Rankings: See the Most Affordable Colleges in the Northeast

 December 3, 2018
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In the Northeast, students and their families face some of the highest college costs in the nation. Yet choosing a public or local college is one of the best ways to keep educational costs and student debt low.

With Northeast schools carrying above-average costs, it’s more crucial for students in this region to compare tuition rates and choose an affordable college.

To help you find those schools, we surveyed 310 public and private colleges in the Northeast to find where students pay the lowest tuition and graduate with the least amount of student debt.

Key findings


  • In the Northeast, public colleges offer some of the best deals to local students. Out of the top 20 affordable colleges in this region, 19 are local city or state universities.

  • New York’s city and state colleges are standouts. Across campuses, the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems charge low tuitions, and the state recently introduced a tuition-free college program.

  • Two schools in Maine and one in Rhode Island made the list.

  • Annual tuition and fees among the 20 most affordable colleges averaged $8,295. That’s below the national average college cost for in-state students at four-year public schools.

The costs of Northeast colleges


Among U.S. regions, the Northeast is the most expensive one to attend college and earn an undergraduate degree.

Northeast families spent 49% more on college in 2017 than the average U.S family, found the Sallie Mae survey “How America Pays for College.”

While the national out-of-pocket college costs averaged $23,757, Northeast college students and their families paid $35,431. That’s a difference of just less than $11,700.

But students living in the Northeast aren’t stuck paying a premium to attend college near home. As with any region, some Northeast colleges are a better value for students than others.

Top 20 affordable colleges in the Northeast


To find the most affordable Northeast colleges, we surveyed costs at 310 schools in the region.

We compared each college’s tuition and fees for the most recent school year for which it was reported (2016-17 or 2017-18), and the average student debt balance of 2016 graduates, as reported to online college database Peterson’s. Having this information handy may allow you to pick a school where you can reduce your dependency on student loans to afford an education.

Here are the top 20 Northeast colleges where students pay less for their degree and graduate with the lowest balances.

Rank Northeast college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 York College (CUNY) $6,957 $4,614
2 Baruch College (CUNY) $7,115 $5,642
3 Lehman College (CUNY) $7,010 $8,525
4 Hunter College (CUNY) $6,980 $13,000
5 Queens College (CUNY) $7,138 $14,225
6 City College of New York (CUNY) $6,740 $16,942
7 University of Maine at Presque Isle $7,884 $22,934
8 Davis College $16,300 $5,360
9 University of Maine at Machias $7,726 $23,734
10 Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) $7,463 $24,850
11 University at Albany (SUNY) $9,423 $21,217
12 College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) $8,543 $24,269
13 SUNY Geneseo $8,408 $24,784
14 SUNY New Paltz $7,775 $26,283
15 SUNY Cobleskill $8,139 $26,520
16 Stony Brook University (SUNY) $9,257 $24,656
17 SUNY Oneonta $8,166 $27,045
18 Buffalo State College (SUNY) $7,976 $27,672
19 Rhode Island College $8,776 $26,519
20 SUNY Delhi $8,120 $28,367

Across these 20 Northeast colleges, the average annual tuition and fees are $8,295, well below the $9,970 national average college cost for in-state students at four-year public schools.

The average student loan balance across these top 20 colleges was also significantly lower at $19,858, which is half the $39,400 average student debt for 2017 graduates.

Of the Northeast’s 20 most affordable colleges, one is a private school: Davis College in Johnson City, New York. Despite tuition costs that are about twice as high as other colleges on the list, Davis College makes the list thanks to its graduates’ low student debt.

Of the remaining public colleges, 16 are CUNY or SUNY schools. Two of Maine’s public colleges made the list, as well as Rhode Island College in the state of the same name.

Top 10 public colleges in the Northeast


Below, we’ve highlighted the top 10 public colleges that provide the lowest costs in the Northeast. Among these colleges, average tuition and fees total $7,444 a year, while student debt balances average $15,568.

Rank Northeast public college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 York College (CUNY) $6,957 $4,614
2 Baruch College (CUNY) $7,115 $5,642
3 Lehman College (CUNY) $7,010 $8,525
4 Hunter College (CUNY) $6,980 $13,000
5 Queens College (CUNY) $7,138 $14,225
6 City College of New York (CUNY) $6,740 $16,942
7 University of Maine at Presque Isle $7,884 $22,934
8 University of Maine at Machias $7,726 $23,734
9 Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) $7,463 $24,850
10 University at Albany (SUNY) $9,423 $21,217

Of colleges in New York, CUNY and SUNY schools charge low tuition rates that are standardized across schools, though extra fees can lead to slight variations in costs at each school.

Additionally, the state recently became the first to set tuition-free college for residents. Under The Excelsior Scholarship, all students with household incomes at or below $125,000 a year will qualify for tuition-free attendance at CUNY or SUNY schools.

Alongside CUNY and SUNY schools, Maine also landed two colleges on the list: the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine at Machias.

While New York and Maine are offering some good deals to in-state students, this isn’t true for every public college in the Northeast.

In fact, our recent college credit costs study found that several Northeast states charged some of the highest average costs per credit among public colleges: Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Top 10 private colleges in the Northeast


While a public school is often a low-cost option, students shouldn’t overlook private universities in their search for affordable Northeast colleges. Each student’s financial situation, student aid, and education goals are different. For some, a private college might be the right fit.

In fact, the Northeast is home to some of the most prestigious private universities in the world, including Ivy League schools. Additionally, many of these private universities offer some of the best and largest financial aid packages to help students cover college costs.

The sticker price is always important to consider, especially when comparing the high costs prevalent at private colleges. To help start your search, we identified the 10 most affordable private universities in the Northeast, per our rankings.

Rank Northeast private college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 Davis College $16,300 $5,360
2 Hilbert College $21,750 $19,233
3 Geneva College $26,070 $10,549
4 Thomas More College of Liberal Arts $21,000 $23,452
5 Mercy College $18,713 $29,197
6 Villa Maria College $22,080 $22,658
7 Husson University $17,010 $33,412
8 Grove City College $17,254 $37,655
9 Paul Smith’s College $27,621 $16,175
10 Utica College $20,676 $33,336

Among these private colleges, students should expect to pay higher tuition. The average across these 10 Northeast private schools was $20,847 a year.

As mentioned, higher tuition and costs don’t always mean a student and their family will pay or borrow more for college.

In fact, the average debt at these private colleges was $23,103, which is just $3,245 higher than the average debt among the 20 most affordable Northeast colleges.

Finding the right Northeast college for your budget


Northeast colleges aren’t the cheapest in the nation, but they can be an affordable option for local students, especially when compared to the cost of out-of-state tuition.

On top of watching for high prices, students can take these actions to help them narrow down their options to the most affordable school.

1. Research and compare every cost you’ll face

Tuition and fees are a great place to start checking for savings, but don’t overlook other college-related expenses. The costs of room and board, textbooks, transportation, and more can quickly add up.

A college in your city with higher tuition could be more affordable if it allows you to live at home rent-free while attending.

2. Compare your net price at each college

Keep in mind that the sticker price at these colleges won’t always represent what you and your family will pay out of pocket. Your net price is the college costs you face after all other student aid is applied. The aid you receive can vary significantly from college to college.

Evaluate financial aid awards offered by each college to which you’re accepted. This will give you the most accurate picture of what you’ll pay at each school. If you find that you may need to take out student loans to cover costs, use our student loan calculator to help you see what repayment may look like.

3. Look for state and city grants, student aid, and other assistance

While the Northeast region has some of the nation’s highest college costs, its states also have some of the strongest support systems in the nation for college students. The Excelsior Scholarship in New York is a great example, but it’s not the only one.

The Rhode Island Promise program allows students to attend in-state colleges tuition-free for two years. And Massachusetts offers seven different state grant programs to help local students cover college costs.

The price tag of a college education in the Northeast might seem high at first, but don’t let it scare you off. Shop around for affordable colleges, consider public schools first, and keep costs top of mind while applying and deciding on the right school for you.

By doing this legwork now, you can find the right Northeast college to keep your costs and student debt low.

Hey, reporters! Want to see more of our original research on colleges and student debt? Check out our latest surveys and studies by signing up for our news updates.

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