Cheapest States to Go to College in the United States
The cost of attending college in the U.S. can be quite expensive. In addition to tuition and fees, students may need to cover the cost of room and board, and other expenses like books and lab fees. To help students going to college manage their budgets, it’s important that they carefully weigh their options when it comes to public and private schools. In-state tuition at public colleges can be far cheaper than out-of-state tuition or the price of attending private nonprofit schools.
College Tuition in the United States
The United States has some of the highest tuition costs, and prices have risen over time. Some of the factors that drive increasing prices are increased demand from students and increased availability of financial aid. Consider that in 2019, 16.6 million undergraduates enrolled in a degree program, compared to 13.2 million in 2000.
Colleges have also added amenities to their campuses to help attract higher-paying students. The cost of these amenities can account for as much as $3,000 per student per year. Schools are also spending more on administration.
Average College Tuition
The cost of colleges varies depending on whether students choose to attend public or private institutions. Public schools generally have different costs for in-state versus out-of-state tuition.
In the 2021–2022 school year, the average tuition and fees at a public, four-year school for in-state students was $10,740, $170 more than the year before. Students attending a public four-year program from out-of-state could expect to pay $27,560, $410 higher than the year before.
The cost of a public two-year college for students who are in district is $3,800, just $50 more than the year before.
Students who wished to attend a private nonprofit four-year college paid an average of $38,070. That’s $800 higher than in the 2020-21 school year.
Over the past 30 years, tuition and fees have increased from $4,160 to $10,740 at public four-year colleges and they’ve increased from $19,360 to $38,070 at private nonprofit four-year schools, adjusted for inflation.
In addition to tuition and fees, students have to cover other costs, such as the price of room and board, transportation, and other expenses. These additional expenses will vary depending on whether you’re living on or off-campus, but they can add more than $10,000 to the price of attending school. The average student budget for students attending a public four-years in-state program was $27,330 for the 2021–2022 school year. Out-of-state students had an average budget of $44,150. And students attending a private nonprofit four-year program had an average annual budget of $55,800.
Recommended: What is the Average Cost of College Tuition?
States With the Cheapest College Tuition
College tuition prices vary widely by state at public four-years institutions. Generally speaking, public colleges in the South and the West are the cheapest to attend. Colleges in the Northeast are the most expensive. Vermont has the most expensive in-state tuition and fees, topping out at $19,000. New Hampshire is a close second at $18,960. To learn more, take a look at the annual study published by the College Board that tracks trends in college pricing and financial aid.
Here’s a look at the states with the cheapest in-state tuition and fees at four-year flagship university programs over the 2021–2022 school year.
University of Wyoming
In-state tuition and fees: $6,100
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $5,790
University of Florida
In-state tuition and fees: $6,380
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $6,380
University of Montana
In-state tuition and fees: $7,490
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $7,430
University of Idaho
In-state tuition and fees: $8,340
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,300
University of New Mexico
In-state tuition and fees: $8,510
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,860
University of Nevada: Reno
In-state tuition and fees: $8,590
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,370
University of Mississippi
In-state tuition and fees: $8,930
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,830
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In-state tuition and fees: $9,040
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,990
University of Alaska Fairbanks
In-state tuition and fees: $9,070
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,980
West Virginia University
In-state tuition and fees: $9,140
2020–2021 tuition and fees: $8,980
Paying for College
Because the price of college tuition, fees, room and board can be so high, many students have to take out student loans, apply for grants and scholarships, or apply for student aid in order to make college affordable. Students may take out federal loans or private loans to help them pay for school. They will have to repay these loans through a series of monthly payments with interest.
College Board are offered by the U.S. Department of Education under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. This program offers four types of federal loans:
• Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergrads who demonstrate financial need. Interest on these loans is covered by the Department of Education while the students are enrolled in school at least half-time.
• Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergrads, graduate students, and professional students and are not made based on need.
• Direct PLUS Loans are for graduate and undergraduate students and parents of dependent undergrads. Eligibility is not based on financial need.
• Direct Consolidation Loans allow students to combine federal loans into a single loan.
To apply for federal student loans, and other forms of federal aid, students are required to fill out the FAFSA®, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, each year.
Recommended: FAFSA Guide
Private student loans may be available through private lenders, such as banks. These institutions set their own terms, interest rates, and loan amounts. When determining individual rates and terms, lenders will generally evaluate the applicants credit history, among other factors. Private student loans are typically considered a last resort when it comes to financing college because they aren’t required to offer the same borrower benefits or protections (like income-driven repayment options) as federal student loans.
There are also various sources of financial aid that can help students pay for school. It can come from federal, state, school and private sources.
• Grants, such as federal Pell Grants, are a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be paid back, unlike student loans.
• Scholarships are funds offered to students often based on academic performance, an area of study, or special talents. Scholarships also do not generally need to be repaid.
• Work-study programs allow students to earn money while they are in school. Students may qualify for the federal work-study program based on financial need.
• Many schools offer financial aid or scholarships.
College can be a huge expense, but there are also a lot of benefits of a college education. As you’re choosing schools, it’s important to evaluate all of your options and think seriously about choosing one that’s in your budget as well as finding manageable ways to pay for it. That may mean attending the public school in the state you live in. And if you live in one of the states with the cheapest in-state tuition, you may pay less than $10,000 a year to go to school.
If you have to borrow to pay for school, be sure to understand exactly how much you’re borrowing, when it needs to be paid back, and how your loans will affect your financial future.
3 Student Loan Tips
1. Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses.
2. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.
3. Federal student loans carry an origination or processing fee (1.057% for loans first disbursed from Oct. 1, 2020, through Oct. 1, 2022). The fee is subtracted from your loan amount, which is why the amount disbursed is less than the amount you borrowed. That said, some private student loan lenders don’t charge an origination fee.
How much does college cost on average in the U.S.?
On average, annual college tuition and fees cost $10,740 for in-state students at public four-year programs, $27,560 for out-of-state students at public four-year schools, and $38,070 at private nonprofit schools.
What is the average cost of four years of college?
The estimated cost of four years of college tuition and fees is around $42,960 for in-state students at public four-year schools, $110,240 for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges, and $152,280 for students at private nonprofit schools.
What state has the cheapest tuition?
Wyoming’s in-state tuition and fees for the 2021–2022 school year are $6,100, the cheapest in the country.
Photo credit: iStock/Bet_Noire
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