It's no secret college can be expensive. The College Board estimates average tuition prices for the 2013-14 school year at $30,094 for students attending a four-year private nonprofit institution.
However, tuition represents only part of the picture when it comes to college affordability. Beyond the sticker price, families can consider a number of other factors as well.
- Value of average financial aid package
- Student retention/drop-out rate
- Unemployment rate in local area
- Average student loan amount owed by graduates
- Quality of educational programs
A school that is truly affordable is one that not only has a manageable tuition rate but also equips graduates to enter their chosen field with minimal debt and good job prospects.
To help students and their parents find the most affordable colleges, OnlineColleges.com analyzed data from more than 3,000 school locations to uncover those offering the best value. According our analysis, the following are the ten top colleges for affordability. (To find the most affordable colleges in your area, use the state filter in our Top Online Colleges tool.)
1. College of William & Mary
As the second-oldest college in the country, William & Mary is one of eight "Public Ivy" schools. While historically significant, the school is also thoroughly modern, not to mention highly selective. William & Mary confers 14 degree types (e.g., B.A., M.A.) at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels. Nearly half of its students study abroad at some point, and its distinguished alumni include three U.S. presidents, among others. In-state tuition: $15,463.
2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
UNC is almost as old as the country itself, having been chartered as the nation's first public university in 1789. It has a reputation as a leading research institution, although students have the opportunity to enter hundreds of fields of study. Within its 14 schools and its College of Arts and Sciences, UNC offers educational options spanning 78 bachelor's degree programs, 112 master's degree programs, 68 doctoral degree programs and seven professional degree programs. In-state tuition: $8,340.
3. State University of New York, Binghamton
As a part of the State University of New York system (otherwise known as SUNY) Binghamton has been recognized by the Fiske Guide to Colleges as one of the best public universities in the northeast. The institution has six colleges that cover not only the arts and sciences but also nursing, engineering, education, public affairs and management. Binghamton has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation compared to similar public research universities, and its graduates go on to be accepted into professional degree programs at a greater rate than the national average. In-state tuition: $8,144.
4. University of Wisconsin
The Madison campus for the University of Wisconsin is another of the most affordable colleges in the nation, particularly for residents of the Badger State. The school was founded in 1848, and its distinguished alumni include entertainers, senators and journalists. Famous names such as author Joyce Carol Oates and Sen. Tammy Baldwin are also among those who have attended the University of Wisconsin. Today, graduates can benefit from the school's location in Madison, a metropolitan area that has traditionally had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. In-state tuition: $10,403.
5. University of Florida
Located in Gainesville, the University of Florida is regularly rated as one of the top colleges by affordability. "We know students and parents are very attuned to the rising cost of college, so we're happy that we can provide excellent value," Steve Orlando, senior director of the school's media relations office, said.
In 2012, SmartMoney Magazine found UF was second in the nation in terms of the highest salary return for tuition dollars. Two-thirds of its freshmen graduate within four years, while 85 percent receive their degree within six years. Even more impressive, two-thirds of UF students graduate with zero student loan debt. In-state tuition: $6,263.
6. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a relatively young institution. Founded in the 1960s, it is an honors university that appeals to students who are seeking both an academically challenging and affordable education. Students can select from 44 majors and 41 minors at the undergraduate level. In addition, UMBC offers 20 certificate programs as well as 36 master's degree programs, 24 doctoral degree programs and 17 graduate certificates.
"Very academically talented students increasingly identify UMBC as a top choice for a high quality, high value undergraduate education," explains Yvette Mozie-Ross, vice provost for enrollment management and planning. "They are attracted by opportunities to connect with accessible faculty, engage in research, and complete robust internships." In-state tuition: $7,698.
7. Stony Brook University
Originally founded as an institution to prepare secondary school teachers in math and science, Stony Brook has branched out to offer 68 majors and 80 minors to its undergraduate students. At the graduate level, the university, located in Stony Brook, N.Y., offers 100 master's degree programs, 40 doctoral degree programs and 30 graduate certificates.
Stony Brook is known for its undergraduate research programs and for being one of the most affordable colleges among top-ranked schools. What's more, nearly 90 percent of its recent graduates report either being employed or continuing their education. In-state tuition: $7,995.
8. The College of New Jersey
The College of New Jersey caters primarily to Garden State residents, with 95 percent of its undergraduate population hailing from in-state. Still, the school is highly selective and offers a strong academic program founded on a liberal arts core. In addition, TCNJ's seven schools offer programs in nursing, engineering and business, among other fields. In-state tuition: $14,730.
9. University of Georgia
Back in 1785, UGA became America's first state-chartered university. During its history, dozens of its students have been named Rhodes Scholars, Udell Scholars and Goldwater Scholars, among other honors. The school notes it is one of the top producers of Fulbright students by institution type. Potential UGA students seeking financial aid options may be able to take advantage of grant, scholarship or work-study opportunities. In-house tuition: $10,262. (See Online Colleges in Georgia)
10. Texas A&M University, College Station
Based in College Station, Texas A&M was the state's first public institution for higher education. It was founded in 1876 and is one of only a few schools to be designated as a land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant university. Steeped in tradition, Texas A&M is known for its 12th Man at football games, annual Muster and its alumni, which include three Nobel Prize recipients. The school reports that 71 percent of its student body receives financial aid, contributing to its status as one of the most affordable colleges in the nation. In-state tuition: $8,506.
While these ten schools come from diverse backgrounds and draw on different strengths, each appears committed to helping students manage their tuition costs and turn their degree into a successful career.
Top Affordable Colleges Wrap-Up
As for students and parents, they should remember that the cheapest colleges according to tuition aren't necessarily the most affordable. Instead, families should dig deeper than the published tuition rate to find out what financial aid is available, how many students graduate on time and what sort of employment opportunities await after graduation.
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5. Facts, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
6. General Information, Texas A&M University,
7. Interview with Steve Orlando, Senior Director of Media Relations at the University of Florida, conducted by Maryalene LaPonsie, OnlineColleges.com, May 21, 2014
8. Interview with Yvette Mozie-Ross, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Planning for University of Maryland, Baltimore County, conducted by Maryalene LaPonsie, OnlineColleges.com, May 20, 2014
9. "Madison, Wis., enjoys lowest unemployment rate of 21st century," The Business Journals, July 7, 2011, G. Scott Thomas,
10. Notable Alumni, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
11. Facts and Rankings, University of Florida,
12. Office of Student Financial Aid, The University of Georgia,
13. Our Story, UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland,
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17. Texas A&M University Facts, Texas A&M University,
18. The University of Georgia Honors Program,
19. UMBC Facts, UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland,
20. W&M at a Glance, William & Mary,