College prices soaring for decades

Kansas City, Mo. - Recent bumps in tuition, approved for Kansas state schools, pale in comparison to the increase of tuition rates for colleges over the last few decades. 

Jasmine Heinson isn't surprised. The UMKC student already watched tuition prices closely.

"They keep going up significantly!" she shook her head. 

Heinson, who graduated top of her class, had to change schools to get cheaper tuition. She will still come out with debt.

"It will be $21,000 or $22,000 by the time I graduate. I made the mistake of going to a private school my first year," she said.

Tuition rates have been steadily climbing for at least forty years across the country. The increase easily outpaces inflation.

Since 1973, inflation increased 187 percent. Some items saw bigger increases. According to the Department of Energy, a gallon of gas cost an average of $.39 in 1973. The Bureau of Labor statistics shows the current average cost for gas is $3.62 a gallon, more than an 800 percent increase. 

The average cost of college trumps that.

In 1973, tuition and fees for two semesters at KU would cost $486. Now residents will pay $8,888. That's a forty-year increase of 1,728 percent.

See KU's tuition history | http://bit.ly/11BPaPb

Two semesters at a school in the University of Missouri System would cost $500 in 1973. Now students pay $7968 showing an increase of 1,493 percent.

See MU's tuition history | http://bit.ly/10BECV3

University of Kansas officials say state funding cuts are the biggest culprit. They say since 1999, they have lost 36 percent, or more than $5,000 per student, in state funding. Tuition has risen $6,000 since then.

Why doesn't competition keep rates low? It may be competition that is helping them stay sky-high.

Steve Hulburt with the American Institutes For Research, said there is an "arm's race" of sorts in higher education. Universities are giving more merit-based financial aid to try to get more gifted students. Other students then have to fill the gap and pay the price, so schools raise tuition.

"Institutions are trying to sweeten the pot to get students to go to their institution," Hulburt said. "Nobody is getting ahead."

"It is kind of hard, because people can't necessarily choose to not go to college now because everyone has a college degree," Heinson said.

But, according to Hulburt, that might be the only way rising tuition prices will slow down. 

"People are still going to college and they're still paying the price," Hulburt said. "I think that would be the only way where you reach a critical mass amongst the populous where they kind of stand up and say, hey, we're not going to take this anymore."

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