Whether you are in college or not, fall semester 2011 is upon us. Below, courtesy of Everyday Sociology, is a graph illustrating the rising cost of college, controlled for inflation.

Public College/University Tuition, Room and Board (held constant in 2007-2008 dollars):

Consequent to this increase, the average student in 2008 graduated with twice the debt as a student in 1996, from $12,750 to $23,200.

The pay-off of a college education, however, is higher than ever. So why don’t more people go?

In the seven-and-a-half minute video below, UC Berkeley Professor Michael Hout gives a history of higher education putting all of this in perspective. The answer is class-specific and how different classes think about debt and possibility. More:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.