Earning an undergraduate degree can open the door to a number of interesting careers – not to mention higher-paying jobs. But with college costs on the rise, many students are looking for good schools that offer cheap degrees. Fortunately, there are plenty of colleges and universities that offer a high-quality education at a reasonable cost.
The Most Affordable Colleges Ranking Methodology
For this ranking, we focused on public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities in the United States that offer affordable bachelor’s degrees. Note that the emphasis of this article is on traditional schools, therefore online colleges were ineligible for consideration. In order to ensure that students at these schools have a decent selection of programs from which to choose, we limited our search to colleges that offer at least 30 undergraduate academic programs. From the list of qualifying universities, we then selected the 20 cheapest based on their average annual tuition rate (that is, we took the average of in-state and out-of-state rates for public schools) and ranked them from most to least expensive. The results are below – the 20 colleges and universities with the cheapest bachelor’s degrees in the United States!
20. CUNY City College
New York, NY
If you can believe it, some of the cheapest bachelor’s degrees in the United States are available right in New York City – one of the most expensive places in the world! This seeming impossibility is made possible thanks to CUNY City College, the founding institution in the CUNY system. For an average annual tuition cost of just over $10k, City College offers an incredible bargain – including more than four dozen undergraduate programs and over 100 student clubs – all on a beautiful metropolitan campus in Upper Manhattan. Another perk? The college offers a host of special initiatives and honors programs that support (and fund) education for high-achieving and minority students.
Average Tuition: $10,244/yr
19. Missouri Western State University
Saint Joseph, MO
Missouri Western State University is another place where students will get more than they bargained for. In addition to being one of the best affordable colleges in the region, MWSU is also a great school for high-quality learning opportunities. Opportunities abound on the 700-acre campus, from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to the School of Nursing and Health Professions, the athletic fields at Spratt Stadium to the Potter Hall Theatre. MWSU also has some unique options for nontraditional learners, including an on-campus Law Enforcement Academy and a combination military degree/ROTC training program.
Average Tuition: $10,200/yr
18. Weber State University
If choice is what you’re after, Weber State University is hard to beat. The school supports well over 200 cheap degrees and certificates in nearly every subject imaginable. This includes a handful of programs that are hard to find elsewhere, such as Applied Environmental Geosciences, Nuclear Medicine, and Interior Design. Although it’s a four-year university, WSU also hosts an unusual number of associate’s degrees in vocational subjects like Respiratory Therapy and Automotive Service Technology. As such, Weber attracts a lot of non-traditional students; more than 50% only attend part-time, while 77% have full- or part-time jobs.
Average Tuition: $10,136/yr
17. University of South Dakota
USD describes itself as a “big-time university with a small-college feel.” And it’s true; while the school enrolls over 10,000 students (approximately 7,500 undergrads), its student-to-faculty ratio is just 17:1. This is a tough feat to achieve, considering the university’s tuition is a mere $10,000 per year (on average). Yet somehow, USD strikes a balance that gives students the resources of a large state institution – including 17 NCAA Division I athletic teams – without the feeling of being lost in the crowd. This top affordable college even assists freshmen with their transition to campus through a unique series of first-year seminars and skills-based courses.
Average Tuition: $10,073/yr
16. Southern Arkansas University
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they certainly say a lot about Southern Arkansas University. Here are a few: a total enrollment of roughly 4,700, a 1,390-acre campus, and more than 80 degree programs put SAU squarely within the boundaries of a “best value” school. While attendance is somewhat low for a state institution, SAU’s physical size and academic breadth more than make up for it. In fact, it just leaves that many more opportunities (and space) for the students who do attend! And when it comes to the top cheapest bachelor’s degrees, Southern Arkansas stands out for its expansive agriculture program.
Average Tuition: $10,026/yr
15. Northeastern State University
Northeastern State University has a storied history that dates back to the mid-19th century, when it first opened its doors as the Cherokee National Female Seminary. A lot has changed since then – the university became a state institution in the early 1900’s and now admits both men and women – but the school remains as dedicated as ever to providing accessible opportunities in higher education. Today, you’ll find that it offers some of the best, cheapest bachelor’s degrees in Oklahoma, not to mention an active campus where students can play intramural sports, join Greek life, attend concerts, and more.
Average Tuition: $9,957/yr
14. Northwest Missouri State University
The university president describes NMSU as “an exceptional place to learn, live and grow no matter your academic pursuits.” And he has a point. Indeed, you can be confident that you’ll find at least one subject to love amidst Northwest Missouri’s selection of 120+ undergraduate majors. This includes comprehensive coverage of popular career-oriented programs in agriculture and animal science, pre-professional biology and healthcare, business, and education. But it also includes a surprisingly diverse set of unconventional degrees in cutting-edge fields like Nanoscale Science, Interactive Digital Media, and Data Science. And to help you decide which accredited cheap degree to pursue, NMSU utilizes a unique “meta-major” system that guides freshmen through their first year.
Average Tuition: $9,928/yr
13. South Dakota State University
SDSU is not the only school on this affordable colleges ranking that is located in South Dakota, but it is the biggest. Not only does it enroll more students (roughly 12,000 in total, more than 80% undergrads) than its neighbors in the state, but it also offers many more degree choices. All told, SDSU is home to more than 200 unique academic programs, many of which aren’t available at most schools. So if you want to study something really unconventional – Aviation, Rangeland Ecology, or Community and Regional Planning, for example – SDSU is the place to go.
Average Tuition: $9,788/yr
12. Southeast Missouri State University
It seems only fitting that Southeast Missouri State University should fall (almost) right next to its northwest neighbor on our list of the best affordable universities. But while their price points are similar, there are far more features that distinguish these two colleges from one another. For starters, SMSU has a total enrollment of nearly 12,000, making it nearly twice the size of NMSU. And while Southeast Missouri’s academic offerings are at least as diverse – and extensive – as its sibling in the north, its strengths are far different. Among this college’s most comprehensive majors are its bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, environmental science, public health/healthcare management, and engineering tech/technology management.
Average Tuition: $9,683/yr
11. Black Hills State University
In contrast to SDSU, Black Hills State is actually the smallest university in South Dakota to make our cheap colleges ranking. With about 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on its roughly 120-acre campus, BHSU welcomes applicants looking for a laidback, friendly place to earn their degree. In fact, there are only about 13,000 total residents living in the town itself! This low-key atmosphere has earned Spearfish plenty of accolades – including being named one of the top 10 most livable small towns in the US. Other reasons to attend BHSU? Consider its NCAA DII athletics (including a champion rodeo team), awesome outdoor recreation opportunities, and – of course – high-quality academic programs.
Average Tuition: $9,462/yr
10. Wayne State College
With tuition rates this low (approximately $5,000 for in-state and $10,000 for out-of-state residents) Wayne State College is a bargain no matter where you’re from. Rising up from humble roots as a teacher’s college back in the 1890s, WSC is now one of the Midwest’s premier top affordable universities. In fact, from 2012-14 it was the only public college in Nebraska to earn a top ranking from U.S. News, Colleges of Distinction, and the Washington Monthly. To top it all off, Wayne State boasts an extensive list academic programs for undergrads. If you don’t find anything you like, no problem – just design your own major!
Average Tuition: $8,862/yr
9. University of North Georgia
Of all the colleges on this list, the University of North Georgia is one of only two located in the eastern US. Fortunately, UNG offers such a great value that East Coast residents won’t even need a second option. The university truly offers some of the best cheap degrees in the region, and its reputation has earned it a spot on U.S. News’ list of top public schools in the south. Among UNG’s more unique assets is the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis, which offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees for students who want to work in the important – and growing – field of geospatial sciences.
Average Tuition: $8,575/yr
8. Youngstown State University
Youngstown State University represents another worthy option for residents of the eastern half of the country who don’t want to travel far from home to go to college. Located practically on the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania, Youngstown is an active (but not overwhelming) city and an ideal setting for college students taking their first steps out into the “real world.” As for the school itself, YSU is a “comprehensive research university” that boasts a repertoire of well over 100 bachelor’s degrees in everything from Advertising and Public Relations to Telecommunication Studies. Plus, it awards millions of dollars in scholarship aid each year to bring down the cost of its already affordable college tuition.
Average Tuition: $8,437/yr
7. Southwest Minnesota State University
Head further up north and you’ll find another source of the some of the cheapest bachelor’s degrees in the country. Located in the small town of Marshall, Southwest Minnesota State University is a mid-size public institution and a smart choice for locals and out-of-staters alike. The school provides a solid list of majors that covers all the standard liberal arts disciplines, plus a few career-oriented options (examples include Agricultural Communications and Leadership, Justice Administration, and Medical Laboratory Science). SMSU also prides itself on its civic and community engagement and encourages students to participate in local service opportunities through a program called “Mustangs Volunteer.”
Average Tuition: $8,347/yr
6. West Texas A & M University
Heading all the way down south, we run into West Texas A&M, a school easily overlooked as a member of Texas’ gargantuan network of formidable public universities. But while WTAMU might not boast the brand power of some of the state’s bigger UT schools, that hasn’t stopped it from creating one of the best value experiences for budget-conscious college students. In fact, few accredited, affordable universities can match WTAMU’s cost per undergraduate program. Put another way: while some schools may offer slightly cheaper tuition, they provide far fewer academic degree options – whereas West Texas A&M supports well over 100!
Average Tuition: $8,322/yr
5. Central State University
The only historically black university (HBU) on our affordable colleges ranking, Central State has a long and proud history in Ohio. Still today, CSU is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and continues to support a commitment to “providing excellent, affordable education.” That being said, the school has also welcomed opportunities for growth by establishing relationships with local community colleges and increasing recruitment efforts. And in 2014, Central State took a huge step forward when it earned land-grant status (i.e. funding for its agriculture, engineering, and science programs) from the federal government.
Average Tuition: $7,171/yr
4. New Mexico Highlands University
Las Vegas, NM
Yes, New Mexico Highlands University is located in Las Vegas, but you won’t find any casinos or glitzy hotels around campus. Although it shares its name with one of the world’s most famous cities, Las Vegas, New Mexico is actually a tiny town with a population of just 13,000! But if you’re looking for a distraction-free, quality education, NMHU could be the place to go. In addition to hosting a comprehensive selection of liberal arts programs, the university also boasts some of the region’s top cheapest bachelor’s degrees in some hard-to-find disciplines. Examples include Conservation Management, Medicine and Biomedical Research, and Forestry.
Average Tuition: $7,100/yr
3. Delta State University
There is at least one advantage of attending Delta State University that separates it from every other school on our most affordable universities ranking. That is, there are absolutely zero out-of-state tuition fees! In other words, Mississippi residents and non-residents both pay the same unbelievably low price – about $6,500 – for a year’s worth of college courses. Along with access to 40+ undergraduate majors, that low price will pay for your participation in a truly wholesome collegiate experience that includes long-standing traditions like the okra (a mascot-turned legend) and the annual “Pig Pickin'” pep rally.
Average Tuition: $6,418/yr
2. Mississippi Valley State University
Itta Bena, MS
Located only 45 minutes from DSU is the tiny (population ~2,000) town of Itta Bena, Mississippi. About a mile up the road from there, you’ll find MVSU, one of the state’s best kept secrets in higher education. The university is also small, barely enrolling more students than the entire population of Itta Bena. Yet, Mississippi Valley State makes a strong case that the best things come in small packages. Indeed, this accredited cheap college features a selection of undergraduate degrees that you could easily mistake for that of a much larger school. Offering nearly 60 majors in all, MVSU supports especially comprehensive programs in Social Science, Engineering Technology, and Communication.
Average Tuition: $6,116/yr
1. Brigham Young University
The #1 best affordable college on our list is none other than Brigham Young, a huge private research university well-known for its affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as the Mormon Church). In keeping with its religious ties, BYU maintains a strict honor code that reflects Mormon teachings. As such, the vast majority of students are LDS members, paying a substantially lower tuition rate than non-LDS undergrads. But whether you follow Mormon teachings or not, there’s no denying the educational value of attending BYU, which offers nearly 180 bachelor’s degrees, 19 NCAA sports teams, and hundreds of student clubs on its 560-acre campus.
Average Tuition: $5,300/yr
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 20 top cheap colleges in the US!