Paying for a college education isn’t cheap for anyone, especially if student loans are required to cover costs. But the state a student lives in is a bigger factor than some may think when determining the costs they face, particularly when it comes to college credits.
In fact, where you live could as much as quadruple your college costs, according to our latest study. In it, we compare the average tuition costs in each state to see where students are paying the least — and the most —for their college credits.
So which states offer their students the cheapest college tuitions? Well, in order to find the best college for students looking to limit costs, here’s an in-depth look at which states give college students the best (and worst) bang for their buck.
Public colleges that are the most (and least) affordable
When it comes to getting an affordable college degree, the low costs of public colleges can’t be beaten. Throughout the country, we found that in-state tuition at public colleges offered significant savings compared to private or for-profit options within the state.
Essentially, the costs of higher education at public colleges and universities are subsidized by states. That’s because each state runs its own public college system.
Yet, some public college systems are inevitably more expensive than others. To see where in-state students get the best deal, we averaged the cost-per-credit across all public two-year and four-year colleges in each state.
Scroll over our map below to see how your state measures up.
10 states where public college credits are the cheapest
Among the 10 cheapest public colleges, the cost difference is significant. Overall, a 120-credit four-year degree costs $20,400 or less for students.
Here are the states with the lowest average costs-per-credit at public colleges. Per credit amounts are rounded to the nearest whole number:
- New Mexico: $113 per credit
- California: $120 per credit
- Wyoming: $122 per credit
- North Carolina: $140 per credit
- Florida: $160 per credit
- Mississippi: $162 per credit
- Arizona: $165 per credit
- Montana: $167 per credit
- Arkansas: $169 per credit
- Texas: $170 per credit
New Mexico and California top the list by having the cheapest credits at two-year community colleges. These are $67 and $52 per credit, respectively.
Additionally, Florida and Wyoming have the lowest tuitions among four-year public colleges with an approximate average credit cost of $170 and $194.
10 states where public college credits cost more
Then there are the states that charge the highest tuitions at their public colleges. Within these 10 states, you won’t get a four-year degree of 120 credits for less than $32,860.
Here are the states that carry the highest costs-per-credit in the nation. Per credit amounts are rounded to the nearest whole number:
- Vermont: $466 per credit
- Pennsylvania: $435 per credit
- New Hampshire: $388 per credit
- Rhode Island: $334 per credit
- Indiana: $311 per credit
- New Jersey: $311 per credit
- Massachusetts: $287 per credit
- South Carolina: $286 per credit
- Virginia: $283 per credit
- Minnesota: $274 per credit
Ultimately, students in these states will pay significantly more for their undergraduate degrees.
What’s more, students who attend a public college in the priciest state, Vermont, will pay four times more per credit than in the cheapest state, New Mexico. At an average of $466 per public college credit, Vermont students face a whopping $55,920 bill for their four-year public college education.
Additionally, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont are the only states where the cost of a credit earned at a four-year public college exceeds $500. New Hampshire and Vermont also carry the highest cost per credit at local community colleges, at $291 and $245, respectively.
Private colleges that offer the most (and least) expensive credits
Yet, the highest costs per-credit for public colleges don’t hold a candle to private school ones. And when you consider the fact that students need at least a 120 college credits to graduate usually, the costs add up.
10 states where private college credits cost the most
Here are the states with the highest costs-per-credit for private colleges in the country. Per credit amounts are rounded to the nearest whole number:
- Rhode Island: $1,436
- Massachusetts: $1,338
- Vermont: $1,302
- Connecticut: $1,184
- New Hampshire: $1,134
- Maine: $1,108
- Pennsylvania: $1,026
- New Jersey: $1,008
- Maryland: $1,000
- Oregon: $983
10 states where private college credits cost the least
And just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at the top 10 states with the cheapest costs per-credit among private colleges. Per credit amounts are rounded to the nearest whole number:
- North Dakota: $470
- Hawaii: $582
- Alaska: $583
- Mississippi: $593
- Utah: $626
- Arkansas: $631
- Alabama: $635
- Idaho: $638
- Arizona: $656
- South Dakota: $684
As you can see, even the cheapest private college per-credit cost from North Dakota at $470 is still higher than the most expensive public college per-credit cost from Vermont at $466.
And if you’re wondering how the rest of the nation holds up, scroll over our map below to find out.
Students who choose public over private can save up to $132,000
Due to high per-credit costs across private schools (including two-year and four-year colleges as well as non-profit and for-profit colleges), students who choose an in-state public school can see significant savings in every state.
As you scroll through our map below you can see how students who choose to go to a public college will save anywhere from more than $30,000 to $132,000.
Here are the top 10 states where there’s the biggest price difference between public and private universities for students. Saving amounts are rounded up to the nearest whole number:
- Rhode Island: $132,201
- Massachusetts: $126,104
- Connecticut: $110,147
- Maine: $101,349
- Vermont: $100,400
- California: $97,683
- Maryland: $91,946
- Iowa: $91,758
- Oregon: $90,840
- New Hampshire: $89,503
In every state, students who choose to go to a public college over a private one will see their cost of attendance drop dramatically.
Even in North Dakota, the state with the smallest gap between tuition costs for private and public colleges, students will still save an average of $30,300 by earning a four-year degree from the latter.
Ultimately, for any individual looking to go to a four-year college, choosing a public versus a private institution should be a major factor when deciding college affordability — especially if the cost of attendance affects how much debt a student will take on via federal or private student loans.
A great college costs saving strategy is to attend a community college for the first 60 credits and then transfer to a four-year public or private college. For more information on how the costs shake out for that, check out our study on the top 10 states where college students save the most money.
Methodology: College credit cost was calculated using tuition data from the U.S. Department of Education. The cost was based on annual tuition and fees for the college, assuming two semesters of full-time enrollment (12 credits). Public school averages are based on the cost-per-credit for all two-year and four-year public colleges for in-state residents. Private school averages are based on all tuition prices at private not-for-profit and private for-profit colleges in each state. Data is for 2014-15 school year, released May 2016.
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