College Prices Have Not Increased By 1200 Percent

Thomas Frank writes:

The price of a year at college has increased by more than 1,200 percent over the last 30 years, far outpacing any other price the government tracks: food, housing, cars, gasoline, TVs, you name it.

He links to this Bloomberg piece from 2012 to support this claim. As expected, the Bloomberg piece uses the Consumer Price Index to substantiate this claim. The CPI’s index of tuition and fees is worse than meaningless. It tracks sticker prices, but almost no students actually pay those prices. They are the starting point from which actual prices are deeply discounted based on a number of factors including the ability to pay.

This is a zombie error that never dies because journalists either opportunistically or ignorantly seize upon it again and again.