Here are the top 10 states with the cheapest four-year public colleges for in-state students
- These states have the lowest public college tuition prices for residents.
- However, "don’t just look at sticker cost," cautioned Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief.
- Scholarship aid can make even pricey private colleges surprisingly affordable.
If picking a college comes down to the financial bottom line, then an in-state public school can look like a particularly good deal.
"In-state tuition is half to two-thirds lower than out-of-state," said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz and author of "How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid."
These days, that goes a long way as students and their families grow increasingly wary of the cost of a degree and hefty student loan debt that often comes with it.
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Tuition and fees plus room and board for students at four-year private colleges averaged $53,430 in the 2022-23 school year, according to the College Board. In comparison, in-state students at four-year public college paid $23,250, on average; for out-of-state students, it was $40,550
Over the last decade, tuition and fees actually fell by 1% at public four-year institutions while rising by 6% at private, four-year schools, the College Board found.
Top 10 states with lowest in-state tuition prices
Among the states offering the cheapest tuition for in-state students, Florida and Wyoming topped the list with prices under $7,000 a year, based on 2022 data from the College Board. (Thinking of relocating? Moving in order to establish residency for in-state tuition is not that easy.)
For out-of-state students, Northern State University in South Dakota, Nichols State University in Louisiana and the University of Wyoming had the lowest prices nationwide at $20,000 or less.
"There is great currency in those numbers," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief. However, such popular public colleges are increasingly difficult to get into, he added.
"These are schools that have great brand perception but they are also oversubscribed."
Weighing public vs. private on tuition can be a mistake
"Never cross an expensive school off of your list of consideration based on sticker price alone," Franek cautioned. "Many of those schools are giving out substantial scholarships — this is free money."
When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, Franek added.
At some private colleges, the average scholarship award is just over $50,000, The Princeton Review found, which brings the total out-of-pocket cost down to less than $20,000.
'Don't just look at sticker cost'
"Don't just look at sticker cost," Franek said. "There is a great deal of scholarship dollars out there and you can bring the cost down below what you would pay at a public college."
Scholarship aid can also vary greatly by school and state, according to a separate Student Financial Aid Index by Scholaroo, which compared financial aid trends across the country.
For example, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee awards the most amount of aid overall per undergraduate student while Arizona, Montana and Utah ranked among the states that provided least financial aid to their students.