

Source: Leo Vals / Getty Images

1983
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $7,760 (inflation adj.: $20,130)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,430 (inflation adjusted: $8,900)
> Per capita income: $12,698 (inflation adjusted: $32,996)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.5%

Source: Steve Powell / Getty Images

1984
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $8,450 (inflation adj.: $21,030)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,680 (inflation adjusted: $9,160)
> Per capita income: $13,906 (inflation adjusted: $34,639)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.9%

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Source: Getty Images

1985
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $8,900 (inflation adj.: $21,390)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $3,860 (inflation adjusted: $9,280)
> Per capita income: $14,755 (inflation adjusted: $35,490)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.2%

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images

1986
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $9,850 (inflation adj.: $23,310)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,050 (inflation adjusted: $9,580)
> Per capita income: $15,490 (inflation adjusted: $36,578)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.4%

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Source: Mike Powell / Allsport / Getty Images

1987
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $10,460 (inflation adj.: $23,820)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,200 (inflation adjusted: $9,560)
> Per capita income: $16,289 (inflation adjusted: $37,111)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.0%

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images

1988
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $11,660 (inflation adj.: $25,490)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,460 (inflation adjusted: $9,750)
> Per capita income: $17,455 (inflation adjusted: $38,187)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.5%

Source: Scott Halleran / Allsport / Getty Images

1989
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $12,560 (inflation adj.: $26,160)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $4,720 (inflation adjusted: $9,830)
> Per capita income: $18,676 (inflation adjusted: $38,980)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.4%

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Source: Ken Levine / Allsport / Getty Images

1990
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $13,480 (inflation adj.: $26,780)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $5,070 (inflation adjusted: $10,070)
> Per capita income: $19,621 (inflation adjusted: $38,853)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.2%

Source: Ken Levine / Getty Images

1991
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $14,190 (inflation adj.: $26,990)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $5,450 (inflation adjusted: $10,370)
> Per capita income: $20,030 (inflation adjusted: $38,062)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.2%

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1992
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $15,030 (inflation adj.: $27,720)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $5,830 (inflation adjusted: $10,750)
> Per capita income: $21,090 (inflation adjusted: $38,905)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.6%

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Allsport

1993
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $15,800 (inflation adj.: $28,350)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $6,210 (inflation adjusted: $11,140)
> Per capita income: $21,733 (inflation adjusted: $38,926)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.7%

Source: Doug Pensinger / ALLSP / Getty Images

1994
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $16,500 (inflation adj.: $28,810)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $6,620 (inflation adjusted: $11,560)
> Per capita income: $22,575 (inflation adjusted: $39,424)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 23.3%

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1995
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $17,380 (inflation adj.: $29,530)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $6,740 (inflation adjusted: $11,450)
> Per capita income: $23,607 (inflation adjusted: $40,090)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 24.7%

1996
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $18,360 (inflation adj.: $30,300)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $7,140 (inflation adjusted: $11,780)
> Per capita income: $24,771 (inflation adjusted: $40,860)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 27.1%

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Source: Photos.com / PHOTOS.com>> via Getty Images

1997
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $19,360 (inflation adj.: $31,250)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $7,470 (inflation adjusted: $12,060)
> Per capita income: $25,993 (inflation adjusted: $41,914)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 27.8%

Source: Donald Miralle / Getty Images

1998
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $20,460 (inflation adj.: $32,480)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $7,770 (inflation adjusted: $12,340)
> Per capita income: $27,557 (inflation adjusted: $43,755)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 27.3%

Source: Comstock / Stockbyte via Getty Images

1999
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $21,480 (inflation adj.: $33,390)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $8,080 (inflation adjusted: $12,560)
> Per capita income: $28,675 (inflation adjusted: $44,546)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.2%

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Source: Darren McCollester / Getty Images

2000
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $22,240 (inflation adj.: $33,350)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $8,440 (inflation adjusted: $12,660)
> Per capita income: $30,657 (inflation adjusted: $46,076)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 29.1%

Source: Darren McCollester / Newsmakers

2001
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $23,860 (inflation adj.: $34,830)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $9,030 (inflation adjusted: $13,180)
> Per capita income: $31,589 (inflation adjusted: $46,164)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.4%

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Source: William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

2002
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $24,870 (inflation adj.: $35,780)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $9,670 (inflation adjusted: $13,910)
> Per capita income: $31,832 (inflation adjusted: $45,795)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 29.3%

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

2003
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $26,060 (inflation adj.: $36,720)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $10,530 (inflation adjusted: $14,840)
> Per capita income: $32,681 (inflation adjusted: $45,968)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.4%

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

2004
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $27,470 (inflation adj.: $37,580)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $11,380 (inflation adjusted: $15,570)
> Per capita income: $34,251 (inflation adjusted: $46,927)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.7%

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2005
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $28,740 (inflation adj.: $38,110)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $12,120 (inflation adjusted: $16,070)
> Per capita income: $35,849 (inflation adjusted: $47,507)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.8%

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

2006
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $30,500 (inflation adj.: $38,830)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $12,840 (inflation adjusted: $16,350)
> Per capita income: $38,114 (inflation adjusted: $48,930)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.4%

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Source: GreenPimp / iStock via Getty Images

2007
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $31,990 (inflation adj.: $39,790)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $13,560 (inflation adjusted: $16,870)
> Per capita income: $39,844 (inflation adjusted: $49,735)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 29.6%

Source: FuzzMartin / iStock via Getty Images

2008
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $33,800 (inflation adj.: $39,810)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $14,370 (inflation adjusted: $16,930)
> Per capita income: $40,904 (inflation adjusted: $49,170)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 30.8%

Source: adamkaz / E+ via Getty Images

2009
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $35,070 (inflation adj.: $42,190)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $15,240 (inflation adjusted: $18,340)
> Per capita income: $39,284 (inflation adjusted: $47,391)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 30.6%

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2010
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $36,470 (inflation adj.: $43,340)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $16,180 (inflation adjusted: $19,230)
> Per capita income: $40,547 (inflation adjusted: $48,125)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 31.7%

Source: Emmanuelle Firman / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2011
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $37,970 (inflation adj.: $43,550)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $17,160 (inflation adjusted: $19,680)
> Per capita income: $42,739 (inflation adjusted: $49,175)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 32.2%

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Source: 4x6 / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

2012
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $39,450 (inflation adj.: $44,620)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $17,820 (inflation adjusted: $20,150)
> Per capita income: $44,605 (inflation adjusted: $50,281)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 33.5%

Source: janniswerner / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2013
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $40,960 (inflation adj.: $45,430)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $18,380 (inflation adjusted: $20,390)
> Per capita income: $44,860 (inflation adjusted: $49,839)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 33.6%

Source: shaunl / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

2014
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $42,450 (inflation adj.: $46,170)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $18,930 (inflation adjusted: $20,590)
> Per capita income: $47,071 (inflation adjusted: $51,460)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 34.0%

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Source: kasto80 / iStock via Getty Images

2015
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $43,880 (inflation adj.: $47,640)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $19,570 (inflation adjusted: $21,250)
> Per capita income: $49,019 (inflation adjusted: $53,526)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 35.6%

Source: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

2016
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $45,350 (inflation adj.: $48,830)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $20,150 (inflation adjusted: $21,700)
> Per capita income: $50,015 (inflation adjusted: $53,934)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 36.1%

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Source: ljubaphoto / iStock via Getty Images

2017
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $47,000 (inflation adj.: $49,750)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $20,790 (inflation adjusted: $22,010)
> Per capita income: $52,118 (inflation adjusted: $55,029)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 35.7%

Source: williamscollege / Flickr

2018
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $48,290 (inflation adj.: $49,650)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $21,400 (inflation adjusted: $22,000)
> Per capita income: $54,606 (inflation adjusted: $56,281)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 37.0%

Source: Susan Vineyard / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2019
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $49,870 (inflation adj.: $50,360)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $21,950 (inflation adjusted: $22,170)
> Per capita income: $56,490 (inflation adjusted: $57,187)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 38.7%

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Source: Mark Makela / Getty Images News via Getty Images

2020
> Private tuition, fees, room & board per year: $50,770 (inflation adj.: $50,770)
> Public tuition, fees, room & board per year: $22,180 (inflation adjusted: $22,180)
> Per capita income: $N/A
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 39.2%

Methodology

To determine the cost of college the year you were born, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical data on tuition, fees, and room and board from the College Board, a nonprofit organization working on behalf of colleges and universities. Years listed are for the beginning of the academic year. Data on tuition, fees, and room and board for four-year public and private nonprofit schools was adjusted for inflation by the College Board. Supplemental data on personal income per capita came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and was adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index for all urban consumers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on the percentage of adults 25 years and over came from the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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