Admissions

States Where Tuition Costs Most And Least

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The College Confidential discussion forum is heating up with threads about the search for candidate colleges. Which are the best matches? Which are the most competitive? Which have the most diverse students? And so on. However, perhaps the biggest search question relates to cost. Which are the best schools for my needs that I can afford? When it comes to affordability, the battle migrates to tuition at public vs. private and in-state vs. out-of-state public schools. It can be very confusing.

A private school can sometimes be less costly to attend than a public school if that private school has a “meet 100 percent of your need” policy and your need is significant. Of course, you have to be competitive enough to get into these great private schools, but the rewards can be worth the effort to compete.


Long ago, I attended Penn State University as an in-state student. Back then (way back then), I thought tuition was expensive, but it’s nothing like today, obviously. But to give you some perspective, today Penn State is among the most expensive public universities for in-state tuition, as you can see from these data.

The obvious implication is that no matter which route you take to higher education, there is going to be a high price to be paid unless you can qualify for significant financial aid. The problem with public universities is that in most cases, they are not known for generous aid. Merit aid (scholarships) are available and “scholars” students can get large discounts, but need-based aid at these schools often cannot compete with that at private institutions. It’s a perplexing situation.

New Report Sheds Light on Costs

Accordingly, I thought I would share with you a new report from HeyTutor that details the high end and low end of tuition at public universities in the US. For the uninformed who are just beginning their college search, some of the information in this summary can be shocking. For example:

In the past, attending an in-state public university was commonly considered the path to obtaining a high-quality education at a reasonable price. However, stark increases in tuition at public four-year universities have challenged that assumption. In 2018, the average total cost for tuition, school fees, room, and board for public universities was $20,050 per year. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that’s about twice as high as the rate 25 years earlier.

I’m trying to imagine how much higher that is than when I went to Penn State back in the late ‘60s. My first thought when I read the term “inflation-adjusted dollars” was about how much faster tuition costs have risen compared to the overall inflation rate. The report makes note of that:

Since the 1980s, the increase in college tuition has far outpaced inflation and wage growth. In recent years, rising tuition has coincided with declining state and local support for higher education. Historically, public universities have been funded through two main sources: tuition, which is paid by students and their families, and educational appropriations, which are funded through state and local sources. Today, tuition makes up a higher percentage of total higher education funding than in years past.

It’s not hard to figure out why state universities are raising their fees so sharply. State appropriations to higher education are declining. The tax revenue pie has to be cut into so many pieces that higher education’s slice many times keeps getting narrower.

As state and local support for higher education declines, the prices that students pay go up. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity, “The cost shift from states to students has happened over a period when many families have had trouble absorbing additional expenses due to stagnant or declining incomes.” The result is that students now have a much greater likelihood of taking on debt.

Aha! If you’re wondering about a fundamental cause of student loan debt, look no further. There’s a collision of circumstances: state appropriations go down, families struggle to keep up, and students cover the difference with loans. I don’t like the overused phrase “perfect storm,” but this is a good example of one.

Where you live can make a big difference in what you pay for a college education:

Across the U.S., the average net price for attending a public university is $14,558, about 72 percent of the average published total price of attendance. However, some states have more financially accessible public universities than others. For example, the average net price for attending a public university in West Virginia is about half as much as attending a public university in New Hampshire. With about three out of four undergraduates enrolled in a public university, understanding these costs can help with future college and financial planning.

Now let’s go to the most-expensive/least-expensive rankings. How were these schools ranked? HeyTutor analyzed data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the SHEEO report. What follows are the Top Five (of 10) most expensive states in terms of public college costs. After that come the Top Five judged most affordable.

Most Expensive States:

1. New Hampshire

- Average net price: $22,090

- Average total price: $30,425

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $17,287

- Average room & board: $13,138

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 79%

- State and local appropriations per student: $3,064

2. Pennsylvania

- Average net price: $21,130

- Average total price: $30,201

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $15,449

- Average room & board: $14,752

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 73%

- State and local appropriations per student: $4,228

3. Vermont

- Average net price: $18,591

- Average total price: $29,796

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $16,862

- Average room & board: $12,934

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 87%

- State and local appropriations per student: $3,034

4. Massachusetts

- Average net price: $18,416

- Average total price: $27,054

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $13,269

- Average room & board: $13,785

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 43%

- State and local appropriations per student: $8,329

5. South Carolina

- Average net price: $18,179

- Average total price: $26,736

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $13,576

- Average room & board: $13,160

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 66%

- State and local appropriations per student: $5,104

Most Affordable States:

1. West Virginia

- Average net price: $10,389

- Average total price: $21,289

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $8,558

- Average room & board: $12,731

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 64%

- State and local appropriations per student: $4,680

2. New Mexico

- Average net price: $10,877

- Average total price: $20,436

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $7,811

- Average room & board: $12,626

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 24%

- State and local appropriations per student: $9,637

3. Alaska

- Average net price: $11,340

- Average total price: $22,889

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $7,573

- Average room & board: $15,316

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 26%

- State and local appropriations per student: $17,355

4. New York

- Average net price: $11,393

- Average total price: $25,679

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $9,144

- Average room & board: $16,535

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 37%

- State and local appropriations per student: $10,064

5. Indiana

- Average net price: $11,755

- Average total price: $22,925

- Average tuition, fees, books & supplies: $10,667

- Average room & board: $12,258

- Tuition percentage of total education revenue: 61%

- State and local appropriations per student: $6,378

I urge you to check out the remaining five states in each category. Read the full HeyTutor report, which also includes several informative graphs. If you’re college process is in high gear this year, add this report to your arsenal of resources.