Originally Posted By: Quantum2003
I was going through an old box of high school/college stuff that was recently shipped across the country. Among the correspondences were several scholarship award letters from two state flagship universities. This was in the mid-1980's when minimum wage was $3.35/hour. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25/hour so a little more than double in three decades. The scholarships were full tuition for four years and back when "fees" were negligible or non-existent. They were offered to me and any other student in my state who graduated among the top of their class (2% for one and 4% for the other). Anyhow, the letters listed the then current tuition rate and pointed out that over four years, this tuition waiver was worth about $3,500. Incidentally, that total cost is a bit more than a thousand hours over four years at the then minimum wage (so roughly five hours a week).

A couple calculations from your comments:

I found data on posted tuition rates by public 4-year colleges for in-state students dating back to 1990-91 (source linked below). I then pulled the US all-items consumer price index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 1990 (to fit your mid-80s timeframe) and 2018. Over that period, the CPI has increased by 192% while posted costs on 4-year in-state public tuition have increased 278%.

1. Taking posted tuition rates-- Adjusted for inflation, average tuition as described should be about $6,900 per year currently, versus the $9,970 posted rate for 2017-18, representing a 31% inflation-adjusted premium on tuition since 1990-91.

2. Accounting for differences in grants--In 1990-91, average students assumed 58% of tuition costs. This number dipped as low as 26% in 09-10 and 10-11, and has since risen to 42%. So, within the last decade, in-state students enrolled in 4-year public university programs are required to take on a rising share of their tuition, at a rising cost on an inflation-adjusted basis.

On an inflation-adjusted basis, net tuition (after grants and aid) is on par with 1990-91 levels: $4,140 as posted net tuition vs. $4,016 from 1990-91. However, even despite that, current students attending public universities are worse off to the tune of 16% of net tuition costs since the recession, so the situation is worsening again. The compound annual growth rate in grant aid since 2009 is -0.2%, compared with 2.4% in posted tuition rates. The gap will continue to widen at this pace.

(Aside: Quantum has asked that we not get into a discussion of living wages--and I will respect that--but it bears noting for future conversations that, on a purchasing power parity basis, minimum wages are operating below their 1990-91 equivalents. This requires working more hours to earn the same inflation-adjusted net tuition over time.)

Calculations based on data from BLS on CPI and- https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-...students-sector


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