College Costs Surge 500% in U.S. Since 1985: Chart of the Day

The cost of higher education has surged more than 500 percent since 1985, illustrating why there have been renewed calls for change from both political parties.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows that tuition expenses have increased 538 percent in the 28-year period, compared with a 286 percent jump in medical costs and a 121 percent gain in the consumer price index. The ballooning charges have generated swelling demand for educational loans while threatening to make college unaffordable for domestic and international students.

The “skyrocketing” increases exacerbate income inequality by depriving those of less means of the schooling they need to advance and may also derail the “prestige and status” of U.S. higher education, said Michelle Cooper, president of the Washington-based Institute for Higher Education Policy. While U.S. schools have remained competitive globally in the face of declining state subsidies and rising tuition costs, it’s fair to ask whether students are getting what they pay for, she said.

President Barack Obama last week proposed that federal financial aid be tied to a new government ranking of college costs and outcomes in order to curb the surge in tuition.

Congressional authorizing committees, led by Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, are preparing to draft the next version of the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of this year. The legislative committees held hearings on college affordability in April.

Photographer: Gregory Shaver/Journal Times via AP Images

A college commencement in Kenosha, Wis. Close

A college commencement in Kenosha, Wis.

Photographer: Gregory Shaver/Journal Times via AP Images

A college commencement in Kenosha, Wis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michelle Jamrisko in Washington at; Ilan Kolet in Ottawa at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at; Alex Tanzi at

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