9. Student Loans: A Brief History, the Current Landscape, and Impacts on Society
The price of attending college has increased at well above the rate of inflation and growth in household income during the past several decades. Between the 1971–1972 and 2014–2015 academic years, tuition and fees increased 191% above inflation at private four-year colleges (to $31,231), 198% above inflation at public two-year colleges (to $3,347), and 265% above inflation at public four-year colleges (to $9,139) (Baum & Ma, 2014) while median household income increased only 8% faster than inflation during this period for families in the lowest two income quartiles (author’s calculation using Census Bureau data). In addition to tuition and fees, students and their families must cover costs for room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other living expenses. All of these costs factor into the total cost of attendance that colleges have to report to the federal government, and research suggests that many colleges understate how much it costs to live modestly while being a student (Kelchen, Hosch, & Goldrick-Rab, 2014).
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