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  • Pauline Hoffmann

It's Back to School....But It'll Cost Ya

What does a college education cost?

A couple of week's ago we had a rousing good conversation about generations and generational differences. If you didn't listen to the podcast to hear Bryce get all riled up, it's worth a listen.


He made the comment that Baby Boomers were able to pay for college by working summer jobs (or year-round jobs). It made me think about how true that was. Do we have data that compares the cost of college then with the cost of college now adjusted for inflation? We sure do. The National Center for Education Statistics has some pretty comprehensive tables noting the cost of college in a number of ways including 4-year vs. 2-year; private vs. public, etc. I developed a graph from the data noting the differences in college tuition from 1963/64 to 2019/20 of private, public, for profit, and non profit institutions. All dollars are in 2019-2020 constant dollars (which equalizes the numbers, so to speak).



USA Facts has some interesting additional data you might peruse. Above we see the sticker price, but is the sticker price the price most students pay? Not even close. Take a look at some of the tables and data on the USA Facts site to see what other factors are taken into consideration including revenue, scholarships, federal grants, loans, etc.


And speaking of loans, we hear a great deal about them. I was lucky enough to get through my undergraduate years without student loans. (But that was a number of years ago. A number of years ago.) My graduate degrees were a different story. I didn't do what many people usually do to earn a masters and Ph.D. I wasn't a graduate or teaching assistant (which would have paid most or all of my expenses). I was working full-time and going to school full-time. Gah!


If you are Twitter - or if you read/watch/listen to news - you will see politicians and others calling for our president to cancel student debt. What does student debt look like in the U.S.? Forbes had a wonderful recent article detailing student debt in the U.S. including breaking it down by age, geographic location, and debt balance.


After reading about how much student loan debt people carry, I was curious if this is something we have created in the U.S or if it's universal. It turns out the U.S. leads the world in student loan debt. I am not sure this is where I would like to be number 1 or even near the top but there you have it.


The following infographic from Student Loan Review is quite telling (from 2017).


Student Loan Hero also has an infographic detailing student loan debt worldwide (from August 2019). (Everyone should develop infographics. They are fun and informative):



Did you notice something about the above data? You are seeing two different student loan debt numbers. Let me point out the discrepancies:

Country Average Student Loan Debt

UK (Student Loan Review) $30,800

UK (Student Loan Hero) $2,400

Germany (Student Loan Review) $2,400

Germany (Student Loan Hero) $55,000

Canada (Student Loan Review) $20,000

Canada (Student Loan Hero) $26,819

United States (Student Loan Review) $37,172

United States (Student Loan Hero) $29,800


Australia seems to the be only country on both lists with the same student loan debt number ($22,000). I bring this to your attention because I don't know the answer! I have no idea why the numbers are so wildly different. Consider Germany: $55,000 vs $2,400. That's not even close! It helps to look at more than one site to get info. Which of the above is correct? My money would be on the Student Loan Review given the sources it lists. Do some digging yourself and test my hypothesis.


We may also consider the number of people in each country who have a college degree. Student Loan Review provided the following graph.


All of this talk about college expense in the U.S. and abroad had us wondering if students should just get a degree abroad - or at least study abroad. Value Colleges notes the most cost effective places for U.S. students to study abroad.


The New York Times recently reported on a study by the Third Way, a center-left public policy group. It used data from the U.S. Education Department’s College Scorecard. Have some fun on the Scorecard site. You just enter the name of a school and get the following info:

  • Graduation rate

  • Average cost of tuition (after federal financial aid)

  • Student body

  • Test Scores

  • Financial aid and debt

  • Salary after completing by field of study

Third Way also noted the college programs that provide the best return on investment. Keep in mind that this is a tool only. Please choose a program you will enjoy and don't base your decision solely on how much money you will make or how long it will take to pay off your student loans.





Our ARS (Arbitrary Random Stat) for this week is also from a past podcast. Bryce asked me if there were generations before the Silent Generation. Indeed, there were. In fact, Life Course lists generations back to the 15th century. Have a look at the table compiled on its website.







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