Special Report

The States with the Most (and Least) Affordable Colleges

5. Montana
> Average tuition and fees: $6,211
> Pct. 5 year change: 9.6% (4th lowest)
> Pct. students in-state: 73% (tied-14th lowest)
> Cost of out of state: $20,150 (17th lowest)

In the last five years, in-state public university tuition and fees have risen just 9.6%, less than all but three other states. Further, attending the flagship University of Montana costs less on average than the state’s combined average tuition and fees. The cost of a higher education in the state is also low despite limited state appropriations. For the 2012-2013 year, the state set aside just $5,000 per student, one of the lowest figures in America. Earlier this year, Montana State University professors voted to decertify its faculty union, eliminating collective bargaining among professors.

4. New Mexico
> Average tuition and fees: $5,987
> Pct. 5 year change: 24.7% (24th highest)
> Pct. students in-state: 82% (17th highest)
> Cost of out of state: $17,401 (7th lowest)

Between 2001 and 2011, full-time college enrollment in New Mexico increased by nearly 40%, more than all but four other states. This may be a good sign for institutions and education as a whole, but those educated in the state are struggling to repay student debt. Over 15% of students have defaulted on their debt, which is worse than any other state. This could be in part due to the state’s relatively low median household income of just $42,558. Last year, the New Mexico Higher Education Department was awarded $33.8 million from the U.S. Department of Education to better prepare students for college. The governor noted the funds would be directed towards high-poverty areas in the state.

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3. Utah
> Average tuition and fees: $5,906
> Pct. 5 year change: 30.1% (15th highest)
> Pct. students in-state: 76% (18th lowest)
> Cost of out of state: $18,416 (13th lowest)

Tuition and fees at a public four-year university cost less than $6,000 on average in Utah, just one of four states in which this is the case. However, the flagship University of Utah is slightly more expensive, averaging close to $7,500. In addition to carrying a low sticker price, Utah’s universities have not saddled their students with a considerable amount of debt. In the class of 2011, less than half of all graduates carried debt, and the average debt per graduate was the lowest reported in the nation. Not only is a public education affordable for in-state residents, but private schools in the state cost an average of just $6,300. This figure may have been pushed downward by the low tuition at Brigham Young University, which is subsidized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for tithe-paying members. Members of the church accounted for nearly 99% of the student body last year.

2. Alaska
> Average tuition and fees: $5,885
> Pct. 5 year change: 18.5% (19th lowest)
> Pct. students in-state: 83% (12th highest)
> Cost of out of state: $18,856 (14th lowest)

Median household income in Alaska was the third highest in the nation, at $67,712 in 2012. Alaskan incomes are more than adequate for the cost of higher education, which is well-funded by the government. As of the 2012-13 school year, the Alaskan government spent the most per full-time student out of every other state, more than $17,000. The low prices, however, have not attracted high volumes of students. Full-time enrollment in 2012 at the University of Alaska was just 3,609, less than the second-lowest University of South Dakota. Overall, full-time undergraduate enrollment across the state was the lowest in the U.S., with 21,200 students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges as of fall 2011.

1. Wyoming
> Average tuition and fees: $4,404
> Pct. 5 year change: 14.5% (9th lowest)
> Pct. students in-state: 63% (8th lowest)
> Cost of out of state: $14,124 (2nd lowest)

The University of Wyoming is the only public four year college in Wyoming. Out of state tuition and fees are some of the lowest in the country, more expensive than only South Dakota. Higher education in Wyoming, like in Alaska, is well-funded by the state government — as of the 2012-13 school year, the state spent over $15,000 per fully enrolled student. Under half of the class of 2011 graduated with debt, one of the lowest rates nationally.

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