What it cost me to go to college in 1973-74

I’m going through some old boxes of stuff, and ran across a wallet I carried in my college days. I scanned for you three of the items I found in it.

The first, above, shows what I paid for a semester at Memphis State University on Jan. 14, 1974. As you can see, the total cost for 16 credit hours — as usual, crammed with journalism classes I had to take, history and English classes I didn’t have to take but wanted to, and some PE to force me to get some exercise — was $174.00.

That’s one HUNDRED — not even thousand — and seventy-four dollars.

Me, at about that time.

Below, I include a receipt for my room and board for the previous semester — $235. This was not for a regular dorm. This was for a room in a private dorm, right on the edge of campus. Few people actually stayed on campus at Memphis State; it was a huge commuter school (a lot of people called it “Tiger High” because people just continued on there from high school without leaving their parents’ homes). Housing was such a low priority there that there were a lot of us who couldn’t find official campus dorm space at all, but who were willing to pay private rates (that is to say, my parents were willing to pay) for the experience of staying there.

Central Towers was two 10-story towers with the boys on one side and girls on the other, although the procedures were keeping us apart were not what you would call stringent. Making this an even more fun community was the fact that the dorm would periodically throw FREE beer busts with no limit. Enough said about that.

And all of that, including pretty decent food, cost $235 a semester.

Just for fun, I’ve included a ticket stub, also from that wallet, from when my then-fiancee and I went to see Elvis — Presley, not  Costello — on March 16, 1974. It was one of seven shows in a row he did at the Mid-South Coliseum. It was originally going to be fewer than that, but the hometown demand was so great they kept adding shows. It was the first time he had performed publicly in Memphis since 1961, and almost the last time ever.

I don’t know how much it cost, but in those days it was almost certainly less than $10. The usual price I remember paying for concerts then (Bob Dylan with The Band, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez and the like) was $5.

23 thoughts on “What it cost me to go to college in 1973-74

  1. Norm Ivey

    I love stuff like this, Brad. My first semester at Carolina circa 1982 was $350 for a full load. I finished my last course for my M.Ed. during Maymester this year. $995 for one class (that includes my teacher’s discount). I never lived on campus, so I can’t compare that cost. I saw Atlanta Rhythm Section in 1979 for $8.00. I also swore I’d ride a bike everywhere before I’d ever pay $1.00 for a gallon of gas. I don’t even own a bike today.

  2. Keith June

    Love the photo! You look a bit like John Lennon. I’m much younger so I can’t speak to those times but amazing how much in our society has changed. I have several friends who are from around that time and I’m always amazed at how much hair everyone had back then! Great story.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    There was a band coming to town called The New Yardbirds, whom I wanted to see. They were playing on a Tuesday night at the Civic Auditorium, where it was mostly pro wrestling. Tickets were $2 — which I didn’t have. Scott Rhoney and I collected “donations” from tourists in Waikiki for the “Retarded Hippie Children Fund” to get $2 each. It took a couple of hours. The band, BTW, had changed their name to Led Zeppelin a few days before the show.

  4. Herb Brasher

    I’ve got some similar college tuition receipts, etc., somewhere. It would be interesting to compare to today’s costs adjusted for inflation.

    Back then (1972) I had trouble getting a $200 loan in order to pay tuition for my last semester in grad school.

  5. Hunter

    Would guess we paid less at Mississippi State. I just saw that it’s $270 per HOUR there as of 2010. I graduated in 1971. 18 hours today would have been $4,860. So 8 semesters… Nearly $40,000! Just tuition.

    I was able to get out with almost no loans, working summers and holding various student jobs, including as managing editor of the paper, washing dishes, working as a janitor, and delivering pizza (all in one particularly busy semester).

    There’s no way you could do that now and get out without owing your first-born to the banks!

  6. KP

    I recall outrage on the Paladin staff when Furman’s tuition reached $5,000 for the year, back in ’79.

  7. T.J.

    I graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2002 and from USC Law in 2005. I came out owing the equivalent of a nice house in Columbia worth of debt.

    It is amazing and a sad commentary that students these days have to mortgage so much of their future. At this point, I am not even sure that the future earning potential outways the cost.

    I am lucky that have a job and I enjoy what I do.

    I have a three year old son and have started saving for his college already. Even with the early start, I doubt that I will be able to make much more than a dent in future learning expenses.

  8. Brad

    Someone over in social media asked what this would be in inflation-adjusted dollars.

    Today, the tuition would be $796.67 a semester. That’s the 2011 equivalent of $174, according to the CPI Inflation Calculator.

    And the room and board at that private dorm with the free beer busts would be $1,075.96.

    I’m sure those private student condos near the football stadium are no more than that, right? And give you all the food you want, right?

  9. bud

    I seem to recall my tuition at USC in the Fall of 1974 was $292/semester. That’s just based on my memory. In 2011 dollars that would be $1,336.93. And that amount is without any kind of scholarship money. I never borrowed a dime for the 4 years I went there. Now sure exactly what my sophomore-@-USC daughter is paying but she has the life scholarship plus a couple of others and she’s still having to borrow.

  10. SusanG

    Furman’s cost went up almost $1,000/year during 80-87 — when I started in ’80 it was $6K, and when my sister graduated in ’87 it was around $12K.

  11. Joanne

    I started Carolina in 1971, Fall. I remember taking a check from my dad for $472.00. I believe that included room and board as well as tuition.

    And I thought that was a lot. What happened other than technology??

  12. Silence

    I paid $871/semester (after a discount for having a parent who was a public school teacher) when I went to in-state public university in 1994-1996.

  13. ALL

    Why is it a dead topic? It is related to a very current issue.

    I googled “what did college cost in 1973” and found this site. I was estimating that my parents paid under $1000 a year to send me to state university in California, where I stayed at a dorm. From what I read on this site, it may have been well under that.

    I feel we should all be concerned of this piece of our overall situation — the lack of security for the young generation, e.g., off-the-hook education costs, no jobs, immediately having to start socking $$ away for old age and health. We didn’t have to do that. Were we just inordinately lucky, or over-privileged? It shouldn’t be so.

    BTW, Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Toure) spoke at my college, ca probably 1975 or 76.

    best wishes all —

  14. Rick Gonzalez

    I see you were in “Towers” the year I was also an RA there.
    Sorry I don’t recall you … I hope you were not on my floor (4th).
    — Rick

  15. Ted Donaldson

    Brad, my First Concert was an Elvis Show @ Mid South Coliseum in June of 75. Not sure if that was his last OR not. My second Concert was The Rolling Stones @ Liberty Bowl w/ Charlie Daniels & J. Girls as their warm ups. July 4, 1975. It was General Admission & we got there @ 10:00 AM when the gates opened. The Good news is we sat on the grass right in front of the stage. Bad news Mick & the boys didn’t come on till Dark. It was 100 degrees that day.

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