College Tuition In The 1920s – The Low Cost Of Getting Higher Education

Harvard, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, Bates, & Colgate All Cost Under $250 Per Year in 1920

There is no need to go on a diatribe about the rising cost of college tuition. Instead, let’s go back to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper from nearly 100 years ago (August 25, 1921). The headline read. Demand For Higher Education Increases in Face of Higher Cost of Tuition and a Slackening Demand For Help.

What exactly were those higher costs?

College           1921 Tuition
University of Georgia  FREE
University of South Carolina $40
William and Mary College $50
Clark University $100
Bates College $125
Bowdoin College $150
Johns Hopkins University $150-250
Dickinson College $160
University of Vermont $175
Colgate University $180
Boston University $225
Dartmouth College $250
Harvard University $250
Tufts College $250

To give some scale to these tuition costs, the average annual salary of a civil service employee was $1,220 (male), $1,047 (female). Ranges for clothing workers were between $1,100 – $2,500 per year. Rectors and ministers were paid about $2,300 per year. A locomotive engineer made about $3,300 per year. A buyer for a major department store could make as little as $1,000 and as much as $15,000 per year, but the majority made between $5,000-$10,000.

Today college costs have grown to a point that they are completely out of whack with the rest of the economy. Top private colleges charge between $45,000 – $55,000 per year and that does not include room, board, books and other fees.

The come-on from colleges is that if you can demonstrate need, you will get a discount off the sticker price. Need is relevant. For many middle or upper middle class people residing near any major metropolitan city, the cost of living can be significantly higher than that of a smaller town. Therefore the income of a family in San Francisco does not go nearly as far as a family living in Youngstown, OH.

Most elite schools like Stanford and Princeton give practically no merit scholarship money for high achieving students, because everyone who is accepted at these types of schools are the best of the best. For an excellent college to be semi-affordable, you need to have saved well in advance, be wealthy or receive need based scholarship money.

But high tuition is not just about elite Ivy League schools. Consider the following tuition fees (including some public schools) in 2018.  All figures are from the college’s website or U.S. News and World Report for out-of-state, first year undergraduate students.

College           2018 Tuition
Reed College $56,030
Cornell University $54,584
Connecticut College $69,970 (includes room and board)
Harvard University $46,340
Michigan State University $39,750
Dickinson College $54,636
Colgate University $55,530
Bucknell University $55,788
Gettysburg College $54,480
Dartmouth College $52,950
Tufts University $55,172
University of North Carolina $34,938
Pepperdine University $53,680
University of Virginia $48,891

What are you getting for that money? Unless you go to a public school (in-state) or receive that precious financial aid or scholarship money, the answer is debt.

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