Do today’s college students get socked financially?

In my side job as a part-time lecturer at a state university, you can bet I hear plentyED000083 of complaints from students about how much it costs to go to college nowadays compared with the past. Parents join the whine, and sometimes professors do, too.

Just for kicks, I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to see how many hankies to spend on this gripe. Using this online tool, I updated to today’s dollars what I spent on a few things in 1974.

In that year, I was self-supported. I split an apartment with a high school friend, transferred from a community college where I paid more as an out-of-district resident to a community college where I paid less, and bought a used Volkswagen Beetle. To pay for it all, I worked full time as an assistant manager at a restaurant.

Here are the 1974 prices:

  • Half the rent: $200/month
  • Groceries: $12/week (for one)
  • Gasoline: 69 cents/gallon
  • Tuition per unit: $10 (in-district community college)
  • Tuition per unit: $22 (out-of-district community college)
  • Used VW Beetle: $1,600
  • Minimum wage: $1.65/hour
  • My manager salary: $135/week

Here are the 2014 equivalents as determined by the CPI inflation calculator:

  • Half the rent: $965.11/month
  • Groceries: $57.91/week (for one)
  • Gasoline: $3.33/gallon
  • Tuition per unit: $48.26 (in-district community college; actual price today is $82 per unit)
  • Tuition per unit: $106.16 (out-of-district community college; actual price today is $135 per unit)
  • Used VW Beetle if bought with 2014 dollars: $7,720.89
  • 1974 minimum wage in 2014 dollars: $7.96
  • My 1974 salary in 2014 dollars: $651.45

By these calculations, tuition does indeed cost a lot more, wages are about the same, and the prices of rent, food and the car are slightly less today than in 1974.

Let’s call it a draw. For the moment, my cryin’ hanky will stay dry.

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