CNN Money has a chart, above, showing the stark rise in average college costs at four-year public universities compared to wages since 1988.
The gap is even more steep if we go back a few more years--college costs have nearly tripled since 1980, even as wages for the middle class have stagnated.
The article accompanying the chart concludes that college is now out of reach for many middle class families, as federal aid hasn't kept pace with the ballooning costs. Financial assistance from federal and state sources, and colleges and universities themselves, is up 140 percent since 1991, according to a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. But students are still taking out more loans to make up the difference.
Economists told The Lookout that the college affordability crisis is primarily affecting those in the bottom 20 percent of American's income distribution. As society's income distribution has become radically more unequal, the economic value of a college degree has gone up, allowing both public and private colleges to hike prices.
A recent Pew study found that 60 percent of Americans don't think colleges are providing their students with a good value, and 75 percent say college is financially out of reach for most people.