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As more legislators mull the idea of free higher education, public colleges may be worth a closer look.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday a proposal to make college tuition-free at all state public two- and four-year colleges. His plan, if approved by the legislature, would implement a scholarship program to supplement aid for in-state residents whose families earn $125,000 or less.
The program would phase in over three years, and benefit an estimated 940,000 families, according to a briefing.
"A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility," Gov. Cuomo said in the announcement. "With these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we're providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down."
Pitches for free college education shouldn't influence your savings habits, said David Levy, editor of Edvisors.com. Although the number of parents saving for college hit an all-time high last year, the median balance isn't enough to cover even a year of in-state expenses at a public, four-year college.
"If I were a family, I wouldn't be banking on this kind of thing," he said. "It's a proposal."
But as you start your college search, public schools are worth a closer look. Even if Cuomo's proposal doesn't go through, New York's average in-state tuition of $7,710 for the 2016-17 academic year makes it the 12th-cheapest nationwide, based on data from the College Board.
If you're out-of-state, public colleges are often less of a bargain, Levy said. The premium for non-resident students is steep, he said, and state residency requirements can require a scholar to live locally for more than a year to qualify for the in-state rate.
According to College Board data, these 10 states have the least expensive average in-state tuition:
Average in-state tuition and fees: $7,410
Five-year change: 23 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $20,260
9. North Carolina
Average in-state tuition and fees: $7,200
Five-year change: 19 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $23,750
Average in-state tuition and fees: $7,130
Five-year change: 23 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $21,800
Average in-state tuition and fees: $7,010
Five-year change: 16 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $21,250
Average in-state tuition and fees: $6,910
Five-year change: 7 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $20,720
5. New Mexico
Average in-state tuition and fees: $6,620
Five-year change: 14 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $19,050
Average in-state tuition and fees: $6,580
Five-year change: 17 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $19,840
Average in-state tuition and fees: $6,410
Five-year change: 2 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $22,100
Average in-state tuition and fees: $6,360
Five-year change: 6 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $21,570
Average in-state tuition and fees: $5,060
Five-year change: 15 percent
Average out-of-state tuition and fees: $16,220