College students vs. inflation: What to know, steps to take


Abbi Sweeney

It can be difficult to understand and fight against inflation. Here’s a breakdown of the issue as well as resources for NIU students.

By Joey Trella, Marketing Team Coordinator

Editor’s note: This story has been adjusted to reflect the fact that tuition at NIU has not increased. The previous version of this article was ambiguous about NIU’s tuition rate, which might have been misleading.

DeKALB — Inflation has been affecting everything from food to homes to retail. For students — especially commuter students — gas, food and tuition are the biggest problems. What does this mean for the future?

Professor Carl Campbell III, department chair of economics, explains that inflation tells us how much prices on average change from year to year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics samples certain goods and services that are a part of our economy and watches how the prices change. From there, the Bureau can find an average inflation rate. 

What happened to the cost of schooling?

Tuition has had a raise in prices, according to College Board, with public school’s average up 1.6% and private school’s average up 2.1% in Fall 2021. Tuition at NIU has remained consistent, but the same cannot be said for fees or other costs a student may accrue. Students are left wondering how to survive while keeping up with the inconsistent prices.

“It’s going to make things more expensive for college students with higher gas prices and higher food prices,” Campbell said. “For college students that are working, pay wages have gone up, not quite as much as inflation. That would help pay the higher prices, by having more income.” 

If your tuition cost is something that worries or stresses you out, there are two places on campus to talk to. There’s the Student Financial Advising Service where an adviser will help you set up a multi-year plan to cover the cost of being a college student. If you do have a plan already set, you can still talk to a counselor at the campus life building to be provided with mental health support.

What is causing inflation?

According to AP News, consumer inflation jumped to 8.5% in July 2022 in comparison to a year ago. 

A number of things are causing the current fluctuation in prices. First, the war between Russia and Ukraine has driven up prices in oil and wheat. With the war showing no signs of slowing down, U.S. gas prices will continue to fluctuate pretty heavily. 

“The price of oil goes up and gasoline is made out of crude oil,” Campbell said. “So when there is a rise in crude oil prices, that means (gas will have the) highest prices.” 

Gas prices have been on the decline in the U.S. with Illinois showing about a 70 cent decline from last month to now. But Illinois is still within the top 10 highest prices in the country, according to AAA.

The government isn’t able to control the prices, but there are bills and acts working to be passed, including the Inflation Reduction Act which President Biden passed on Aug. 16. This will target healthcare, energy and taxes to help families and students to save more. 

Another major cause of inflation is COVID-19. During lockdowns, COVID took away 22 million jobs, families got stimulus checks and demand was down. After lockdowns, companies struggled to replace those jobs and keep up with the demand of families spending more than their usual income. 

“There’s a lot of high demand because of the stimulus payments during COVID,” Campbell said. “(A) typical family of four got maybe $10,000 of extra income which has caused spending as a result. That drives up prices; it creates more demand for goods and services.”

Those goods and services include food, clothing and travel. The Washington Post reported that prices of groceries are 12.2% higher than last summer. This is the highest spike in 43 years, according to federal data from the Washington Post article. 

To help combat these prices, there are a multitude of options available to students.

  • For commuters, NIU still offers many online courses and degrees. 
  • For food, students can buy a meal plan whether living in the dorms or off-campus. 
  • For clothing, the Huskie Closet is a great way to save, and it’s available not only to students, but to the community as a whole. 
  • For tuition, there are financial aid and scholarships to apply for.