Getting a college education used to be both attainable and affordable. In the 1960's, college tuition cost around $950 (NCES). However in '70s, thousands of colleges everywhere had to increase tuition when a deadly mixture of inflation, the oil embargo, and a less-than perfect economy collided. Harvard's tuition went from just $200 to $2000. Beforehand must colleges were able to pay students tuition themselves with the help of the GI Bill, geared towards veterans, and the Higher Education Act of 1965 which gave minorities and women a chance to now attend college. Now, instead of grants, middle class and poor students were expected to go into debt taking out federal loans to get their way through college.
One (CNBC) of main reasons for the large increase in tuition was and is the lack of government funding colleges are receiving. Also, as the unemployment rate increased, the public was less likely to donate to these higher institutions. So now both universities and their students were forced to pay for education themselves, and colleges took advantage of this.
Now, going to Harvard either means you're really rich, really smart, or a mixture of both. Colleges like Harvard capitalized on the public's perception that higher tuition rates meant a higher quality education. The more money a college is given, the more prestigious it is. Therefore, colleges have been allowed to justify increases in tuition by promoting a chance for a 'better' education in comparison to other colleges and universities.
Another factor contributing to the rise of college tuition is how colleges are using the money they do have. Many schools are using money on expensive amenities such as rock climbing walls and gyms, built to attract only the best students. The costs of maintaining sport teams and coaches salaries also take away from the amount of money student are given. However, the budget dedicated to these pricey programs is dismissed, and will continue to increase, because they increase attraction to the schools.
Yet another reason for increasing tuition is that the number of non-teaching jobs added to the payrolls of higher education institutions has risen by 28 percent. The addition of these jobs has helped to increase enrollment and to compensate for the addition of these new employees, institutions relay more heavily on part-time instructors. Meanwhile, teaching salaries have remained relatively stable for the past 20 years.
Unfortunately, unless inflation is somehow put to a stop, college tuition rates will continue to sharply rise. The tuition for Harvard is 17 times the amount it was in 1971. Inflation rates for college are thought to be almost six percent above the normal inflation rates. Despite this, the college enrollment rate has doubled since 1971.
Research has found that people who go to college make on average $20,000 (US News) more than people who stop their education at high school. However, those applying to college have to take into consideration the realities of obtaining a degree. The major you go into may not have jobs available when you graduate and you may still end up making the same amount as a high school graduate. That being said, the choice to go to college is a pricey and risky one; although now it is necessary to have a degree just to work at McDonald's.