The Least Expensive Colleges in the US

As part of the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress mandated the creation of the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC), a website that allows users to easily view the most and least expensive schools in the United States. What, according to the CATC, are the nation's most affordable institutes of higher learning?


Save Some Cash

In this article, we used reports from the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) to compile a list of the least costly colleges in the country. The numbers reported are for public or private not-for-profit schools. At the bottom of each list, we've included the national average for schools in that category, so you can see how much the selected schools (as well as your own) deviate from the norm.

Colleges have also been divided into separate lists based on cost by tuition as of the 2011-2012 school year and by net price as of the 2010-2011 school year. Net price is calculated by subtracting the average financial aid and grants given to each student from the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books, room and board). Because of that equation, some schools who provide a lot of financial aid to their students can end up having a lower net cost even though tuition seems high.

Patterns of Note

Some patterns make themselves known by looking at the data below. For one, notice that the national average net price for private 4-year schools is lower than the national average cost of tuition by roughly $3,500 per year. In contrast, average tuition at public 4-year schools is lower than the average net price. However, private schools are still considerably more expensive on the whole; the yearly net price for a public 4-year school education is almost $9,000 less than a private, not-for-profit 4-year school.


Also apparent: certain geographical locations stand out as superstars when it comes to saving money. In the 2-year public school category, we can see that four out of five of the least expensive institutions by tuition operate out of California, while two of the most affordable schools by net price are located in Puerto Rico. Two more Puerto Rican 4-year universities make an appearance on the list of most affordable by net price.

Are Those Figures Correct?

Most surprising are the negative net price numbers. For example, The University of Texas Pan American shows -$95 for net price and South Texas College reports a -$85 net price. These numbers, while a little unbelievable, simply mean that on average, students receive more in aid than the school charges for tuition and fees.

Statistical Oddities

Listed here are also a few statistical aberrations that shouldn't get our readers' hopes up. For instance, the Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, which offers yearly tuition of only $182, is open only to members of Native American tribes across the U.S. Meanwhile, Kentucky's Berea College specifically targets low-income students and offers a campus-wide work-study program that provides students stipends so they can afford to attend.

That said, let's take a look at schools that allow students to stretch their dollars the farthest.

Public 4-Year Schools

By Tuition

  1. Haskell Indian Nations University (Kansas) - $182
  2. Dine College (Arizona) - $805
  3. Colorado Mountain College (Colorado) - $1,770
  4. Brazosport College (Texas) - $1,977
  5. Navajo Technical College (New Mexico) - $2,120

National Average: $7,135

By Net Price

  1. The University of Texas Pan-American - $-95
  2. South Texas College - $-85
  3. University of Puerto Rico - Bayamon - $220
  4. University of Puerto Rico - Aguadilla - $487
  5. Elizabeth City State University (North Carolina) - $909

National Average: $10,863

Private, Not-For-Profit 4-Year Schools

By Tuition

  1. Berea College (Kentucky) - $910
  2. Turtle Mountain Community College (North Dakota) - $2,250
  3. Curtis Institute of Music (Pennsylvania) - $2,300
  4. Grace College of Divinity (North Carolina) - $2,450
  5. Sinte Gleska University (South Dakota) - $3,154

National Average: $22,786

By Net Price

  1. Berea College (Kentucky) - $-20,746
  2. Family of Faith College (Oklahoma) - $-5,585
  3. Caribbean University - Bayamon (Puerto Rico) - $1,798
  4. Bais Medrash Elyon (New York) - $2,025
  5. Hobe Sound Bible College (Florida) - $2,250

National Average: $19,330

Public 2-Year Schools

By Tuition

  1. Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (New Mexico) - $675
  2. Cuesta College (California) - $742
  3. Saddleback College (California) - $762
  4. Antelope Valley College (California) - $780
  5. Cabrillo College (California) - $790

National Average: $2,905

By Net Price

  1. Instituto Tecnologico de Puerto Rico - Recinto de San Juan - $-1,155
  2. Cleveland Community College (North Carolina) - $-517
  3. Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Alabama) - $-335
  4. Escuela De Troqueleria Y Herramentaje (Puerto Rico) - $-122
  5. Roxbury Community College (Massachusetts) - $-85

National Average: $6,711

Private, Not-For-Profit 2-Year Schools

By Tuition

  1. Blackfeet Community College (Montana) - $2,190
  2. Latter-day Saints Business College (Utah) - $2,980
  3. White Earth Tribal and Community College (Minnesota) - $3,285
  4. Iowa Health - Des Moines School of Radiologic Technology (Iowa) $3,900
  5. Little Priest Tribal College (Nebraska) - $4,380

National Average: $12,959

By Net Price

  1. Victory Trade School (Montana) - $0
  2. Clinton Junior College (South Carolina) - $3,323
  3. Jacksonville College - Main Campus (Texas) - $3,992
  4. Alaska Christian College (Alaska) - $4,419
  5. Little Priest Tribal College (Nebraska) - $5,144

National Average: $16,872

Finding low-price schools may seem like a miracle while many institutions face a so-called financial crisis.

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