In 1961, the minimum wage was $1.15, which means that a student who worked part-time in high-school (and summers) and in college could pay his way through school. UC Berkeley tuition was equal to around 600 hours of minimum wage (not including taxes). Here’s the situation in 2011:
Flagship state universities set their prices below those of elite private colleges. But they are not cheap by any other standard. At the University of Michigan, an in-state freshman will face total expenses of $25,204, a senior $26,810. At Penn State, an in-state freshman will pay $25,416 for tuition, fees, and living expenses this year.
That’s around 3,500 hours of minimum wage (again, I haven’t factored in taxes). Unless a student is involved in one or more of the various sex industries, loans are a requirement–for in-state students.
Well, CEPR contrasted 1980 with 2010, and found a similar pattern (and, yes, I am the punditiest pundit EVAH!):
While support (i.e., subsidies) for students have increased, this still squeezes many lower-middle class students.