Smart SpendingSmart Spending

The 10 cheapest colleges in the US

Student loan debt is becoming an enormous burden for the many college graduates, many of whom can't find jobs. How do you avoid it? Attend a cheaper college, and use loans as a last resort.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 8, 2011 1:14PM

This post is from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


MoneyTalksNews on MSN MoneyParents always cry at their child's graduation, but these days it might be for a different reason: Two-thirds of recent college grads left school with an average debt more than $25,000. That’s 5 percent higher than last year.


The numbers from The Project on Student Debt make it easier to understand why college graduates are a vocal part of Occupy Wall Street, and why President Obama recently took some steps to help with student loans.


But why do students owe so much?  One reason might be that many don’t think before they borrow. They assume repayment will be easy with the cushy new job they'll get after graduation. Faced with this economy, unemployment or a low-paying gig is much more likely. But another reason is that tuition rates have jumped sharply in the past few years as state education budgets keep getting slashed.


The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center shows college funding by states dropped a national average of 7% in 2008. Over the next two school years, tuition jumped more than 35% on more than 30 state university campuses. States like Arizona have cut university funding in half since 2007, CNN reports, and it shows in their tuition rates.


Here are the top 10 rate hikers between 2007 and 2010, according to the Department of Education:

  1. Northern New Mexico College -- 51%
  2. Florida State College at Jacksonville -- 49%
  3. San Diego State* -- 47%
  4. Georgia State -- 46%
  5. California State* -- 46%
  6. Alabama State -- 43%
  7. Georgia Institute of Technology -- 41%
  8. San Jose State -- 39%
  9. California State Polytechnic -- 39%
  10. Arizona State -- 38%

This list doesn't paint the complete picture of college costs: There are simply too many factors to consider. For example, two schools listed here (the ones with asterisks) have multiple campuses that faced huge percentage hikes. If they were listed individually, 13 California State campuses would be in the Top 30, and yet two of its campuses are also among the Department of Education's list of cheapest schools to attend. Post continues after video.

Some of the steepest hikes (in percent) are not at the most expensive schools (in total) – the top two on this list are still under $3,000 after financial aid, while everybody else on the list is more than $4,000. If you want to get into the details and look at actual tuition rates or specific schools, play with the Department of Education calculator yourself.


Not interested in the details? Well, here are 10 of the cheapest campuses, according to the same source…

  • Sitting Bull College (ND) -- $938
  • South Texas College -- $1,317
  • The University of Texas-Pan American -- $1,646
  • Indian River State College (FL) -- $2,138
  • California State University-Dominguez Hills -- $2,451
  • California State University-Los Angeles -- $3,263
  • Elizabeth City State University (NC) -- $3,335
  • Palm Beach State College (FL) -- $3,490
  • Haskell Indian Nations University (KS) -- $4,302
  • CUNY Lehman College (NY) -- $4,335

You might notice that some California State campuses aren't as pricey as the first list would suggest — although if they keep hiking rates, they could get there fast.


These are the net prices per year after typical grants and scholarships. Students from out of state or who qualify for less aid would probably pay more. 


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Nov 8, 2011 5:42PM
The problem isn't with the degree itself, it's the employers who require degrees even for those working in the mailroom or answering the phone.  A great many jobs can be taught without a college background, but having that degree is listed as a requirement so you're stuck.  Doesn't matter how smart you are or how useless the degree is, you have to have it.
Nov 8, 2011 6:05PM
Maybe if employers would hire people based on their skills and not what college they went to, fewer people would go, and the price would come down. We need more vocational training in high schools. Not everyone can be a CEO or a world-famous doctor.
Nov 8, 2011 5:58PM
It doesn't matter how educated you are or what you has always been and always will be who you know.
Nov 8, 2011 6:03PM

The author must have mistakenly omitted the least expensive college of all:

The college of hard knocks.

Nov 8, 2011 6:01PM
The article was FOS though, there are multiple community or junior colleges that offer a very good education "value" with a 20 to 1 student to teacher ratio and all of those colleges have "2+2" transfer programs with the state universities.  (who actually prefer transfer students over HS graduates since the transfers finish degrees more often)
Nov 8, 2011 5:49PM
i like how all but two of these cheap colleges are in the coastal states. i seem to know of a college in the northern panhandle of Nebraska (Chadron State College) where resident tuition is $4060 for 30 credit hours taken over 2 semesters! That is $2,030 for tuition a semster

Biased much?
Nov 8, 2011 5:51PM

I wonder if Goldman Sachs recruits at Sitting Bull College.

Nov 8, 2011 6:34PM

I have 2 daughters who recently graduated from two different institutions (one a small private college, and one a large state university).  They are indeed struggling to find employment like many of this unfortunate generation while trying to find a way to pay off staggering amounts of student loan debt. I must agree with the idea presented by the article that part of the problem is the idea (heavily encouraged by the schools themselves, despite what fuddy duddy Dad said) that once a degree is obtained, the job and salary are mere weeks away.  It is unfortunate that the expectations are not managed better, but when schools are strapped for cash, the last thing they want to do is tell their revenue stream that the paper you get at the end of the higher education experience doesn't guarantee anything other than a payment.

Nov 8, 2011 6:16PM
It is my understanding that Penn State will be lowering their tuition by 97% in 2012.
Nov 8, 2011 6:30PM
I am surprised that Berea College, Berea KY was not on the list for the cheapest. It is tuition free, but everyone has to work. You have a work assignment every semester, and after your first semester, you have to find your own job, which gives your interview experience. It is a tough school, but worth it.
Nov 8, 2011 5:20PM
I didn't get the impression that what steno was suggesting was easy, quite the contrary. It's easier by far to let someone else figure out the course and the curriculum than do it oneself.   But Barking Spider is right that nine times out of ten we don't use the information we got in class, except peripherally. But classes also give us a window into other times, other thinking and interaction with others.
Nov 8, 2011 5:09PM
Wow, steno, that's a lot of effort for such a small return. You might want to talk to your local colleges about getting life experience credit and doing credit by examination.  The cardboard doesn't get you the job, but it can make a difference, and since you're willing to make the effort you deserve a better return. 
Nov 8, 2011 6:45PM
The bad thing about going to South Texas College is you are forced to live in South Texas.
Nov 8, 2011 6:23PM
VCU gave their students a tuition increase because they gave the basketball coach a $1 million much for getting screwed!!!!!
Nov 8, 2011 4:50PM
Murphy, sounds like you've not been to a library lately.
Nov 8, 2011 5:57PM

I agree that libraries are great references and can really help the education process - and no, there are more than homeless folks there.  Having at least a BS/BA/BBA is a kind of "gotta have" to be competitive in many (but not all) fields. 


You can be a police officer with an Associates as well as an LVN/LPN and even an RN in some states - and both of those jobs make fine money. 


I'd recommend taking classes at a small community college for an associates and then moving on to using non-traditional/work experience/CLEP & DSST stuff if college isn't your cup of tea. 


Parents and students alike make many mistakes when it comes to both the planning and the undertaking of an education, and those who fail to plan ahead and make rational choices will suffer via paying way too much for way too little. 


I've got a BS and an MA and am working on another MA.  All in fields that I've either been in or plan to go into....and most importantly I'm interested in and enjoy taking classes.  You've simply got to take some responsibility for it. 

Nov 8, 2011 6:39PM
College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, MO is similar to Berea College as well. All admitted students receive a free education in exchange for working 15 hours per week at an on campus job.
Nov 8, 2011 6:29PM
You seem to have missed Berea College in Kentucky, where all admitted students go tuition free.
Nov 8, 2011 6:45PM

A student should not let his/her ego get in the way of facts. 

 Some have the ability, determination and intellect to attend and complete college, some do not.  Determine which one you are before committing to $50/80 thousand in student loans. 

  There is no shame in being a really first class, electrician, plumber or welder and the pay is high, jobs always available someplace and you don't end up owing $50/60 thousand in student loans.

   As a college grad from Podunk Univ. you will not be chosen for the internship at a major commercial bank or Industrial company.  They may hire you as a third or forth level manager but the best pay you can hope for won't be as much as the fore mentioned electrician for ten or fifteen years.. 

   Many students from smaller colleges end up starting their own business.  If you are carrying a student loan, it is not always easy to obtain the financing for a startup. 

   Take a realistic look at yourself and determine if you really have the determination and the skills to justify committing to a large student loan.  There are other ways to go.

Nov 8, 2011 6:24PM
They forgot to add University of Idaho ^^.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.