I went to MIT in the fall of 1976. Back then the cry was $5,000 is TDM (Too Dang Much) for tuition. Well, The US Education Department’s Digest of Education Statistics reports that between 1976-77 and 2007-08 average undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board increased from $7,914 to $15,665 after adjusting for
inflation (in 2006 dollars). In "current" dollars, that would rise from $2,275 to $16,245.
But that doesn't look like the $50,000 bills that most of the private colleges we're looking at are charging. For those schools like MIT/Stanford, you have to look in the not-for-profit 4 yr universities, and the figures there are $4,715 for 1976 to $40,640 for today, which seems about right. My father made about mid $20,000 working for Boeing with 7 kids back then, but were were able to pretty much get a free ride from MIT and Stanford.
College Costs Soar Over Past Twenty Years
Between 1976–77 and 2007–08, average undergraduate tuition, fees, and
room and board increased from $7,914 to $15,665, after adjusting for
inflation (table 331).
full table http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/
here is the table, in constant 2006-07 dollars