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Tuition at public universities is $10,230 a year on average—here's how much students actually pay

Metropolitain State University of Denver Graduation
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Earning a college diploma is more expensive than ever, even at public universities.

"Overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the school year ending in 2018 was more than $7 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation," write researchers for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Colleges responded to significant funding cuts by increasing tuition, reducing faculty, limiting course offerings and in some cases closing campuses. Funding has rebounded slightly since then, but costs remain high and services in some places have not returned."

Today, public universities increasingly rely on revenue from tuition and fees paid by students to keep their doors open, and prices continue to rise. According to the College Board's report, published in‐state tuition and fees at public four‐year schools increased from $9,980 during the 2017-2018 school year to $10,230 during the 2018-2019 school year.

For out-of-state students, these costs can be even higher. The College Board estimates that out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose by $620, from $25,670 during the 2017-2018 school year to $26,290 during the 2018-2019 school year.

Once costs like room and board are taken into consideration, the average total charges come out to about $21,370 a year for in-state students and about $37,430 for out-of-state students, on average.

But once variables like scholarships, grants and tax benefits are factored in, many student end up paying less.

Graduates listen as they are addressed during the graduation for the college of letters, arts, and sciences and school of education of Metropolitan State University of Denver on Friday, May 11, 2018
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

During the 2018-2019 school year, the published tuition and fees for full-time in-state undergraduate students at public four-year colleges was about $10,230. When room and board are included, this figure increases $21,370. The College Board reports that students receive an average total of $6,490 in grant aid and tax benefits, bringing the net cost of public university for these students down to $14,880 per year.

But these figures can vary significantly depending on the state. In 2019, the average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year institutions ranged from $5,400 in Wyoming and $6,360 in Florida, to $16,460 in New Hampshire and $16,610 in Vermont.

Income level also impacts how much attending a public university will cost a student. According to the College Board, net tuition and fees cost about $10,590 for students coming from families with incomes over $120,000 but just $3,200 for students from families that make between $35,000 and $69,999.

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