The expense of a postsecondary education was once considerably less than it is today. The original charter granted the University of Nebraska in 1869 by the Nebraska Legislature provided for a matriculation fee of only five dollars, with tuition and other fees to be left to the discretion of the regents.
H. W. Caldwell, in a paper read before the Nebraska State Historical Society, January 8, 1889, discussed this and other features of the University of Nebraska and other postsecondary schools existing in the state before 1889 (Transactions and Reports, Vol. III, 1892). Caldwell pointed out that the University of Nebraska charter directed the regents to purchase textbooks and furnish them to the students at cost.
“Various attempts were made in the early days of the university to live up to this requirement, but nothing seems to have been accomplished except to make arrangements with the bookdealers to secure a certain per cent reduction for the students. Several committees were appointed, and several reports were made, but the problem seems to have been too complex to solve satisfactorily, and it was finally abandoned entirely. . . .
“In the session of the board of June 13, 1871, the tuition of students from other states was fixed at eight dollars per term, but in 1873, on the recommendation of Chancellor [A. R.] Benton, the University was made free to all who were qualified to do its work satisfactorily. An incidental fee of two dollars per term was imposed on all students from June 1876 to June 1879. With these two exceptions no charges have been made in the University of Nebraska except for laboratory expenses. In very few, if in any of the other state universities, are the terms so liberal for the student.”