Average Tuition & Fees, by Institution Type, 1980-81 to 2010-11

Average Tuition & Fees, by Institution Type, 1980-81 to 2010-11

As state funding for higher education steadily declined as a portion of colleges’ revenue, colleges raised tuition to make up for the gap—a major reason why tuition at public colleges more than tripled since 1980. This financial change left students to absorb more of the costs by taking on student debt and working long hours while in school. Unsurprisingly, financial barriers are the number one reason students cite for dropping out.

  • Average tuition at public 4-year colleges was $7,600 in the 2010 academic year, up from $2,100 in 1980
  • Average tuition at private 4-year colleges nearly tripled in a generation, increasing from $9,500 in the 1980 academic year to $27,300 in 2010.
  • Average tuition at community colleges also rose steeply, more than doubling from just over $1,000 in the 1980 academic year to $2,710 in 2010
  • State colleges and universities are now more reliant on tuition to cover their operating expenses as state and local appropriations have not kept pace with rising enrollments. In 1985, 23 percent of higher education revenue was from tuition—by 2010, it had climbed to 40 percent.