The 100 Most Affordable Small Colleges in America

Updated November 22, 2022

By Iris Stone Picking which college you should attend can feel like a big decision - and in many cases, it is. As the pressure mounts for you to pick a single location at which to spend the next four years of your life, you'll have to consider much more than just academic quality and ... is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Most Affordable Small Colleges

By Iris Stone

Picking which college you should attend can feel like a big decision - and in many cases, it is. As the pressure mounts for you to pick a single location at which to spend the next four years of your life, you'll have to consider much more than just academic quality and reputation. Weather, selection of majors, research opportunities, and campus size are all important factors that you shouldn't ignore. It can be easy to gravitate to the larger, more well-known schools, but small colleges offer some unique benefits. Classes tend to be much smaller, ensuring that you receive more individual attention from professors. You get to know more people by name, which can make it easier to participate in campus activities. Some people assume that small schools lack resources and academic variety, but think twice before you jump to conclusions! As we always remind our readers: do your research first.

Top 100 Ranking Affordable Small Schools

  1. Elizabeth City State University

    Elizabeth City, NC



    Elizabeth City State University is a public, historically black school with a range of academic and vocational degree programs at the graduate and undergraduate level. A constituent institution of the University of North Carolina, ECSU began as a teaching college in 1891, and by the 60s had expanded its offerings to include a vocational-technical program and thirteen academic majors. In keeping with this tradition of humanism, their courses of study cover the full range of liberal studies, from Business, Economics, and Mathematics to Literature, Social Sciences, and Visual Arts. Study abroad opportunities, academic fellowships, and student leadership programs round out this small college that is ranked #2 in U.S. News' Top Public Schools (Regional Colleges in the South).

  2. Berea College

    Berea, KY



    As a tuition-free work college that was also the first integrated and coeducational school in the South, Berea College is known around the country (and the world) as a bastion of strong, progressive values. Since its founding in 1855, Berea has grown from a one-room schoolhouse to the 76th Best Liberal Arts College, according to U.S. News, with thirty-three courses of study and one of the highest per capita endowments in the nation. In addition to stimulating coursework and top undergraduate teaching, Berea also enrolls all students in a compulsory work-study program to support their education, the school, and their work ethic. Throw in a free laptop that students keep after graduation, and it's easy to see why Berea draws applicants from nearly every state in the union.

  3. Amridge University

    Montgomery, AL



    Formerly Alabama Christian School of Religion, Amridge University is an affordable small college that has been a pioneer in online education since 1993. Academics at Amridge fall into four schools: Business & Leadership; General Studies; Human Services; and the Turner School of Theology. The university offers degree programs at both the bachelors and graduate levels, many of which demonstrate a focus on Bible studies, Christian values, and service. Students can take their courses on-site or online—Amridge even offers iPads with customized apps to distance students, which consolidates the University's resources into a single platform.

  4. Langston University

    Langston, OK



    Langston University is unique for being the only historically black college in Oklahoma, located 10 miles outside ofof Guthrie, as well as for its open door admission policy. Students are drawn to this cheap small college for its diverse courses of study, which include a full range of academic subjects as well as more specialized vocational topics in Corrections, Rehabilitation Services, and Financial Planning. The most renowned of these programs is Langston's agricultural research department, a leading program in the field that hosts a prestigious international conference annually. Langston also offers programs in Tulsa and OKC to combine the country's charm with the diversity of a big city.

  5. Northwestern Oklahoma State University

    Alva, OK



    Located in the cozy city of Alva, OK, Northwestern Oklahoma State University is an affordable small college with a big heart. NOSU boasts over 40 academic departments and pre-professional programs (Medicine, Law, Engineering, etc.) that are devoted to "cultivating ethical leadership and service, critical thinking and fiscal responsibility." Their academic excellence has been consistently recognized with top rankings from U.S. News, and all departments hold accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. Meanwhile, NOSU offers the nation's most affordable (read: lowest) room and board prices at only $3,700 a year—great education at a great price.

  6. Southern Arkansas University

    Magnolia, AR



    South Arkansas University is widely regarded as a singular institution that truly offers it all: where else can you find degree programs in Game Design; NCAA Division II athletics; and a 17:1 faculty-to-student ratio in the South? Since its humble origins as an agricultural school, SAU has evolved over the years into a unique combination of strong liberal education, progressive courses of study, and personalized learning. And in the last 10 years alone, SAU has raised nearly $100 million dollars to develop new facilities on campus, including community centers, libraries, performances halls, and a brand-new $8 million agriculture center. These independently funded projects won't affect tuition at this cheap small college, as they offer a multitude of academic scholarships on top of federal aid.

  7. Southeastern Oklahoma State University

    Durant, OK



    Southeastern Oklahoma State University combines the diverse resources and degree programs of a larger school with the general education of the best small colleges. Focusing primarily on undergraduate education at an affordable rate, SOSU strives to keep cost of attendance down by accelerating coursework with quality teaching. In fact, their exceptional aviation program is only one of six in the country approved by FAA to reduce required flight hours from 1,500 to 1,000. Students also have access to Durant, the fastest-growing rural city in Oklahoma, capital of the Choctaw Tribe, and home to a nationally-attended Shakespeare festival (and the world's largest peanut!).

  8. University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma

    Chickasha, OK



    If you are looking for a rigorous, comprehensive liberal arts education in Oklahoma, USAO should be at the top of your list. As the only strictly liberal arts public college in the state, it is also one of the cheapest small colleges in the region and features an interdisciplinary core curriculum that prepares students for a variety of academic trajectories. After completing 46 credit hours that span history, literature, mathematics, and more, students select a specialization from the humanities, business, science, or education. This background provides a framework for solving problems creatively and humanely, whether it's in the classroom or the workplace.

  9. West Virginia State University

    Institute, WV



    Located just outside of Charleston, West Virginia State University has all the charm of a small college with the resources of the big city. This historically black university is well known for its music program, particularly its marching band, which famously performs a different routine at every home football game and holds competitive auditions. Academically, WVSU's undergraduate program offers 22 majors and 28 minors, giving students an opportunity to broaden their interests. They also offer graduate degrees in Biotechnology, Law Enforcement and Administration, and Media Studies.

  10. University of the West

    Rosemead, CA



    If you keep going west, you'll eventually hit the east—this is the multi-cultural philosophy of the University of the West, a small private college founded on Buddhist values for the global community. The University of the West was founded in 1991 to provide an affordable liberal arts education that nourished the whole person: mind, body, and soul. Although Buddhist practitioners are behind its founding, this university is not a religious institution. Instead these ancient ascetic values inform a comprehensive curriculum that offers specializations in Business Administration, Religious Studies, Psychology, and Literature. The beautiful yet spare campus complements the educational experience by providing a tranquil environment for students to grow and learn together.

Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools

At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs. We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.
Metric Data Used Percentage
Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%
You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

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Factors Considered When Ranking the Schools

Listed below are the 100 most affordable small colleges in the United States. How did we come up with such a list? First, we took on the gargantuan task of identifying every single institution of higher education in the nation - a list that originally topped 2,700 schools. The next step was to eliminate community colleges, graduate schools, and specialty schools (for example, seminaries or pre-professional schools that would appeal only to a small subset of applicants). As our focus was on traditional four-year colleges, we also eliminated schools that don't admit first-time undergraduates. This dropped our list of candidates to about 1,900, at which point we collected data on student enrollment. We consulted several reputable sources (listed at the end of the article) and determined that for this ranking, we would define "small college" as a school with 4,000 students or fewer. This narrowed list (comprised of about 700 schools) became the foundation for this ranking.

We then took the final step of determining affordability. We chose to rank colleges based on their "net price," a figure that we interpret as more accurate than reporting tuition rates alone. These net prices, which come from College Navigator (a component of the National Center for Education Statistics), are generated:

"By subtracting the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant or scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance. Total cost of attendance is the sum of published tuition and required fees (lower of in-district or in-state), books and supplies, and the weighted average for room and board and other expenses." - College Navigator

This net price then gives students a more accurate assessment (although not necessarily precise for everyone) of what you can expect to pay in total costs per year at any given school. We sorted the schools by their net price and listed the 100 most affordable below. Remarkably, even the 100th most expensive small college still has an annual price tag less than $16,000. Furthermore, these 100 colleges cover an attractive range of academic majors, religious affiliations, locations, and extracurricular opportunities, practically guaranteeing that you can find a school that fits your interests, budget, and desire for a close-knit community.

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About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career when she started working as a freelance writer and researcher in 2011. Her freelance business soon took off and she now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Despite the time it takes to run a business she still does much of the writing herself, and her work has included a variety of content related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and graduates' careers. Her interests actually span far beyond writing, and she is currently studying to be a physicist! Check out her Google+ Profile.

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