College Inflation: Prices for Tuition and Fees (1978-2022)

Prices for college tuition and fees increased 0.2% in July after rising 0.3% in June, and they advanced 2.4% over the past year, according to data published Aug. 10, 2022, by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS collects pricing on thousands of goods and services as a part of their Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a measure of U.S. inflation at the consumer level.

Usually, college costs outpace the overall rate of inflation. That has not been the case lately, by far, with the latest annual inflation rate at 8.5%.

Chart: Annual Change in Prices for College Tuition and Fees

The following chart plots the average change in prices for college tuition and fees by calendar year since 1979. As year 2022 is unfinished, the final point shows the change in prices from July 2021 to July 2022.

Adjusting the Price of College Tuition and Fees for Inflation

For some perspective, average tuition and fees at public 4-year institutions were $9,400 in academic year 2019-2020, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported. NCES has yet to publish any prices beyond 2019-2020. However, BLS CPI data offers a means to calculate how much they have changed over time. As an example, comparing inflation data from September 2020 and June 2022 shows pricing increased 2.02%, bringing the average price to $9,589.76.

The data and calculations involved in finding the increase follow:

  • The average college tuition and fees costs for academic year 2019-2020 was $9,400.
  • The CPI average for college tuition and fees in September 2020 was 880.234.
  • The CPI average for college tuition and fees in June 2022 was 898.003.

The following formula shows how to adjust the price for inflation:

Academic year 2019-2020 Price x (CPI for June 2022 / CPI September 2020) = Adjusted Price

Using the actual numbers:

$9,400 x (898.003/880.234) = $9,589.76

Table of Inflation Rates for College Tuition and Fees (Percent Change in Prices) from 1978 to 2022

The following table displays "college tuition and fees" inflation on an annual basis by month and calendar year. In clearer terms, it shows the percent of increase or decrease in those costs over the listed periods. As the figures are 12-month based, look to the December column to find the overall change in prices by calendar year. The last column, "Ave," shows the inflation rate for college tuition and fees by year.

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Ave
1978 8.6
1979 7.9 7.9 7.9 7.9 7.9 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.9 7.9 7.9 8.0
1980 8.3 8.4 8.3 8.3 8.3 8.1 8.1 8.2 11.7 12.1 12.1 12.1 9.4
1981 12.2 12.2 12.3 12.3 12.3 12.3 12.7 12.2 12.0 12.7 12.7 12.7 12.4
1982 13.6 13.6 13.8 14.1 14.1 14.2 14.2 14.0 12.6 12.5 12.5 12.5 13.4
1983 11.3 11.3 10.9 10.9 10.9 10.6 10.5 10.6 9.6 9.5 9.5 9.6 10.4
1984 9.6 9.5 10.4 10.3 10.3 10.5 10.4 10.3 10.7 10.3 10.3 10.1 10.2
1985 10.0 10.1 9.2 9.2 9.2 9.2 9.2 9.3 8.4 8.4 8.5 8.6 9.1
1986 8.6 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.2 8.4 7.6 7.4 7.4 7.4 8.1
1987 7.6 7.7 7.7 7.8 7.9 8.1 8.2 8.7 6.6 6.6 6.6 7.0 7.6
1988 7.0 7.5 7.4 7.3 7.2 7.2 7.1 8.4 8.3 8.2 8.1 7.7 7.6
1989 8.2 7.9 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.5 7.8 7.8 7.9 8.0 8.1 8.1 7.9
1990 7.8 7.7 7.6 7.5 7.6 8.1 8.4 9.2 8.3 8.3 8.2 8.2 8.1
1991 9.0 9.0 9.1 9.3 9.3 9.4 9.4 8.7 12.3 12.1 12.1 12.1 10.2
1992 11.2 11.0 11.3 11.6 11.6 11.7 11.4 11.4 9.0 9.6 9.6 10.0 10.7
1993 10.5 10.5 10.2 9.7 9.8 9.6 9.7 9.3 8.7 8.3 8.3 7.9 9.4
1994 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.2 7.2 6.7 6.4 6.3 6.3 7.0
1995 6.1 6.4 6.4 6.2 6.1 5.9 5.9 6.4 5.6 5.7 5.7 5.7 6.0
1996 5.9 5.7 5.7 6.0 5.9 5.9 5.8 5.7 5.4 5.3 5.3 5.3 5.7
1997 5.5 5.4 5.4 5.2 5.3 5.3 5.4 5.1 4.7 4.7 4.7 4.6 5.1
1998 4.6 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.4 4.3 3.9 3.8 3.8 3.9 3.9 4.2
1999 3.8 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.9 3.9 3.9 4.0 4.1 4.0 4.0 4.0
2000 3.8 3.7 3.7 3.7 3.8 4.4 4.4 4.3 4.3 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.1
2001 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.2 4.3 5.6 6.0 6.0 6.2 6.2 5.1
2002 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.8 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.1 7.0 6.8
2003 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.4 7.4 7.4 7.8 9.5 9.5 9.7 9.7 9.8 8.4
2004 10.2 10.1 10.2 10.1 10.2 10.1 9.8 8.4 8.9 8.6 8.7 8.6 9.5
2005 7.9 8.0 7.9 7.9 8.1 8.1 7.9 7.3 6.8 6.7 6.6 6.6 7.5
2006 6.7 6.6 6.5 6.6 6.4 6.4 6.8 7.1 6.5 6.8 7.0 7.0 6.7
2007 6.6 6.7 6.7 6.6 6.4 6.3 6.2 6.0 5.5 6.1 6.0 6.1 6.2
2008 6.3 6.2 6.1 6.4 6.4 6.4 6.3 6.3 6.7 6.1 5.9 5.8 6.2
2009 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.7 5.9 5.9 5.9 6.5 6.4 6.4 6.0 6.0 6.0
2010 5.8 5.7 6.0 6.1 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.1 4.4 3.8 4.2 4.1 5.2
2011 4.5 4.7 4.5 4.3 4.5 4.4 4.7 5.3 5.6 5.7 5.9 6.0 5.0
2012 5.6 5.4 5.4 5.4 5.3 5.3 5.4 4.2 4.0 4.4 4.1 4.0 4.8
2013 4.5 4.6 4.5 4.6 4.5 4.5 4.2 4.2 3.7 3.7 3.9 3.9 4.2
2014 3.5 3.9 3.9 4.0 4.0 4.1 3.9 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.5 3.4 3.7
2015 3.6 3.3 3.4 3.4 3.4 3.4 3.5 3.3 3.7 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5
2016 3.1 3.2 3.1 3.0 3.1 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.2 2.2 2.1 2.3 2.7
2017 2.1 2.0 1.9 1.8 1.7 1.9 2.0 1.9 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.1 2.0
2018 2.2 2.0 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 2.0 2.7 2.4 2.8 2.8 2.8 2.2
2019 2.9 3.1 3.8 3.9 3.8 3.4 2.9 2.5 2.4 2.0 1.9 1.7 2.9
2020 1.9 1.9 1.7 1.6 1.7 1.7 2.1 1.3 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.7 1.4
2021 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.2 0.8 1.7 1.8 1.9 1.8 0.9
2022 1.9 2.0 2.1 2.1 2.1 2.2 2.4

 

Table of CPI Data for College Tuition and Fees (1978-2022)

The following table displays BLS’s CPI data for college tuition and fees.

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Ave
1977 57.9
1978 58.3 58.3 58.4 58.4 58.4 58.4 58.5 58.8 62.7 62.9 62.9 62.9 59.9
1979 62.9 62.9 63.0 63.0 63.0 63.1 63.2 63.5 67.7 67.9 67.9 67.9 64.7
1980 68.1 68.2 68.2 68.2 68.2 68.2 68.3 68.7 75.6 76.1 76.1 76.1 70.8
1981 76.4 76.5 76.6 76.6 76.6 76.6 77.0 77.1 84.7 85.8 85.8 85.8 79.6
1982 86.8 86.9 87.2 87.4 87.4 87.5 87.9 87.9 95.4 96.5 96.5 96.5 90.3
1983 96.6 96.7 96.7 96.9 96.9 96.8 97.1 97.2 104.6 105.7 105.7 105.8 99.7
1984 105.9 105.9 106.8 106.9 106.9 107.0 107.2 107.2 115.8 116.6 116.6 116.5 109.9
1985 116.5 116.6 116.6 116.7 116.7 116.8 117.1 117.2 125.5 126.4 126.5 126.5 119.9
1986 126.5 126.5 126.5 126.6 126.6 126.7 126.7 127.0 135.1 135.8 135.8 135.8 129.6
1987 136.1 136.2 136.3 136.5 136.6 136.9 137.1 138.1 144.0 144.7 144.8 145.3 139.4
1988 145.6 146.4 146.4 146.4 146.4 146.7 146.9 149.7 156.0 156.5 156.5 156.5 150.0
1989 157.5 158.0 158.1 158.1 158.1 157.7 158.3 161.4 168.3 169.0 169.2 169.1 161.9
1990 169.8 170.1 170.1 170.0 170.1 170.5 171.6 176.2 182.2 183.0 183.0 183.0 175.0
1991 185.0 185.4 185.5 185.8 185.9 186.6 187.7 191.6 204.6 205.1 205.1 205.1 192.8
1992 205.8 205.8 206.4 207.4 207.5 208.4 209.1 213.5 223.0 224.8 224.8 225.7 213.5
1993 227.5 227.5 227.5 227.6 227.8 228.5 229.3 233.4 242.4 243.4 243.5 243.5 233.5
1994 244.0 244.1 244.1 244.3 244.4 245.2 245.7 250.3 258.7 258.9 258.9 258.9 249.8
1995 259.0 259.8 259.8 259.4 259.4 259.6 260.3 266.3 273.1 273.7 273.7 273.7 264.8
1996 274.2 274.6 274.6 274.9 274.8 274.8 275.5 281.5 287.8 288.3 288.3 288.3 279.8
1997 289.3 289.3 289.3 289.3 289.5 289.5 290.5 295.9 301.3 301.8 301.8 301.7 294.1
1998 302.5 302.4 302.4 302.4 302.4 302.3 303.1 307.4 312.9 313.3 313.6 313.6 306.5
1999 314.1 314.5 314.5 314.5 314.5 314.1 314.9 319.5 325.5 326.0 326.1 326.1 318.7
2000 326.0 326.2 326.1 326.1 326.6 327.8 328.6 333.1 339.5 340.7 340.8 340.9 331.9
2001 340.8 341.0 340.9 340.9 341.4 341.7 342.7 351.9 359.9 361.1 361.8 361.9 348.8
2002 362.4 362.9 362.9 363.0 363.7 365.1 366.6 376.9 385.9 387.3 387.5 387.4 372.6
2003 388.6 389.4 389.6 390.0 390.6 392.0 395.1 412.8 422.6 424.9 425.1 425.5 403.9
2004 428.4 428.9 429.3 429.4 430.5 431.6 433.8 447.6 460.4 461.3 462.0 462.2 442.1
2005 462.4 463.0 463.2 463.2 465.2 466.6 468.1 480.4 491.9 492.1 492.6 492.8 475.1
2006 493.5 493.5 493.5 493.8 495.2 496.4 499.7 514.3 523.9 525.4 527.2 527.2 507.0
2007 526.174 526.636 526.508 526.172 527.057 527.625 530.862 544.923 552.903 557.222 558.975 559.190 538.687
2008 559.517 559.173 558.452 559.780 560.613 561.148 564.552 579.448 589.815 591.328 591.765 591.804 572.283
2009 592.071 591.782 591.115 591.571 593.848 594.178 597.671 617.211 627.302 628.981 627.294 627.061 606.674
2010 626.472 625.578 626.817 627.711 628.329 628.660 632.236 648.857 654.649 653.037 653.414 652.495 638.188
2011 654.725 655.271 655.150 654.936 656.645 656.413 662.041 683.007 691.049 690.238 691.764 691.768 670.251
2012 691.260 690.527 690.570 690.168 691.213 691.295 697.731 711.449 718.908 720.332 719.962 719.677 702.758
2013 722.477 721.998 721.916 721.857 722.134 722.695 727.001 741.147 745.701 746.810 747.794 747.746 732.440
2014 747.922 749.968 749.950 750.429 751.029 752.627 755.393 765.780 770.737 773.055 773.641 773.407 759.495
2015 775.175 775.041 775.426 776.190 776.379 778.244 781.714 791.039 799.221 800.426 800.652 800.690 785.850
2016 799.117 799.623 799.161 799.719 800.455 801.542 802.771 809.626 816.562 818.267 817.800 819.362 807.000
2017 815.911 815.947 814.019 814.222 814.190 817.117 818.581 824.932 833.581 835.999 836.506 836.546 823.129
2018 833.625 832.620 828.234 828.112 828.332 831.156 835.314 847.084 853.208 858.998 859.711 859.588 841.332
2019 858.041 858.687 860.066 860.065 859.922 859.798 859.365 868.320 873.995 876.145 875.756 874.088 865.354
2020 874.769 874.821 874.617 874.234 874.153 874.774 877.356 879.662 880.234 881.128 880.819 880.584 877.263
2021 878.569 878.405 877.503 876.996 877.052 878.506 879.192 886.919 895.395 896.770 897.128 896.184 884.885
2022 895.257 895.553 895.552 895.552 895.552 898.003 899.856

 

Data Source for Chart and Tables: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: College tuition and fees in U.S. city average, all urban consumers, not seasonally adjusted. Base Period: 1982-84=100.