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      ExorbitantGoing far beyond what is fair, reasonable, or expected: too expensive, etc. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

“Lawmakers push debt-free college option”

The headline caught my attention, though presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been advocating free college for a long time, saying the exorbitant cost is indefensible.

Like many Baby Boomers, I thought it was not only a dumb idea, but irresponsible, as well. Carrying some debt upon graduating from college is a great motivator to get a job and move on with your life.

After looking into it, however, I’m still not with Bernie, but I am much more sympathetic to today’s college kids.

When I attended Northern State University as a sophomore in 1966, tuition was $9.50 per credit hour. The fees were nominal. That means for a year of college – 30 credit hours – the cost was $285, plus $15 in fees and room and board.

Today, 50 years later, tuition at NSU is $139 per credit hour, or $4,170, and fees are nearly as much –$3,700. Total today, excluding room and board: $8,000. Total in 1966, also excluding food and a place to sleep: Probably $300 because the fees were minuscule.

Adjusted for inflation, that $9.50 a credit hour in 1966 becomes $69.50, or about half of today’s $139 per credit hour tuition cost. Factor in fees, and college costs have increased nearly four-fold in actual dollars.

By comparison, my $1.15 an hour job in 1966 as a pump jockey at Labidee’s Standard would pay $8.41 today, adjusted for inflation, a bit less than South Dakota’s minimum wage of $8.50 in 2015. Of course, many high school graduates make far more than minimum wage as they prepare for college or vocational school. But not nearly enough to offset the rise in college costs.

What this means is if you are a college student working summers and part-time to get a college education, your debt at the end of four years will be much, much bigger. Mountainous, in fact.

And, assuming you complete your degree, is the job that awaits you going to be adequate to pay back the debt?

An average salary for a South Dakota teacher in 1966 was about $6,000; the average pay for a teacher in South Dakota today is $40,000, even less than inflationary growth ($43,900).

So what happened? Was college just a great deal in the 1960s?

Some answers next week.

Feb. 3, 2016