It’s no secret that the cost of higher education has increased dramatically over the past several years and decades.
Even considering inflation, the average cost of college tuition increased by more than four times between 1985 and 2019.
So if you are looking at college (or a parent of someone who is), you are probably looking for ways to save money. Thankfully, finding a less-expensive college is possible – there are good deals to be had no matter what you’re interested in studying.
We’ve broken down what you need to be looking for, and then a short list of the least expensive colleges we’ve found.
The Average Cost Of College
Most people assume that the cost of attending college has risen over time, but unless you look closely, you might not realize just how expensive it is today.
Here’s a look at the cost of tuition and room and board for a four-year public university over the past three decades, as compiled by The College Board:
- 1992-93 Academic year — $12,190
- 2002-03 Academic year — $15,770
- 2012-13 Academic year — $22,790
- 2022-23 Academic year — $23,520
As you can see, the cost of tuition and room and board nearly doubled during the past 30 years. If you look at tuition and fees alone, we’ve seen nearly a 2.5x increase at four-year universities (from $4,870 to $10,940).
What’s Included In The Cost Of College?
Many reports only look at the cost of tuition at various colleges and universities. But tuition is only one part of the equation. For an accurate calculation, you need to account for various other expenses as well. This can include room and board, living expenses like food and transportation, mandatory fees, books, etc.
Regardless of the costs, going to college can be worth the investment. It is true that both bachelor’s degree graduates as well as those that graduate with a higher degree will earn more on average over their lifetimes than someone with just a high school diploma. Still, a lot of that depends on what field you’re looking at going into and your own specific personal and financial situation.
Another consideration is that even though college graduates might make more money over their lifetimes, that comes with a cost, and money spent now is worth more than money you might make over the next 30 or 40 years. It’s best to calculate your own expected ROI for college to decide if college is right for you.
How To Find Cheap Colleges And Universities
Finding cheap colleges and universities isn’t as easy as you might think. Many public schools have lower tuition rates for residents of their state, since state taxpayers help to fund the university. Other schools may offer different tuition rates for certain demographics.
As one example, Brigham Young University, a private university run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, offers lower tuition for church members, since the donations of church members help to pay university expenses in a similar manner.
Second, many communities colleges offer free tuition for in-state students.
Also, just because a school’s tuition costs are high doesn’t mean that your out-of-pocket costs will be high. Many expensive schools offer significant financial aid, in the form of grants, scholarships or access to student loans. By working with the financial aid offices of the schools you are considering, you can get a better understanding of what the true cost of college would be for you.
The Least Expensive Colleges
Just like our list of the most expensive colleges, here is a list of some of the least expensive colleges in the U.S. The following colleges were ranked by U.S. News and World Report based on 2022-23 annual tuition for out-of-state students:
- Mississippi Valley State University: $7,334
- University of North Carolina—Pembroke: $7,496
- Mississippi University for Women: $7,866
- Oklahoma Panhandle State University: $7,961
- Elizabeth City State University: $8,047
Finding (and attending) one of these schools can help you avoid getting into significant student loan debt and achieve a higher ROI on your college investment.
The Bottom Line
Earning a college degree can lead to a boost in your expected lifetime earnings, but it doesn’t come for free. There are a number of ways to keep your college expenses down, but one of the most important is choosing a school with a low tuition. When considering a school, look at their posted tuition rates but also reach out to the financial aid office to see what your overall college costs might be. This will help you make an informed decision.
Editor: Colin Graves
Reviewed by: Chris Muller
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