Study: How Much a College Credit Hour Costs

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Students can expect to pay anywhere from $0 to more than $1,500 per credit hour in college, according to Student Loan Hero researchers. The cost of a credit hour is contingent on multiple factors, including type of institution, the state where the college is located and grants and tax benefits.

Key findings

  • The median cost of a credit hour at 4-year nonprofit colleges is $530, assuming a 12-credit-hour course load per semester (24 credit hours annually) and payment of full tuition and fees.
  • The cost of a credit hour based on average tuition and fees is $1,537 when just looking at 4-year private, nonprofit institutions.
  • The cost of a credit hour for in-district students considering community or vocational colleges has the potential to be $0 when accounting for grant aid and tax benefits.
  • The average difference between the out-of-state and in-state cost of a credit hour at the nation’s 50 flagship universities based on tuition and fees is $838.
    • At the University of Florida, the cost of out-of-state tuition and fees per credit hour is $1,194, which is almost 4.5 times that of the in-state cost of $266 a credit hour.

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Differences in institution types greatly impact cost

Students attending area community colleges or public, in-state schools pay less than half the cost — per credit hour — of their out-of-state and private school counterparts.

Based on tuition and fees, the cost of a college credit hour is:

  • $155 for students at in-district community and vocational colleges
  • $435 for students at 4-year public, in-state colleges
  • $1,118 for students at 4-year public, out-of-state colleges
  • $1,537 for students at 4-year private, nonprofit colleges

Cost per credit hour spikes when including room and board

Our per-credit-hour costs above don’t account for room and board, which is housing and meal plans for students. These costs can vary depending on whether you live on or off campus.

When accounting for room and board, the cost of a credit hour can more than double:

  • $530 for students at in-district community and vocational colleges
  • $915 for students at 4-year public, in-state colleges
  • $1,597 for students at 4-year public, out-of-state colleges
  • $2,078 for students at 4-year private, nonprofit colleges

Deep variations seen in out-of-state, in-state per-credit-hour costs

The out-of-state cost of tuition at four-year public colleges is on average three times higher than in-state tuition in:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

When you break down the numbers by the state flagship universities across the U.S., the difference between the average in-state and out-of-state cost of a credit hour based on tuition and fees is $838.

The out-of-state cost of a credit hour is 4.5 times as high as the in-state cost at the University of Florida — the greatest difference among the flagship universities. Beyond that, out-of-state tuition is at least 3.5 times as high at:

  • University of Montana
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Texas
  • University of Wisconsin

What students really end up paying per credit hour

When you include average grant aid and tax benefits, here’s what you could pay per credit hour at the following types of universities:

  • $0 at community and vocational colleges
  • $161 at 4-year public colleges
  • $599 at 4-year private, nonprofit colleges

Full-time students at community and vocational colleges receive enough federal, state and local aid, on average, to cover their tuition and fees, making the cost of a credit hour virtually zero. This isn’t taking room and board and other out-of-pocket expenses into account, but attending a local college while living at home could be an option to save money.

Keep in mind:

  • The amount of government aid you’ll receive depends on your household’s income and whether you filed as a dependent.
  • Tuition costs on a college website are rarely the same as what students pay. Depending on the college, you may be able to break down your costs further.

Considering the various types of colleges? Here are some tips

  • Community and vocational colleges are an economical option with the least expensive cost per credit hour. Students could consider taking the first half of their credit hours at a community college to save money, then transfer to a 4-year institution. Certain states, including Delaware, Nevada and New York, offer scholarships to cover the cost of community college tuition.
  • 4-year private colleges come at a premium, but grants can be a dominant source of aid. To ensure you’re not missing out on opportunities, complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and any other forms required by your state or institution. Some grants will rely on those forms, but others have various requirements, including grade transcripts and personal statements.
  • 4-year public, in-state colleges can also offer unique options. You can look into reciprocity agreements like the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the Midwest Student Exchange Program to see if you can receive a tuition reduction.
  • If you need to take out student loans, first look at federal student loans. These loans, which are funded by the federal government, offer several repayment plans and the option of loan forgiveness if you work in public service. If that won’t cover the cost of college for you, private student loans from a lender can bridge the gap. Our Student Loan Payment Calculator can help borrowers figure out how much they’ll owe monthly.

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