Special Report

The States with the Most (and Least) Affordable Colleges

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Average in-state tuition at public four-year universities rose by just 2.9% this year, the smallest increase in more than three decades, according to data released last week by College Board. When adjusted for inflation, it has barely increased at all.

In the current school year, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year institution for an in-state student is $8,093. At a private four-year university, tuition and fees are more than $30,000. With the cost of tuition for private universities still astronomically high, more students may be opting to attend a public school within their home state.

Not all school systems offer the same discount relative to private education. A student attending a public university in his native Wyoming pays an average of just $4,404 in tuition and fees. Meanwhile, a New Hampshire native would spend $14,665 to attend a public university at home. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 colleges with the highest and lowest average in-state tuition and fees.

It might be assumed that the states with the highest tuition and fees would have the best colleges, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Based on the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best public four-year institutions, only four of the states with the highest tuitions have a school in the top 20-ranked universities. Meanwhile, North Carolina and Florida, both of which have among the lowest tuitions have colleges in the top 20.

Some states invest much more in their public institutions than others, and it appears that this translates into lower costs for their students. The two cheapest state university systems, Alaska and Wyoming, each had more than $15,000 in state appropriations per student. By comparison, only two of the 10 most expensive college systems are in the top half, nationally, for per-student appropriations for higher education. In New Hampshire, the most expensive state, appropriations amounted to just $2,482, the lowest spending in the country.

Usually, the cost of in-state tuition at the state’s best-known public institution is a good indicator of how much all of its colleges cost. The three most expensive states for in-state tuition also have the three most expensive flagship universities — New Hampshire’s UNH, Vermont’s UVM, and Pennsylvania’s Penn State – University Park. Penn State has an average in-state tuition of $17,926. In contrast, at the 10 least expensive state school systems, only one has a flagship school with in-state tuition and fees of more than $8,000.

One factor that may affect the higher tuition in many of these states is their relative cost of living. It follows that because the states have to pay more in salary and supplies, they would charge students more. In seven of the 10 most expensive public university systems, the relative cost of goods are among the highest in the country. In the states with the least expensive universities, the cost of goods is generally lower, but does not appear to be as much of a factor as it is with the most expensive states.

Some of these states also may charge in-state students less because they levy a high premium on out-of-state undergraduates. In seven of the 10 least expensive states, students from out of state spend more than three times what natives pay in tuition and fees. In North Carolina, out-of-state tuition and fees are $21,352 per year, compared to just $6,514 for in-state residents.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed College Board’s 2013 Trends In College Pricing’s list of average tuition and fees for in-state students of public colleges and universities for the 2013-2014 school year. We also reviewed from the report current average and historical inflation-adjusted tuition and fees for public two-year and private two- and four-year universities. College Board also provided these figures for each state’s flagship university, which is considered the most prestigious public university within the state. From the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, we reviewed household income data, as well as the proportion of state adults with a bachelor’s degrees. From the Bureau of Economic Analysis, we reviewed the relative cost of consumer goods and services, by state, for 2011. Figures on student debt for the class of 2011 are from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), while 2-year default rates for the 2011 fiscal year from the Department of Education.

These are the states with the most (and least) affordable colleges

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