States with the most -- and least -- affordable public colleges

24/7 Wall St.
In the state with the most affordable higher education, average tuition and fees amount to $4,404.

In the state with the most affordable higher education, average tuition and fees amount to $4,404.

Average in-state tuition at public four-year universities rose by just 2.9% this year, the smallest increase in more than three decades, according to recently released College Board data. When adjusted for inflation, it has barely increased at all.

In the current school year, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year institution for an in-state student is $8,093. At a private four-year university, tuition and fees are more than $30,000. With the cost of tuition for private universities still astronomically high, more students may be opting to attend a public school within their home state.

It might be assumed that the states with the highest tuition and fees would have the best colleges, but that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case. Based on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best public four-year institutions, only four of the states with the highest tuitions have a school in the top 20 universities. Meanwhile, North Carolina and Florida, both of which have among the lowest tuitions, have colleges in the top 20.

Some states invest much more in their public institutions than others, and it appears that this translates into lower costs for their students. The two cheapest state university systems each had more than $15,000 in state appropriations per student. By comparison, only two of the 10 most expensive college systems are in the top half, nationally, for per-student appropriations for higher education. In New Hampshire, appropriations amounted to just $2,482, the lowest spending in the country.

One factor that may affect the higher tuition in many of these states is their relative cost of living. It follows that because the states have to pay more in salary and supplies, they would charge students more. In seven of the 10 most expensive public university systems, the relative cost of goods are among the highest in the country. In the states with the least expensive universities, the cost of goods is generally lower, but does not appear to be as much of a factor as it is with the most expensive states.

Some of these states also may charge in-state students less because they levy a high premium on out-of-state undergraduates. In seven of the 10 least expensive states, students from out of state spend more than three times what natives pay in tuition and fees. In North Carolina, out-of-state tuition and fees are $21,352 per year, compared to just $6,514 for in-state residents.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed many sets of data for these rankings. Yahoo Homes is publishing the top five states with the most -- and least -- affordable colleges here. To see the methodology and the rest of the top 10 states with the most and least affordable colleges, go to 247WallSt.com:

THE FIVE STATES WITH THE LEAST AFFORDABLE COLLEGES

5. Illinois
• Average tuition and fees: $12,550
• Increase from five years ago: 17.9% (18th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 83% (12th highest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $26,617 (9th highest)

Although consumer prices in Illinois were roughly in line with nationwide prices as of 2011, the cost of college — a major expense for many Americans — in the state is among the highest in the U.S. The cost is not driven up by a lack of public expenditure, however. In 2012-2013, Illinois appropriated nearly $9,000 per student for higher education, among the most in the nation. However, the state is in a major fiscal bind, with over $100 billion in unfunded pension obligations. As of March, “state aid for Illinois’ public universities [had] declined 27.6% when adjusted for inflation,” according to the Daily Herald.

4. New Jersey
• Average tuition and fees: $12,715
• Increase from five years ago: 11.4% (7th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 92% (the highest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $25,236 (13th highest)

New Jersey’s public university students are disproportionately state residents. More than nine out of 10 first-time freshman at state four-year universities are from New Jersey, the highest figure in the country. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and one of the best-rated institutions by U.S. News, is renowned for its graduate school of education, as well as its graduate philosophy program. In-state tuition at Rutgers is $13,499, one of the most expensive rates. Students from out of state pay more than twice as much. Over a five-year period, public university tuition increased by over 11%, but this was one of the smallest increases nationally.

3. Pennsylvania
• Average tuition and fees: $12,802
• Increase from five years ago: 16.4% (17th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 73% (tied-14th lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $24,042 (20th highest)

Pennsylvania has the nation’s most expensive flagship university, with in-state tuition and fees at Penn State’s University Park flagship campus costing nearly $18,000. Across many its campuses, according to the Institute for College Access And Success, the university was a high debt public college, with graduates owing more than $33,000 on average. Alternatives for many students are not especially inexpensive either, with public two-year colleges costing an average of more than $4,400 and private four-year institutions costing more than $35,000 — both among the highest in the nation. Many residents may be willing to spend so much on education, especially at Penn State – University Park, which was the eighth best public university in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

2. Vermont
• Average tuition and fees: $13,958
• Increase from five years ago: 15.9% (14th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 36% (the lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $34,055 (the highest)

Over 150 years ago, Justin Morrill, a congressman from Vermont, set the stage for the national network of public universities in place today. Morril’s vision was to make college education available to any qualified student. Vermont’s public institutions, however, are among the most costly in the country — for out-of-state as well as in-state students. Despite very high out-of-state tuition at the University of Vermont, the proportion of students who are not native Vermont residents is the highest in the nation. Perhaps as a result, the average debt among the classes of 2011 at Vermont public universities — over $28,000 — was also among the highest in the country.

1. New Hampshire
• Average tuition and fees: $14,655
• Increase from five years ago: 34.2% (12th highest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 55% (4th lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $24,987 (16th highest)

Although the cost of attending a four-year college fell 1.6% last year, New Hampshire is still the most expensive state in the nation for higher education. The state’s most prestigious school, University of New Hampshire costs in-state students over $16,000 annually, more than all but one other flagship university nationwide. Last year, the university’s main campus was labelled a high debt school by the TICAS. However, college debt in New Hampshire was not just high at one university. On average, 2011 college graduates had more than $32,000 in debt, the highest figure in the nation. One possible driver of costs: state appropriations for higher education were the lowest in the nation, at less than $2,500 per student.

THE FIVE STATES WITH THE MOST AFFORDABLE COLLEGES

5. Montana
• Average tuition and fees: $6,211
• Increase from five years ago: 9.6% (4th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 73% (tied-14th lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $20,150 (17th lowest)

In the last five years, in-state public university tuition and fees have risen just 9.6%, less than all but three other states. Further, attending the flagship University of Montana costs less on average than the state’s combined average tuition and fees. The cost of a higher education in the state is also low despite limited state appropriations. For the 2012-2013 year, the state set aside just $5,000 per student, one of the lowest figures in America. Earlier this year, Montana State University professors voted to decertify its faculty union, eliminating collective bargaining among professors.

4. New Mexico
• Average tuition and fees: $5,987
• Increase from five years ago: 24.7% (24th highest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 82% (17th highest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $17,401 (7th lowest)

Between 2001 and 2011, full-time college enrollment in New Mexico increased by nearly 40%, more than all but four other states. This may be a good sign for institutions and education as a whole, but those educated in the state are struggling to repay student debt. Over 15% of students have defaulted on their debt, which is worse than any other state. This could be in part due to the state’s relatively low median household income of just $42,558. Last year, the New Mexico Higher Education Department was awarded $33.8 million from the U.S. Department of Education to better prepare students for college. The governor noted the funds would be directed towards high-poverty areas in the state.

3. Utah
• Average tuition and fees: $5,906
• Increase from five years ago: 30.1% (15th highest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 76% (18th lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $18,416 (13th lowest)

Tuition and fees at a public four-year university cost less than $6,000 on average in Utah, just one of four states in which this is the case. However, the flagship University of Utah is slightly more expensive, averaging close to $7,500. In addition to carrying a low sticker price, Utah’s universities have not saddled their students with a considerable amount of debt. In the class of 2011, less than half of all graduates carried debt, and the average debt per graduate was the lowest reported in the nation. Not only is a public education affordable for in-state residents, but private schools in the state cost an average of just $6,300. This figure may have been pushed downward by the low tuition at Brigham Young University, which is subsidized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for tithe-paying members. Members of the church accounted for nearly 99% of the student body last year.

2. Alaska
• Average tuition and fees: $5,885
• Increase from five years ago: 18.5% (19th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 83% (12th highest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $18,856 (14th lowest)

Median household income in Alaska was the third highest in the nation, at $67,712 in 2012. Alaskan incomes are more than adequate for the cost of higher education, which is well-funded by the government. As of the 2012-13 school year, the Alaskan government spent the most per full-time student out of every other state, more than $17,000. The low prices, however, have not attracted high volumes of students. Full-time enrollment in 2012 at the University of Alaska was just 3,609, less than the second-lowest University of South Dakota. Overall, full-time undergraduate enrollment across the state was the lowest in the U.S., with 21,200 students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges as of fall 2011.

1. Wyoming
• Average tuition and fees: $4,404
• Increase from five years ago: 14.5% (9th lowest)
• Proportion of students in-state: 63% (8th lowest)
• Cost for out-of-state students: $14,124 (2nd lowest)

The University of Wyoming is the only public four-year college in Wyoming. Out-of-state tuition and fees are some of the lowest in the country, more expensive than only South Dakota. Higher education in Wyoming, like in Alaska, is well-funded by the state government — as of the 2012-13 school year, the state spent over $15,000 per fully enrolled student. Under half of the class of 2011 graduated with debt, one of the lowest rates nationally.

To see the full report on the top 10 states with the most and least affordable colleges, go to 247WallSt.com.

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