Stagnant incomes struggle to keep up with rising tuition


Incomes are barely budging, while college costs keep rising. The median income has remained steady at around $33,000 since 1988, yet college tuition and fees have more than doubled since 1988. What’s worse is, college tuition and fees do not include room and board. According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid sites and, as out-of-pocket costs of college education go up faster than incomes, it’s pricing low and medium income families out of a college education. Let’s look at the figures, provided by CNN Money:

Tuition: In 1988, the average tuition and fees for a four-year public university rang in at about $2,800, adjusted for inflation. By 2008, that number had climbed about 130% to roughly $6,500 a year — and that doesn’t include books or room and board.

Income: If incomes had kept up with surging college costs, the typical American would be earning $77,000 a year. But in reality, it’s nowhere near that.

In 2008 — the latest data available — the median income was $33,000. That means if you adjust for inflation, Americans in the middle actually earned $400 less than they did in 1988.

So, what can low to middle class families do to get past this obstacle? There are several popular and not-so-popular ways to cover college tuition costs without going broke. Let’s start with the popular ways. If the student does extremely well in high school, he or she may qualify for a number of scholarships that can help pay a portion of tuition. Some scholarships are also very specific, meaning, high school students with talents in certain areas such as technology, science, or even art may qualify for any number of scholarships.

If the student is into sports, many colleges will pay all or part of the student’s tuition for playing on the football team, basketball, track, or even the swimming team. There are also a number of scholarships and grants for minority students and women. To find thousands of scholarships, grants, and awards of all kinds, pick up a copy of the latest edition of The Scholarship Book: The Complete Guide to Private-Sector Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Loans for the Undergraduate.

Now for a few not-so-popular ways to handle tuition costs. Many parents would prefer it if their college bound kids didn’t have to work. But the reality is this, many college students do have to work to help pay for college and some even work full-time. This can help lighten the load on the parents and teach the student a thing or two about managing money and what it takes to earn a living in America. This can be an invaluable experience for students when the time comes to enter the working world.

Another not-so-popular way to save money on college is to live at home and spend the first 1-2 years at a local community college. First and second year courses such as history, English, math, science, and others may be taken at a community college, as most are transferable to a 4-year college. The best news is, most community colleges charge 50 to 75 percent less per credit hour than 4-year colleges. And finally, it’s possible to finish college in three years, but it will take some hard work and you will have to sacrifice summers, and possibly an active social life. In the end though, you will have one less year of tuition payments to worry about. For more ways to save on college tuition, visit


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