The 10 Cheapest Colleges in the United States

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Student loan debt is becoming an enormous burden for many college graduates, many of whom can't find jobs. How do you avoid it? Attend a cheaper college, and use loans as a last resort.

Parents always cry at their child’s graduation, but these days it might be for a different reason: Two-thirds of recent college grads left school with an average debt more than $25,000. That’s 5 percent higher than last year.

The numbers from The Project on Student Debt make it easier to understand why college graduates are a vocal part of Occupy Wall Street, and why President Obama recently took some steps to help with student loans.

But why do students owe so much? One reason is that many don’t think before they borrow. They assume repayment will be easy with the cushy new job they’ll get after graduation. Faced with this economy, unemployment or a low-paying gig is much more likely. But another reason is that tuition rates have jumped sharply in the past few years as state education budgets keep getting slashed.

The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center shows college funding by states dropped a national average of 7 percent in 2008. Over the next two school years, tuition jumped more than 35 percent on more than 30 state university campuses. States like Arizona have cut university funding in half since 2007, CNN reports, and it shows in their tuition rates.

Here are the top 10 rate hikers between 2007 and 2010, according to the Department of Education:

  1. Northern New Mexico College – 51 percent
  2. Florida State College at Jacksonville – 49 percent
  3. San Diego State* – 47 percent
  4. Georgia State – 46 percent
  5. California State* – 46 percent
  6. Alabama State – 43 percent
  7. Georgia Institute of Technology – 41 percent
  8. San Jose State – 39 percent
  9. California State Polytechnic – 39 percent
  10. Arizona State – 38 percent

This list certainly can’t paint the whole picture of college costs: There are too many factors to consider for one list. For example, two schools listed here (the ones with asterisks) have multiple campuses that faced huge percentage hikes. If they were listed individually, 13 California State campuses would be in the Top 30, and yet two of its campuses are also among the Department of Education’s list of cheapest schools to attend.

Some of the steepest hikes (in percent) are not at the most expensive schools (in total) – the top two on this list are still under $3,000 after financial aid, while everybody else on the list is more than $4,000. If you want to get into the details and look at actual tuition rates or specific schools, play with the Department of Education calculator yourself.

Not interested in the details? Well, here are 10 of the cheapest campuses, according to the same source…

  • Sitting Bull College (ND) – $938
  • South Texas College – $1,317
  • The University of Texas-Pan American – $1,646
  • Indian River State College (FL) – $2,138
  • California State University-Dominguez Hills – $2,451
  • California State University-Los Angeles – $3,263
  • Elizabeth City State University (NC) – $3,335
  • Palm Beach State College (FL) – $3,490
  • Haskell Indian Nations University (KS) – $4,302
  • CUNY Lehman College (NY) – $4,335

You might notice that some California State campuses aren’t as pricey as the first list would suggest — although if they keep hiking rates, they could get there fast.

These are the net prices per year after typical grants and scholarships. Students from out of state or who qualify for less aid would probably pay more. Need more help with financial aid? Try our stories Struggling with Student Loans? Here’s What to Do, 6 Top Tips for Finding College Aid, and 25 Bizarre Scholarships.

Stacy Johnson

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