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The Nation’s 25 Cheapest State Universities & Colleges (but are they really a bargain?)

It’s the name brand schools that hog the headlines when those yearly lists of the most expensive schools hit the press. But what about the schools that are priced cheaper than a 1999 Honda Civic?

University of Californa Los Angeles

There are plenty of schools that, on the surface, look like bargains. Take, for instance, California State University – Los Angeles, which educates close to 16,000 undergrads. When you deduct grants (free money) that students at this urban school typically receive, Cal State LA’s net price was recently just $3,263.

According to federal statistics on net prices, Cal State Los Angeles is the nation’s sixth cheapest public university among the 50 states. A sister campus in Los Angeles County — Cal State Dominguez Hills — costs even less.

Are these schools, however, really inexpensive? Before you decide, here are the 25 cheapest schools, based on net prices, among all four-year state universities in the United States.

25 Cheapest State Universities and Colleges

  1. Sitting Bull College, ND  $938
  2. South Texas College  $1,317
  3. University of Texas-Pan American $1,646
  4. Indian River State College $2,138
  5. California State University-Dominguez Hills $2,451
  6. California State University-Los Angeles $3,263
  7. Elizabeth City State University, NC $3,335
  8. Palm Beach State College, FL $3,490
  9. Haskell Indian Nations University, KS  $4,302
  10. CUNY Lehman College, NY $4,335
  11. Louisiana State University-Shreveport $4,364
  12. Chipola College, FL $4,568
  13. CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice, NY $4,568
  14. Texas A&M International University $4,594
  15. Bellevue College, WA $4,749
  16. Middle Georgia College $4,809
  17. Oglala Lakota College, SD $4,871
  18. California State University-Fullerton $4,874
  19. University of Louisiana at Lafayette $5,042
  20. University of Hawaii-West Oahu $5,201
  21. University of Texas at El Paso $5,224
  22. Dalton State College, GA $5,309
  23. Oklahoma Panhandle State University $5,434
  24. College of Coastal Georgia $5,449
  25. Midland College, TX $5,471
Are These Schools Really A Bargain?

While the tuition is low at these 25 schools, the price is deceiving. Why? Because most of the students aren’t graduating in four years.

The six-year graduation rate, for example, for students who started as full-time freshmen at Cal State LA is only 34%. I pulled that number off the school’s profile on the federal College Navigator, which is a great resource for evaluating universities. The four-year grad rate at this school is 8.8% You can find the four-year grad rates for any college or university at College Results Online.

Over at Cal State Dominguez Hill, the six-year grad rate is 35% while it’s four-year rate is a shocking 4.9%!

These schools attract a large percentage of poor students. At Cal State LA, 62% receive federal Pell Grants, which are aimed at low-income students. That should not be an excuse, however, for state universities to produce such miserable graduation rates.

Bottom Line:

The longer students stay in school, the more expensive the price. But there’s also a hidden cost to the cheapest schools. If you can’t graduate, you are postponing the time when you can start on your career. And that’s a huge price to pay.

The Nation’s 25 Most Expensive Colleges & Universities

In hopes of shaming colleges into putting the brakes on their spiraling prices, the U.S. Department of Education today released its lists of the nation’s most expensive colleges and universities.

Sarah Lawrence College, known for its politically active students, offers a wide variety of housing options. In addition to the school’s four original dorms, there are three newer dorms designed by architect Phillip Johnson as well as a number of renovated private dwellings, apartment buildings, manor houses and even former maid’s quarters.

I didn’t see any surprises on the list of the most expensive four-year private schools, which contained the usual elite schools. Sarah Lawrence College, a perennial winner in the most expensive college contest, bagged first place.  Tuition for this liberal arts college was listed at $41,968. Actually it’s higher now since the federal government used 2009-2010 figures to compiles its lists.

The Most Expensive State Universities.

On the list of the most expensive state colleges, public universities in Pennyslvania crushed the competition. Penn State, Pennsylvania’s flagship, ranked No. 1 with a tuition of $14,416. The second most expensive state school was the University of Pittsburgh ($14,154 tuition) while 19 satellite Penn State campuses made the list of the 30 most expensive state schools. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Pennsylvania?

25 Most Expensive State Colleges & Universities.

  1. Sarah Lawrence College $41,968
  2. Vassar College $41,930
  3. George Washington U. $41,655
  4. Columbia University $41,316
  5. Kenyon College $40,980
  6. Colgate University $40,970
  7. Carnegie Mellon U. $40,920
  8. Trinity College $40,840
  9. Bucknell University $40,816
  10. Tulane University $40,584
  11. Skidmore College $40,420
  12. St John’s College $40,396
  13. St John’s College $40,392
  14. Tufts University $40,342
  15. Hobart William Smith Colleges $40,235
  16. Bard College at Simon’s Rock $40,165
  17. Dickinson College $40,114
  18. Wesleyan University $40,092
  19. Bowdoin College $40,020
  20. University of Richmond $40,010
  21. Oberlin College $40,004
  22. Franklin & Marshall College $39,980
  23. Hampshire College $39,912
  24. Bard College $39,880
  25. Wheaton College MA $39,850
Will College Prices Continue Rising Faster Than Inflation?

Will releasing the names of the nation’s most expensive schools slow down the pace of rising prices? I doubt it.

State schools will continue to raise prices because they are getting squeezed by their state governments. Meanwhile, private schools, such as Sarah Lawrence, justify their prices by insisting that their financial aid packages compensate for mind-boggling prices. Here’s what I wrote about that argument in a post last year:

Bottom Line:

Don’t hold your breath for lower college prices. I just don’t see it happening.

About the Author: Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a financial journalist and the author of a critically acclaimed book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price. She has been a contributor to such publications as BusinessWeek, USA Today, Money Magazine, Medical Economics, The New York Times, Consumer Reports MoneyAdvisor, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, AARP: The Magazine and Kiplinger


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