The cost of college is a rip-off.

I finally started reading Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers. Although written in 2008, it is still relevant today. One story in particular got me going down a rabbit hole. It is the story of Ted Friedman and how he managed to pay for college by himself in the 50's.

I will not delve into the details of his story, but I want to highlight that his first year of college at the University of Michigan was a whopping $450. He saved up enough money for his tuition while working over the summer in the Catskills.

This really struck me and got me going back to look at the data (also, I want to note that I am not picking on UPenn, I just happened to come across these pictures).

The median family income of the 50’s was about $3,319 annually. That is, half of families earned less than $3,319 and half of families earned more than that.

The cost of undergraduate tuition at the University of Pennsylvania for the period of 1950–1959 was $600, see below:

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Breaking it down by the percentage of family income, it would have cost a family about 18.% percent of their annual income to send one child to school.

Let’s fast forward to today.

The median family income in the US is $57,230 annually.

Let’s take a look at the average cost of an undergraduate degree by in-state, out of state, and private.

The average tuition cost for in-state colleges and universities today is about $25,290.

The average tuition cost for out-of-state colleges and universities today is about $40,940.

The average tuition cost for private colleges and universities today is about $50,900.

Let’s break that down by percentage of family income for each.

In-state: 44.1% of family income

Out-of-state: 72% of family income

Private: 89% of family income

Just for fun, let me show you what the cost of tuition is at UPenn this year.

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That’s right, families should budget for $59,916, that is, if the kid wants to stay home while attending (hoping that they live within driving distance of the campus). That is $2,686 more than the median family income.

Going back to Ted Friedman’s story, let’s just say that the days of trying to pay for college with your summer pocket money is long over.

The book Outliers is a great reminder of how much luck and timing plays a factor in someone’s success. With these facts, unfortunately the future looks very bleak for some of us.

Please comment below, I will be happy to read your thoughts on this problem.

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Web Developer, Product Manage, Startup Advisor and Occasional Angel Investor on @joinrepublic.

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