Home > Student Loans > This Tuition Bill From 1979 Will Make You Want to Cry

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My mom was helping her parents clean their condo the other day, and — as often happens during such adventures — she found some entertaining things. Among them was an Illinois State University registration form from 1979, when my aunt was in college, and my mom sent me a picture of it. If you went to college in the past decade (me), you will find this upsetting:

Tuition was only $395.25 a semester.


That’s less than what my husband and I pay every month toward our student loan debts.

A few things to note: My mom and her siblings went to a public school and paid in-state tuition. That figure doesn’t include room and board. It’s also just a semester of tuition. Most important, that’s $395.25 in 1979 dollars.

But when you adjust for some of those things, it’s still ridiculously low by today’s standards. In 2015 dollars, the 1979 fall semester at Illinois State cost $1,294.84, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator. That would be $2,589.68 per academic year. That’s ridiculously cheap, even once you factor in whatever room and board was (not listed in the form she found).

Let’s do the out-of-state calculations, just for fun. In 1979, out-of-state tuition for Illinois State was $943.25 per semester. That’s $1,886.50 for the year, but in 2015 dollars, it’s $6,180.18. Six thousand dollars for out-of-state tuition. You could get an entire college education for less than $25,000. For someone like me, who went to a private college, that figure sounds nice for just a year of tuition, let alone four. (Coincidentally, Illinois State is a school with that kind of pricing. Earlier this year, I rounded up a list of well-ranked schools you could attend for less than $21,000 a year, and it was on the list, so perhaps it’s just one of those schools that’s always been on the more affordable side.)

I was also entertained by the little note at the bottom the registration form. It’s my grandma’s handwriting, indicating the number of the check she used to pay the tuition. The idea of writing a check for an entire semester of tuition seems so absurd these days.

Given that the average tuition for a four-year, out-of-state public school was $23,893 this academic year, there probably aren’t many people who can write that sort of check. And if you have a kid who wants to go to a private school (an average of $32,405) — well, good luck. There’s a good reason Americans have $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.

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Image courtesy of Christine DiGangi

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  • Americadies

    It simply shows one the success of liberals. Their stupid ideas drive up the cost of everything.

  • CJ

    Here is something to make you feel even worse… I graduated from a State University of New York college in 1978. I was a decent student in high school and was able to obtain a Regents Scholarship and New York had something called TAP at the time. The result… I remember writing a check for $74 for my tuition for a semester. I lived off campus with several friends so my monthly rent was under $100. With a couple of part-time jobs, I was able to pay for my BA degree without loans. Way different story for my children, in fact I’m just getting to the end of my final Parent Plus loan and my youngest is still paying and will be for quite a while. I really hate student loans, I think our young people are being taken advantage of.

    • http://blog.credit.com/author/christine-digangi/ Christine DiGangi

      $74?? That’s amazing. To be fair, I had enough scholarships to cover my entire freshman year, but I still had to borrow more than $20K for the remaining three years.

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