It must be strongly emphasized here that "that was then" is the order of the day in this entire conversation.

Anything longer than 10 years ago is simply not relevant information about higher ed anymore.


The mean costs from that table-- taken at 10y intervals from Public, four-year institutions are:

1980-- $6,381
1990-- 8,485
2000-- 10,711
2010-- 15,605

Please note that most "good/flagship" public colleges are double those values, and a fair number even higher.

I don't give the private college numbers there because I'm not sure they are accurate, given that they include the for-profit sector. Suffice it to say that the apparent advent of for-profit higher ed in a big way in the late 1980's seems to have resulted in a huge jump in that number, and that the rise since then has not been as extreme as in public post-secondary. But it's still been around 5K per decade otherwise. The other thing is that just within the past 3-4 years (since '08), a fair number of top-notch private schools have reneged on a pledge to graduate students "loan-free" and to freeze tuition for matriculants, to slow tuition increases to no more than 150% of inflation... all those things that kept the increases somewhat in check.

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.