Higher Education is Getting More Expensive, and Students are Sharing More of the Burden

Have you been impacted by the burden of student debt? Congress needs to hear from you!

More recent high school graduates are attending college. In 1980, 49.2% of recent graduates aged 16-24 enrolled in college within a year of high school graduation. In the 2016-2017 school year, that percentage rose to 69.8%.

Government spending per enrolled student in higher education reached $12,852 in 2016, an increase of 50% from $8,550 in 1980, adjusted for inflation. However, total expenditures of public higher-education institutions increased 205% in this same time period. As a result, students are sharing more of the cost of education. Today students pay 21% of the revenue of all public colleges and universities, up from 13% in 1981. Average tuition costs have increased 93% since 1993, from $6,300 in 1993 to $12,300 in 2016. To offset some of this cost increase, the average financial aid award has increased 95% since 1993, from $9,500 in 1993 to $18,600 in 2016 (Fig. 75). Non-federal loans have increased 132% since 1993, the most of any source of financial aid. Average award amounts from federal sources have increased 64%, while average award amounts from non-federal sources have increased 99%. 

Unlike grants, loans have to be repaid, and students are graduating with more debt than in the past. In the 2015- 2016 school year, 61.8% of undergraduate degree completers had received a loan, up from 52.5% in the 1999-2000 school year. Meanwhile, the average cumulative loan amount has grown 22%, from $20,440 in 1999-2000 to $24,930 in 2015- 2016, adjusted for inflation.

For bachelor's degrees, business continues to be the most popular major, comprising 19% of degrees completed in 2016 (Fig. 76). Healthcare-related bachelor's degrees have consistently increased, from 7% in 1981 to 12% in 2016. Social sciences and history have declined, from 11% in 1981 to 8% in 2016.