Cost of College Over Time

Tuition alone has more than tripled since the 1960s. Find out just how much costs have risen over time.
portrait of Jessica Bryant
Jessica Bryant
Read Full Bio


Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Updated on January 30, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Lyss Welding
Lyss Welding
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Fact-checked by Marley Rose
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: FreshSplash / E+ / Getty Images

Data Summary

  • Check
    In 2021-2022 dollars, one year's college tuition in 1963 cost just over $4,600. In 2021, it cost more than $14,000.[1]
  • Check
    In 1963, the average total cost of a year of college was about $11,400. As of 2021, it falls just under $27,000 a year.Note Reference [1]
  • Check
    Across all types of schools, the cost of college has increased more than 135%, or about 2.3 times, between 1963 and 2021.Note Reference [1]
  • Check
    Compared to other school types, four-year public colleges saw the steepest price hikes from 2000-2021, jumping from roughly $14,000 a year to just under $22,000 annually.Note Reference [1]
  • Check
    Attending a four-year public college costs 57% more than it did 20 years ago.
  • Check
    Attending a two-year public college costs 49% more than it did 20 years ago.
  • Check
    Across all schools, tuition spikes are driving increases in the overall cost of college.
  • Check
    From 2000-2021, average tuition and fees rose by 65%, from $8,661 to $14,307 a year.Note Reference [1]

It's no secret that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed over the last few decades. Rising costs have even discouraged many students from attending college at all, contributing to declines in enrollment.

Below, we take a closer look at just how much the cost of attendance has increased over the last 60 years, explore what's driving that increase, and break down which types of institutions have been impacted most.

College Tuition Costs Over Time

The average cost of college tuition in the U.S. for undergraduate students has more than tripled, multiplying by 3.08 times over the last 58 years, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It rose from $4,648 in 1963 to $14,307 in 2021.Note Reference [1] That's accounting for inflation.

  • Between 1973 and 1980 was the only time when average tuition and fees fluctuated and decreased for a brief period.
  • By the 1981-1982 academic year, tuition costs rose again and have continued to rise every year since.
  • Between 2000 and 2021, average tuition and fees jumped by 65%, from $8,661 to $14,307 per year.
  • In just the 11 years between 2010 and 2021, tuition and fees rose by 17%, from $12,214 to $14,307.

Behind the Numbers

This report uses 2021-2022 constant dollars. In other words, it accounts for inflation by converting all dollar amounts from years past to 2021-2022 dollars.

Current dollars refers to the raw dollar amounts from the years reported. In the few instances we talk about current dollars, we'll call that out.

Average Tuition Over Time by School Type: The Past 20 Years of Tuition Rises

College tuition costs for undergraduate students vary by type of institution. Typically, average tuition and fees are highest at four-year, private nonprofit colleges and lowest at two-year public colleges.

Between 2000 and 2021, average tuition and fees increased most at public four-year institutions, rising by 70%.Note Reference [1]

During the same period, private for-profit institutions experienced the smallest changes in tuition and fees. Tuition at four-year for-profit schools actually decreased by 7%.

Total Cost of College Over Time

The total cost of a college education also includes room and board, books, and other supplies. Higher tuition costs have been the primary driver of the overall increasing price of college, but rising supplemental fees have also contributed.

Between 1963 and 2021, the cost of room and board almost doubled. It increased by 86%, from $6,764 to $12,595.Note Reference [1] (Remember that tuition more than tripled in the same time period.)

In the 20 years between 2000 and 2021, room and board increased about 44%, while tuition rose 65%.Note Reference [1]

Did You Know...

College room and board used to cost more than college tuition.

College tuition was more expensive than room and board for the first time in 1999. It's consistently been costlier since 2002.

On Campus vs. Off Campus

Students often choose between living in dorms on campus or finding a place to live off campus. In the recent past, on-campus room and board has increased slightly faster than off-campus living.

Over the last decade, the total cost of attendance, including other fees and living expenses like laundry and transportation, has increased by 8% at four-year schools for students living on campus. It has increased by 2% for students living off campus — provided they're not living at home with family.[2]

The total cost of college attendance has also increased by about 2% for students at two-year schools living off campus. It's increased by less than 1% for students at two-year schools living on campus.Note Reference [2] However, this is a rare case, as most two-year institutions do not offer on-campus housing.

Total Cost of College Over Time by School Type

Over the last 58 years, the average total cost of attendance at all institutions has more than doubled, from $11,411 to $26,903 a year — that's 2.3 times more or an increase of 135%.Note Reference [1]

  • Between 1963 and 2021, the average cost of attendance increased the most at private institutions, rising 187% — 2.87 times — during the period.
  • At four-year institutions, the average cost of attendance increased by approximately 155% over the same period.
  • At two-year institutions, average total costs increased by 69%.
  • At public institutions, average total costs rose 139% — or almost 2.4 times.

Looking closer into different school types, you can see that public and nonprofit schools have increased their prices more between 2000 and 2021 than for-profit schools. Back in 2000, nonprofit two-year schools were less expensive than two-year for-profit schools. That has since switched.

However, funding rules for for-profit schools have changed. As of July 2023, for-profit schools can no longer count students' GI Bill® benefits as part of their mandatory non-federal revenue. Advocates for the new rule hope it will stop for-profit colleges from aggressively recruiting veterans without offering a quality education in return.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of College Over Time

How much has college tuition increased since 2000?

Chevron Down

Average college tuition, the primary driver of rising college costs, increased by approximately 65% between 2000 and 2021, from $8,661 to $14,307.Note Reference [1]

How much has the total cost of college increased over the last decade?

Chevron Down

From 2011-2021, the average total cost of college rose by 12%, from $24,044 to $26,903.

Looking just at public schools, it increased from $17,795 to $19,920, or by about 12%. The average cost of attending a private college increased from $40,970 to $47,603, about 16%.Note Reference [1]