The benefits of a college education are well-known: graduates see increased salaries, greater job security, and have more opportunities to advance in their careers. Unfortunately, the costs of college are also well-known. According to the Washington Post, tuition at four year public colleges has risen 100 percent since 2001, while U.S. News and World Report indicates a 200 percent increase in college tuition over the last 20 years. Moreover, the effects of this rising collegiate sticker price are reflected in the sharp rise of student debt. According to Vox, the total student debt has tripled in the last 10 years and surpasses $1.2 billion. In other words, while a college education is now more necessary than ever, the increasing cost of one's degree creates a significant burden for students. It is important to consider colleges who attempt to mitigate some of these costs — whether through reduced tuition rates for in-state students; free courses; or distribution of scholarships, grants, and other monies. The list below reflects some of the most affordable universities in the country.
Convenient Online Options
For those interested in online options, see our ranking of best cheap online degrees.
The 25 Top Affordable Colleges Ranking Methodology
To start, we created a list of all the public and private (non-profit), four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. that offer primarily bachelor's degrees or above. (In other words, we didn't include community colleges). Now, because we have another article that focuses on the most affordable small schools, we chose here to define "universities" specifically as mid- to large-size institutions. Therefore, we limited our search to schools with an undergraduate enrollment greater than 4,000 students. And since we wanted to focus on traditional academic programs, we excluded online and vocational colleges from our list as well.
There are nearly 600 schools that fit the above criteria. So to identify the best cheap colleges, we collected information on each one's net price. This is a figure that the National Center for Education Statistics calculates annually for all postsecondary institutions in the United States. To do so, they subtract "the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant or scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance." Note that "total cost of attendance" = published tuition and required fees (lower if in-district or in-state) + average cost of books and supplies + the weighted average for room/board + any other published expenses.
Only the 25 universities with the lowest net prices made our final cut. Below you'll find a brief description of each school, along with their calculated net cost, location, and a link to their website. Keep reading to see which of the nation's best cheap colleges are near you!
25. Northeastern State University
Founded in 1851 in Tahlequah, OK, Northeastern State University (NSU) offers 54 undergraduate and 24 graduate programs in fields like elementary education, criminal justice, and psychology. The 5,500 students complete coursework at one of three NSU campuses in the state, but NSU has made significant investments in online learning. Nearly 1,300 learners enroll in distance courses, students can complete a certificate, bachelor's, or master's degree in online or blended formats. Degree seekers can apply for numerous scholarships and grants, thereby significantly reducing the cost and making NSU an affordable university.
Average Net Price: $8,148/yr
Student Body: : 8,245
24. California State University-Fullerton
Cal State Fullerton (CSF), located in sunny Southern California, features nine schools across four different campuses and online. The diverse student body of nearly 40,000 have access to 110 undergraduate and graduate programs, which includes a doctorate in education and a doctor in nursing practice. In-state students pay some of the lowest tuition rates in the country, and the school distributes $5.8 million in loans, grants, and scholarships to learners each year. Additionally, CSF offers several online certificate and degree completion programs.
Average Net Price: $7,915/yr
Student Body: : 36,593
23. University of Louisiana-Monroe
Founded in 1931 — and situated in the lush Bayou DeSiard — the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) hosts over 9,000 students on its 238 acre campus. The school features small class sizes and over 90 undergraduate and graduate areas of study, including biology, risk management, atmospheric sciences, and nursing. Nearly 48% of incoming students receive scholarships, which helps make ULM an accessible and affordable university. Additionally, ULM Online offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees to students around the world, and does not charge out-of-state tuition for online learners outside of Louisiana.
Average Net Price: $7,912/yr
Student Body: : 8,344
22. New Jersey City University
Jersey City, NJ
New Jersey City University (NJCU) offers 43 undergraduate degrees and over 30 graduate degrees to to a diverse student body that hails from around the world. Founded as a teacher training college in 1927, NJCU now offers an array of programs in criminal justice, economics, physics, and nursing. More than 500 courses are also offered completely online, providing learners a convenient and flexible way to earn their degree. Full-time students pay a flat tuition rate, thereby significantly reducing costs for those who take more than 12 credits per term.
Average Net Price: $7,753/yr
Student Body: : 7,469
21. CUNY City College
New York, NY
As the founding institution of the City University of New York, the City College houses several research centers and leading programs in architecture, engineering, education, and the liberal arts. With seven different schools and divisions, City's 16,000 students can pursue a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees in art, anthropology, literature, and urban design. City is also one of the most affordable universities in the country, as they distribute nearly $6 million in scholarships annually. Over 60% of students at City attend tuition free, and 71% graduate debt-free.
Average Net Price: $7,696/yr
Student Body: : 15,744
20. Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN
Established in 1869 as an Indiana land grant institution, Purdue is one of the nation's premier public research universities. Students choose from over 200 undergraduate majors and 40 graduate programs at various locations throughout the state and online. Programs over an array of disciplines and include aeronautical engineering technology, agriculture economics, industrial engineering, and game development and design. As one of the most affordable universities, in-state learners benefit from reduced tuition and fees. Additionally, tuition costs at Purdue have not risen since 2012, and are projected to stay the same.
Average Net Price: $7,460/yr
Student Body: : 7,274
19. University of Arkansas-Fort Smith
Fort Smith, AR
Founded in 1928 as Fort Smith Junior College, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith (UAFS) is now a member of the University of Arkansas System and features more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degrees. Students can pursue an array of programs in accounting, early childhood education, or mechanical engineering. A small student population of 6,600 provides small class sizes and plenty of opportunities for social engagement through intramural activities, Greek life, and academic and cultural groups. UAFS is also one of the most affordable universities in the state, with several scholarship and grant opportunities available to students.
Average Net Price: $7,447/yr
Student Body: : 7,688
18. University of Houston-Downtown
The University of Houston Downtown lies in the heart of one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country. Established in 1974 as a member of the University of Houston System, UHD now offers over 40 bachelor's degrees and eight master's degrees in fields like psychology, accounting, and criminal justice. Students can also complete numerous courses and degrees online or in a hybrid model through UHD Online. UHD ranks as an affordable university thanks to numerous scholarship and grant opportunities, and low in-state tuition rates.
Average Net Price: $7,409/yr
Student Body: : 16,129
17. California State University-Stanislaus
The 9,000 students at California State University, Stanislaus pursue their degrees from two locations in the Central Valley. Founded in 1960 as Stanislaus State, the university is now part of the 23 campus California State University system. Learners at CSUS have 43 undergraduate majors from which to choose in fields like business administration, nursing, and teacher education. The university also offers 15 master's programs, a doctoral degree, and three fully online degrees.
Average Net Price: $7,387/yr
Student Body: : 8,745
16. CUNY York College
From the arts to business, New York City's reputation for talent and liveliness is well-known. The York College at CUNY offers learners looking to study in this environment an affordable university education from its vibrant Queens neighborhood. Degree-seekers can choose from nearly 50 undergraduate disciplines such as computer science, women's studies, and social work; while three master's degrees are offered in pharmaceutical science and business, physician assistant studies, and social work (MSW). The diverse student body hails from 80 different countries, and graduates go on to careers in medicine, law, public relations, and business.
Average Net Price: $7,202/yr
Student Body: : 10,664
15. CUNY Lehman College
Lehman College, located in the Bronx, is the only four-year institution in the borough. Its 14,000 students benefit from small class sizes, generous financial aid packages, and numerous community resources and partnerships. Lehman is a liberal arts college with more than 90 undergraduate and graduate programs in fields like nursing, business administration, social work, and psychology, and its graduates go on to lead successful careers in medicine, law, and the arts. Over half of all students at Lehman receive grants, scholarships, or a Pell grant, making a Lehman education affordable for nearly everyone.
Average Net Price: $7,123/yr
Student Body: : 14,558
14. California State University-Northridge
Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, CA, CSUN hosts 38,000 students on its 386 acre campus. The school offers over 120 undergraduate, graduate, and professional certifications in fields like marketing, child and adolescent development, and communications. Given the school's proximity to Hollywood, CSUN's Department of Cinema and Television Arts offer seven programs of study to prepare the next generation of talent. The regionally accredited institution is one of the most affordable universities in the state of California.
Average Net Price: $7,075/yr
Student Body: : 38,667
13. Indiana University-Northwest
As the northwest campus of Indiana University, the Gary, IN institution offers small class sizes within a research-oriented environment. Students can select from more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs in fields like social work, geology, and education. Learners have even more degree options through IU Online, which features flexible schedules; fully online programs such as business, library science, and music; and courses taught by on-campus faculty. IU also offers over 200 scholarships and grants to its students, ensuring most graduates leave with minimal student debt.
Average Net Price: $6,992/yr
Student Body: : 6,692
12. California State University-San Bernardino
San Bernardino, CA
Situated in the the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, CSUSB features one of the most diverse student populations in the state and a top 14 ranking by U.S. News and World Report. Among the 4,000 students who graduate per year, 70% of those are first in their families to earn a degree. CSUSB offers 70 degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level, along with numerous credential and certificate programs. Additionally, competitive tuition rates for in-state residents make CSUSB an affordable university.
Average Net Price: $6,984/yr
Student Body: : 18,483
11. California State University-Fresno
Fresno State, located in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California, began in 1911 with 150 students. Today, more than 25,000 students are spread across 66 bachelor's, 44 master's, and three doctoral degrees. The school has been designated by the Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving institution, making Fresno State a culturally diverse and vibrant community. Students can also complete several partial or fully online programs through Cal State Online. Fresno State is a regionally accredited institution, and boasts a state high of 26 programs that hold programmatic accreditation.
Average Net Price: $6,846/yr
Student Body: : 22,308
10. CUNY New York City College of Technology
Based in Brooklyn, the New York City College of Technology (NYCCT) offers 27 associate and 26 bachelor's degrees. Each program blends technology instruction in areas like business, engineering, and health care with a broad liberal arts education. NYCCT is also committed to affordability: the school distributes over $74 million each year in grants to its 17,000 students, and 80% of incoming freshman receive some kind of need-based aid. The university is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the engineering program holds accreditation from the prestigious Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Average Net Price: $6,671/yr
Student Body: : 21,064
9. CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York, NY
Founded in 1954 as a Police Science Program to support the New York City Police Department, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is now a diverse liberal arts institution with a focus on justice. The school offers nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate programs, with many students pursuing a BA or BS in criminal justice or forensic psychology, and master's degrees in public administration and criminal justice. As a public institution in the City University of New York system, students benefit from affordable tuition rates and a variety of options for financial aid.
Average Net Price: $6,641/yr
Student Body: : 15,452
8. East Central University
East Central University, a regionally accredited public university, was established in 1909. Students can choose from more than 85 undergraduate and graduate degrees across seven different schools, including programs in environmental health science, medical physics, and cartography. Coursework is available at ECU's home campus in Ada, OK, at five regional sites in the area, and online. ECU's low tuition makes this one of the most affordable online universities in Oklahoma, and the school offers several scholarship and financial aid opportunities.
Average Net Price: $6,590/yr
Student Body: : 4,367
7. Utah Valley University
UVU was established in 1941 as Central Utah Vocational School to provide war production training. Today the school offers over 208 undergraduate and graduate degrees to its 37,000 students. The school's flexible course scheduling and open admissions policy means a higher education is accessible to nearly everyone. UVU boasts small class sizes and over 200 online courses in topics like wildland fire management, accounting, and behavioral science. Half of all students receive some form of financial aid, while 250 available scholarships make this an affordable university. UVU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Average Net Price: $6,565/yr
Student Body: : 43,017
6. California State University-Bakersfield
Located in the San Joaquin Valley, CSUB is a public regional university that offers more than 50 bachelor's and master's degrees to its 10,500 students. The school, founded in 1965, features small class sizes and tuition that ranks among the lowest of any four-year institution. Students can pursue a variety of majors in topics like psychology, public policy and administration, and engineering. CSUB also offers a variety of hybrid and online degree programs via its Extended Education. The university is regionally accredited through WSCUC, and holds programmatic accreditation for its nursing and engineering programs.
Average Net Price: $6,376/yr
Student Body: : 9,229
5. University of Texas-El Paso
El Paso, TX
UTEP was established in 1914 in the heart of El Paso, TX, and is the second oldest institution in the University of Texas System. This affordable research school has over 25,000 students spread across more than 170 undergraduate and graduate degrees, and a growing number of fully online bachelor's and master's programs. As a public institution, UTEP primarily serves residents of El Paso county and the surrounding communities, and features a student body that is majority Hispanic-American. Additionally, the Brookings Institution ranked UTEP #1 for research productivity and student social mobility.
Average Net Price: $5,433/yr
Student Body: : 23,771
4. Fayetteville State University
Founded in 1867 as an HBCU, FSU is a member of the North Carolina University system and its second oldest state assisted institution. The school offers more than 60 undergraduate and graduate programs in areas like education, nursing, and economics, while fully online degree completion tracks are available in 10 different disciplines. On average, over 90% of FSU's students receive some form of grants or financial aid, making the cost of attendance more affordable. FSU is regionally accredited and the College of Education holds program accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Average Net Price: $5,170/yr
Student Body: : 6,633
3. University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley
Established in 2015, UTRGV was built for the residents in the Rio Grande Valley, and is one of the largest hispanic-serving institutions in the country. This brand new university offers more than 120 degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level, including a state-of-the-art School of Medicine. Students can also complete numerous degrees, minors, and certificates either partially or completely online, with some courses available in a seven week accelerated format. Tuition and fees are capped at 12 credits per term, which allows students to take an additional 1-2 courses per term for free.
Average Net Price: $4,335/yr
Student Body: : 27,811
2. California State University-Dominguez Hills
Located in Carson, California, CSU Dominguez Hills deserves its reputation as Los Angeles's second best affordable degree. Both undergraduate and graduate students can select programs from any one of its six academic divisions, which include traditional colleges (e.g. Arts and Humanities and Education) as well as the industry-oriented College of Health, Human Services, and Nursing. Another point of distinction for CSUDH is its anthropology program, which offers an impressive number of international and local field opportunities for undergrads. This also likely explains why the university produces such a large number of Fulbright Scholars, who work on research projects all over the world.
Average Net Price: $3,764/yr
Student Body: : 13,040
1. California State University-Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA
Located in the heart of Los Angeles, CSUDH offers numerous bachelor's, master's, credential, and certificate programs across six schools. Students can pursue coursework at the 346-acre South Bay campus or via CSU's Fully Online Courses, with majors available in communication, africana studies, and public administration. CSUDH awards nearly $88 million in scholarships and grants each year, making this one of the most affordable online universities in the country. The school is regionally accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and holds numerous program-specific accreditations as well.
Average Net Price: $3,160/yr
Student Body: : 24,156
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