Ye Olde Student Life: From 1982 to 2019, tuition hikes have remained a hot topic

When I stumbled upon this October 1982 article on Pomona College tuition hikes, it struck me that it was still very relevant today. Tuition increases have consistently been a hot topic. I wanted to know: Do student loans define my generation better than social media, progressive movements and rising inequality?

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the average cost of private college education rose from $19,454 in 1985 to $39,011 in 2015, adjusted to 2015’s inflation rate.

Therefore, getting a college degree for many families is very expensive. College is often an essential step to securing high paying jobs, even if paying the costly bill can be a painful process. Families now spend from a fifth to over half of their annual income on college bills, and this statistic will likely get higher over time. Student debt amounts to over $1.52 trillion, but the tuition hikes at the 5Cs represent different realities compared to many other universities.

Student loans are often lumped together, but there are wide discrepancies within them — after all, three types of colleges exist in the U.S. There’s the selective private (such as the Ivy Leagues, elite liberal arts colleges and well-regarded technical-focused universities), the selective public (such as the UCs) and all other higher education institutions (such as non-selective public, private, community and for-profit universities).

As the 1982 article describes, the tuition increase is a “reflection of an increase in overall expenses to the college” as the “tuition rises at a rate slightly higher than rate of inflation of the same period.” The 14.5 percent increase in Pomona’s price was matched with a 17 percent increase in average financial aid award. Pomona did not use tuition revenues for financial aid until 1978.

By comparing the sticker price of $9,072 and average need-based award of $6,500, it seems like students receiving financial aid pay around one-third of the actual cost. You can compare the ratio to today’s rate of $71,978 (tuition, room and board, fees) and $48,930 (average financial aid, no loan). While the numbers have changed, the scale remains relatively the same.

This is interesting, given how much Pomona’s student demographics have altered over time. Being a beneficiary of Pomona’s need-blind and need-based financial aid policy, I’d like to personally thank the college for providing me and many students an excellent and more affordable education.


Michael He PO ’22 constantly fights his urge to slack off and procrastinate, but once in a while does something productive and nice. Talk to him!

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