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Key Points

  • Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, total tuition, fees, room, and board rose at average rates of 1.9% per year at public four-year and 1.8% per year at private nonprofit four-year institutions.

  • In 2019-20, the average in-state tuition and fee price in the public four-year sector is about three times as high in inflation-adjusted dollars as it was in 1989-90. Published prices are 2.16 as high in the public two-year sector and 2.06 times as high in the private nonprofit four-year sector in 2019-20 as they were in 1989-90.

Figure 4A: Average Annual Percentage Increase in Inflation-Adjusted Published Prices by Decade, 1989-90 to 2019-20

NOTES: Each bar in Figure 4A shows the average annual rate of growth of published prices in inflation-adjusted dollars over a 10-year period. For example, from 2009-10 to 2019-20, average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year colleges increased by an average of 1.9% per year beyond increases in the Consumer Price Index. Average tuition and fee prices reflect in-district charges for public two-year institutions and in-state charges for public four-year institutions.

SOURCES: College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges; NCES, IPEDS Fall Enrollment data.

Figure 4B: Inflation-Adjusted Published Tuition and Fees Relative to 1989-90, 1989-90 to 2019-20 (1989-89=1.0)

NOTES: Figure 4B shows published tuition and fees by sector, adjusted for inflation, relative to 1989-90 published prices. For example, a value of 2.97 indicates that the tuition and fee price in the public four-year sector in 2019-20 is 2.97 times as high as it was in 1989-90, after adjusting for increases in the Consumer Price Index. Average tuition and fee prices reflect in-district charges for public two-year institutions and in-state charges for public four-year institutions.

SOURCES: College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges; NCES, IPEDS Fall Enrollment data.

Also Important

  • Median family income in the United States increased at an average rate of 1.0% per year between 1989 and 1999, fell by 0.5% per year between 1999 and 2009, and rose by 1.2% per year between 2009 and 2018 (after adjusting for inflation). It was 19% higher in 2018 than in 1988. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 Income Data, Table F-7; calculations by the authors)