This is a very interesting thread. Costs have certainly increased over the past 35 years. Everything's relative though...
I learned to fly back in 1966 in an Aeronca 7AC Champ that cost me $4.00 per hour/wet. In 1967 I could rent a brand new Cessna 150 from the local FBO for $6.00 per hour/wet in 10 hour blocks. Cessna 170s rented for $8.00 an hour and Mooney M20Cs rented for $16. I know that sounds pretty cheap, but I was earning $1.25 an hour bagging groceries at the time. My PPL cost me about $600, but that represented 480 hours of "bagging groceries". I'm sure that it's about the same today. Flying never has been nor will it ever be inexpensive.
One thing that seemed to be more popular back then was flying clubs. The Champ and C170 that I flew belonged to a club. However, the other planes were were FBO aircraft. In additon to belonging to various flying clubs, I've also been in several aircraft partnerships and I've even owned a few aircraft outright. Schools, like ERAU, and FBOs charge what they do because they can. There are ways to get around the high costs, but you have to be creative.
If I were you, I'd check to see if there were any flying clubs in your area. Typically, most flying clubs have five or more members per aircraft. They usually are "non-profit” organizations designed to provide club members with a less expensive alternative to either renting or outright ownership. These clubs own or lease one or more aircraft and make them available to club members at significantly reduced rates. The best way to find out about any clubs which might be in your area is to go out to the airport on a sunny weekend and ask around. The clubs typically charge an initiation fee, monthly dues, and hourly usage fees. The scheduling is usually handled by a club member and is typically “first come, first served”. It is not uncommon for club members to share aircraft cleaning and maintenance responsibilities.
One of the other ways I've owned aircraft in in partnership with other pilots. Partnerships are similar to flying clubs, but with fewer participants. (Usually four or less.) Like clubs, partnerships save money by dividing the fixed and indirect costs of aircraft ownership among multiple individuals. There are as many ways to organize partnerships as there are partners. Normally, each partner owns a share of the airplane and is responsible for a corresponding percentage of the fixed and indirect costs such as insurance, hangar, taxes, annual inspections, etc.
Sole Ownership is a reasonable alternative for many people. Good, well maintained used aircraft are readily available and can be purchased at prices ranging from about $15,000. Ownership, either individual or in a partnership gives you control over your situation. You know exactly how well the plane is being maintained; you know what the plane’s idiosyncrasies are; you have much more control over the schedule; and finally, GOOD CLEAN USED AIRCRAFT TEND TO APPRECIATE IN VALUE. Over the years, I’ve been involved in several aircraft partnerships. My first partnership was in a Luscombe 8F. We purchased it while I was working on my instrument rating and commercial license. I was able to use the airplane for a significant portion of my training. After I had obtained my ratings I sold my share of the airplane. In the eighteen months that I had owned it, it had appreciated enough to cover all of its operating costs. In other words, flying the Luscombe had cost me nothing! It would be a mistake to purchase an airplane expecting the appreciation to totally cover the cost of operation, because like buying a used car, there is always some risk. However, if you do your “homework”, shop carefully, and have a bit of luck you may be able to recoup a significant portion of your training costs when and if you ever decide to sell.
If you plan on flying a minimal amount after you complete your training it will probably be more economical to simply rent your aircraft. If you happen to live in an area where there are no flying clubs and/or partnerships it might be worth your while to organize one. It’s not difficult and there are several books and publications available to assist you.
Bottom line is this: All any potiential employer cares about is the ratings and experience that you have, not where or how you got them. Upon graduating from ERAU you are not issued a special FAA certificate with a gold seal that says "Graduate of ERAU". ER is a good and highly respected school. We have a couple of their graduates that work for us and I have flown with several others. Their flight training program turns out good pilots. However, you pay a high price for what you get. Is it necessary? Personally, I don't believe so. I have always felt that the CFI is the single most importent factor in determining the quality of the training that you are receiving. Whether you select ERAU or another flight school or even decide to use a “freelance” flight instructor the quality of your training will be largely determined by individual flight instructor’s skills, abilities, and experience. The best flight school facilities, training curriculum or the newest, best equipped training aircraft can not compensate for a mediocre flight instructor. ERAU certainly has not cornered the market on good instructors - they are where you find them.