What College Cost 100 Years Ago

Sep 02, 2015

A century ago, you could buy a first-class postage stamp for 2¢, a gallon of gas for 15¢, and a dozen eggs for 34¢. If those sound like bargains, consider this: A year’s tuition at Harvard would have run you just $150, while Stanford and many state universities charged nothing at all.

In this time of growing concern about college costs, we decided to take a look back, to 1915, and compare what college cost then to what it does today.

Here’s what 15 well-known colleges charged for tuition in 1915, according to a contemporary report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and other sources, as well as what they cost now. We’ve also noted what those 1915 costs would be in today’s dollars had tuition gone up at the same pace as consumer prices in general, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator.

The difference is instructive to say the least: a 2,263% rise in the consumer price index over the past 100 years, but a staggering increase of 42,930%, on average, in tuition costs.

Of course, the current tuition costs we quote are sticker prices that not every family pays, although that was true to some extent in 1915 as well.

For more advice on paying for college, and to create a customizable list of colleges based on criteria such as size, selectivity, and affordability, visit the new Money College Planner.

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