Was College Affordable in the 1970s?

In 2019, student loan debt reached its highest level ever. In the United States alone, there are now more than 44 million borrowers who owe a total of $1.5 trillion USD in student loans, making it the second-highest consumer debt category. In 2014, a meme circulating on Facebook pointed out the disparity between today’s students and those who were in higher education in the late 1970s. The post claimed that in 1978, a student working a minimum-wage summer job could earn enough money to afford a year of “full tuition at a four-year public university of their choice.” Politifact checked out the claim and deemed the statement “mostly true,” with the caveat that the statement would have been true for tuition at most in-state colleges and universities.

The high cost of higher education:

  • Using the 1978 minimum wage of $2.65 USD, and calculating earnings for 13 weeks, at 40 hours a week, Politifact determined that a college student with a full-time, minimum wage job could have earned $1,378 during the summer of 1978.

  • Using federal data, they determined that the average cost of tuition (plus fees) that year was $688 USD for in-state residents attending a public college or university. But as that figure was the national average, some in-state institutions were more expensive.

  • In addition, adding the cost of room and board to the tuition amount resulted in an annual cost of $2,145 USD -- more than a student could earn at a minimum-wage summer job. The claim also assumes that students would have been able to find full-time summer employment.

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More Info: Politifact

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