Most Affordable Colleges and Universities in the U.S. 2024

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So with college costing more than ever, and taking longer than ever to complete, how can you get the best value out of your college experience? The cost of college is high and rising. In just the last 30 years, the cost of a four-year degree, from any institution, public or private, has increased from $26,902 ($52,892 adjusted for inflation) to $104,480.

What are the most affordable colleges in the U.S.? And is it possible to earn a four-year degree that is both affordable and excellent? Is there such a thing as a good “cheap” school?

These are the questions we asked before putting together the list below. Of course, we don’t like to use the phrase “cheapest colleges and universities” because we don’t want you to think of these as bargain-bin schools. In reality, we focused on colleges and universities that provide educational excellence at a reasonable cost. Think of this as a list of schools that give you the best return on your investment.

But we know that the final price tag is on your mind when you’re shopping for colleges. The cost of college is high and rising. In just the last 30 years, the cost of a four-year degree, from any institution, public or private, has increased from $26,902 ($52,892 adjusted for inflation) to $104,480. And of course, that assumes you finish college in just four years, which happened for just 52.8% of private university students and 33.3% of public school students. So with college costing more than ever, and taking longer than ever to complete, how can you get the best value out of your college experience?

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The Most Affordable Colleges and Universities

Start with a look at what we consider to be the “Best Value Colleges and Universities” – schools that charged under $20,000 per year in tuition and fees while rating at the top of our Influence Ranking. Technically, we consider schools “affordable” if tuition and fees are below the national average of $16,000 for public universities. Still, this sample of the best value colleges shows that many colleges and universities with excellent academic reputations can be reasonably priced.

These schools are ranked by academic excellence and all cost less than $20,000 a year.

  1. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1420/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Berkeley

    Cost of Degree: $14,395
    Expenses: $28,648
    Starting Salary: $65,865
    Salary after 4 years: $87,670
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  2. #2

    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , MI
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    20%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Michigan

    Cost of Degree: $17,786
    Expenses: $16,820
    Starting Salary: $60,191
    Salary after 4 years: $80,416
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  3. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    46K

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Los Angeles

    Cost of Degree: $13,401
    Expenses: $23,579
    Starting Salary: $56,056
    Salary after 4 years: $83,321
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  4. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    53%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1326/30

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Washington

    Cost of Degree: $12,242
    Expenses: $19,848
    Starting Salary: $61,244
    Salary after 4 years: $80,966
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  5. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Texas at Austin

    Cost of Degree: $11,698
    Expenses: $18,548
    Starting Salary: $56,874
    Salary after 4 years: $72,760
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  6. #6

    University of Minnesota

    Minneapolis , MN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    42K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1350/28

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Minnesota

    Cost of Degree: $15,859
    Expenses: $15,240
    Starting Salary: $53,524
    Salary after 4 years: $64,285
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  7. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1360/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Wisconsin–Madison

    Cost of Degree: $10,796
    Expenses: $17,198
    Starting Salary: $55,865
    Salary after 4 years: $69,709
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  8. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    55K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1330/30

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    Cost of Degree: $17,782
    Expenses: $16,420
    Starting Salary: $55,494
    Salary after 4 years: $71,711
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign known for?

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    University of Virginia

    Charlottesville , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $20K

    Acceptance

    21%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Virginia

    Cost of Degree: $21,425
    Expenses: $17,790
    Starting Salary: $64,378
    Salary after 4 years: $81,886
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  10. #11

    University of Pittsburgh

    Pittsburgh , PA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $20K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1331/30

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Pittsburgh

    Cost of Degree: $21,080
    Expenses: $15,948
    Starting Salary: $53,362
    Salary after 4 years: $68,261
    Cost Recoup Time: 11 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  11. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    52%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    36K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Maryland, College Park

    Cost of Degree: $11,233
    Expenses: $18,404
    Starting Salary: $54,505
    Salary after 4 years: $71,659
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  12. #13

    Purdue University

    West Lafayette , IN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1295/29

    Career Outlook for degree at Purdue University

    Cost of Degree: $9,992
    Expenses: $12,930
    Starting Salary: $58,488
    Salary after 4 years: $70,340
    Cost Recoup Time: 8 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  13. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    81%

    Student body

    41K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1235/27

    Career Outlook for degree at Indiana University Bloomington

    Cost of Degree: $11,447
    Expenses: $16,010
    Starting Salary: $46,533
    Salary after 4 years: $60,286
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  14. #15

    Ohio State University

    Columbus , OH
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    56K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1320/29

    Career Outlook for degree at Ohio State University

    Cost of Degree: $12,485
    Expenses: $17,700
    Starting Salary: $52,119
    Salary after 4 years: $66,526
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  15. #16

    University of Florida

    Gainesville , FL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $6K

    Acceptance

    30%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    48K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/31

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Florida

    Cost of Degree: $6,381
    Expenses: $15,430
    Starting Salary: $55,838
    Salary after 4 years: $70,790
    Cost Recoup Time: 7 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  16. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    20%

    Graduation

    90%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1385/30

    Career Outlook for degree at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Cost of Degree: $8,989
    Expenses: $16,260
    Starting Salary: $57,668
    Salary after 4 years: $69,725
    Cost Recoup Time: 8 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill known for?

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    27K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/31

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Santa Barbara

    Cost of Degree: $14,617
    Expenses: $23,285
    Starting Salary: $42,446
    Salary after 4 years: $64,826
    Cost Recoup Time: 11 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  18. #19

    University of Arizona

    Tucson , AZ
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    40K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1220/25

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Arizona

    Cost of Degree: $12,937
    Expenses: $18,350
    Starting Salary: $49,109
    Salary after 4 years: $63,203
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    University of Arizona’s Online Degrees

    BA in Africana Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Administration of Justice
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Care, Health and Society
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Emergency Medical Services
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Accounting
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Cyber Operations
    Degree Concentrations
    • Engineering
    • Defense & Forensics
    • and Cyber Law & Policy
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Communication
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Early Childhood
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of General Studies in Economy and Industry
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Environmental Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of General Studies, in Arts, Media and Entertainment
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of General Studies in Global and Intercultural Understanding
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Global Media
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Government and Public Service
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Human Rights Practice
    • Required Credits: None Reported
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Human Services
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering
    • Required Credits: 128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Geographic Information Systems Technology (GIST)
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Literacy, Learning and Leadership
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Information Science and ESociety
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Organizational Leadership
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Psychology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Law
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Political Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Regional Commerce
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BAS in Intelligence and Information Operations
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in History
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Philosophy: Ethics
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Biology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Nutritional Sciences
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Spanish
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of General Studies in Sports and Society
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Public Health
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Sustainable Built Environments
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    Bachelor of General Studies in Social Behavior and Human Understanding
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  19. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    73K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1210/24

    Career Outlook for degree at Arizona State University

    Cost of Degree: $11,618
    Expenses: $19,509
    Starting Salary: $52,210
    Salary after 4 years: $65,824
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    Arizona State University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Applied Science
    Degree Concentrations
    • Project Management
    • Health Sciences
    • Required Credits: 111-120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Business
    Degree Concentrations
    • Communication
    • Sustainability
    • Required Credits: 114-120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Educational Studies
    Degree Concentrations
    • Business
    • Community Health
    • Family and Human Development
    • Global Studies
    • Health Innovations
    • Personal Health
    • Political Science
    • Organizational Leadership
    • Required Credits: 114-120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  20. #23

    Texas A&M University

    College Station , TX
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    61K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1270/29

    Career Outlook for degree at Texas A&M University

    Cost of Degree: $12,605
    Expenses: $19,014
    Starting Salary: $59,661
    Salary after 4 years: $75,474
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    Texas A&M University’s Online Degrees

    BSN in Nursing: RN to BSN
    • Required Credits: 32
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  21. #24

    Georgia Tech

    Atlanta , GA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1450/33

    Career Outlook for degree at Georgia Tech

    Cost of Degree: $11,764
    Expenses: $16,342
    Starting Salary: $78,093
    Salary after 4 years: $90,292
    Cost Recoup Time: 7 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  22. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    37K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1330/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Irvine

    Cost of Degree: $13,939
    Expenses: $23,350
    Starting Salary: $48,940
    Salary after 4 years: $73,247
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

For another way of looking at gettng the best return on your investment, check out our groundbreaking new ranking of the schools with the Best Academic Stewardship. Here, we ask how effectively schools manage their financial and human resources to gain the influence that makes them academically excellent. Schools that are exemplary in Academic Stewardship are doing everything in their power to help students and faculty achieve their full potential. In other words, these schools are affordable considering what you’re getting in exchange.

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The Most Affordable Colleges and Universities By State

One of the best ways to save money on your college investment without sacrificing quality is to attend a school in your home state, or in your region. Public and state schools generally offer lower tuition rates for in-state applicants, while attending a private school in-state can provide you with savings on travel and housing. That’s why we’ve cataloged the most affordable colleges and universities by state.

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Affordable Online Degrees

A large number of fully accredited colleges and universities offer excellent online degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, and grad levels. This can be a great way to save money on your higher education by reducing costs such as housing, transportation, and certain campus fees:

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Top Community Colleges

Community College is another excellent way to save money on the way to a degree. In most cases, your community college will offer a two-year degree at a more affordable rate than the rate offered by the average four-year public college or university. This is a great way to reduce your student loan debt burden even if you plan to ultimately transfer into a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

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Key Affordability Resources

How much should you spend on your college education? The answer is different for everybody. The best way to calculate the right budget for your degree is to gain a better understanding of the higher education economy. Take a look at our exhaustive, fact-based resources on everything from admission rates and tuition costs to scholarships and financial aid.

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Tips for Lowering Your Cost of College

There are steps that you can take beginning as early as high school, and strategies that you enact throughout your college education, to minimize your costs and maximize the value of your degree.

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Interviews On Admissions and Affordability

For deeper insights into the admissions process, the factors causing high tuition rates, and the best strategies for lowering the cost of your college education, check out our interviews with top experts in the field.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Affordability

College is expensive because of overlapping factors like the steady increase in the number of college applicants over the last several decades, significant cuts in public funding for state colleges, and increased costs for amenities, infrastructure, and administration. These factors have all contributed to a decades-long spike in the cost of college. Back to Top

Four years in college costs, on average, between $40,000 and $200,000. In 2020, the average yearly cost of tuition and fees for in-state public colleges was just over $10,000 while the average cost of tuition for a year in private school was $36,801. But costs can go up significantly from there, with more than 120 ranked private colleges charging an annual tuition and fees of at least $50,000. And this is only the sticker price. The net price includes an array of additional expenses, which would likely provide a more accurate picture of what you’ll spend on 4 years in college. Back to Top

The difference between the sticker price and net price of college is that the stricker price does not factor in all incidental costs (housing, fees, books, etc.) or credits (financial aid, scholarships, need-based grants, etc.) whereas the net price more accurately reflects what you’ll be paying for college. The “sticker price” does not account for an array of necessary incidentals including housing, college fees, text books, meal plans, and general living expenses. You’ll need to add these expenses to the sticker price to determine your net price. The good news is, you can also factor in your financial aid and any grants or scholarships you’ve been awarded, which will bring your net price down. For more on the difference between the sticker price and the net price, visit our general Guide to Paying for College Back to Top

The cost of college can vary widely depending on what you’re looking for in your higher education. A range of variables will determine your cost including whether you attend a public or private school, whether you take online or in-person classes, and whether or not you attend a school in-state or out-of-state. These factors will help to determine your base sticker price. After that, you’ll need to factor in major expenses including college fees and housing expenses. According to the Century Foundation, college housing prices “increased by just under 80 percent, inflation-adjusted” between 1975 and 2015. After that, you’ll need to factor in your financial aid–which may or may not be subsidized–as well as any need-based grants or scholarships. For more on how to make these calculations, check out How Much Should College Cost? Back to Top

If college is too expensive, consider a variety of more affordable options including community college and online education. The rankings and resources included here place an emphasis on affordability. But there are ways to cut your costs even further. For instance, many students will choose to begin their higher education in a community college. Earning your associate degree at one of these two-year institutions can save you a lot of money on tuition before you ultimately transfer into a four-year degree program. Most associate degree programs also offer online options, which means you can save on housing costs by completing your courses from your family’s home. Once you’ve completed your program, you’ll not only have the credentials to transfer into a four-year program, but you may also qualify for entry-level work in your field, which is a great way to gain experience and fund your education. For an affordable way to get started, check out the 50 Best Community Colleges. Back to Top

You can make college more affordable by starting at a community college or by looking for a public, in-state four-year school. Public and state universities are frequently more affordable than private colleges. If you’re receptive to a big-school experience, you can save a lot of money up front. You can save even more if you choose to go to a public college near home, because most state schools offer deep tuition discounts for in-state residents. You may also be able to offset some expenses by attending college, or at least completing some courses, online. While tuition for online college is generally in line with tuition for the traditional college experience, you may be able to save on college fees, housing, and transportation. Back to Top

You can cut your college costs by applying for financial aid, getting scholarships, and attending a public university in your state. And in some cases, the most expensive schools, including Ivy League colleges, are likely to be the most generous when it comes to both need-based grants and merit scholarships. Financial aid and scholarships are both important resources as you look for ways to cut your costs. There are also ways to save on additional expenses. Text books, for instance, can be quite expensive. Try shopping for used books online instead of going straight to your campus bookstore for the newest copy. Back to Top

Whether it’s worth going to an expensive college or not will depend on your financial situation, your professional goals and the kind of experience you want out of your university. Before you commit to an elite university or a school with fancy amenities, remember that you will likely be paying loans for these experiences well after graduation. Make sure you really need a degree from that expensive college to take the next step in your career. For some, only an elite college will do. This experience may place you in contact with the instructors, classmates, and credentials you need to pursue your selected career. But if you can achieve your personal, educational, and career goals at a well-regarded but affordable public university, it may be worth saving the money. Still not sure which is right for you? Read on for help answering the question, Should I go to an elite college? Back to Top

See our Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process for more.

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