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The cost of college tuition increased rapidly from 1980 to 2004 at a rate of about 7 percent per year, significantly outpacing the overall inflation rate. Since 2005, college tuition inflation has slowed markedly and has averaged closer to 2 percent per year for the last few years. Understanding what drives tuition inflation is important for predicting future tuition as well as personal income mobility. However, untangling the various supply and demand factors influencing college tuition can be challenging.

Brent Bundick and Emily Pollard document changes in college tuition inflation over time and attempt to explain the long rise and subsequent fall in college tuition inflation. They find that supply factors such as wages in the education sector and state appropriations to higher education both play important roles in explaining changes in college tuition inflation. In contrast, they find little evidence that demand factors such as changes in the availability of student loans have a significant effect on college tuition.

Publication information: 1st Quarter 2019
DOI: 10.18651/ER/1q19BundickPollard


Brent Bundick

Sr. Research and Policy Advisor

Brent Bundick is a Senior Research and Policy Advisor in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He rejoined the Department in 2014 after com…

Emily Pollard

Associate Economist

After I graduated from Carleton College in 2016 with a BA in mathematics and economics, I was excited to join the research team at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. During…