50 best public colleges ranked from least to most expensive

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February 14, 2020
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50 best public colleges ranked from least to most expensive

The weight of student loan debt in the U.S. has become a genuine crisis: 44.7 million Americans now cumulatively owe $1.56 trillion in student debt as of 2019, an amount second only to mortgage debt in its magnitude. And yet, the worth of a college degree in the workplace continues to grow as college education becomes less financially attainable. In a phenomenon known as degree inflation, employers are increasingly seeking employees who hold four-year degrees, even for roles that have never required that level of education. In a world where a college degree is a potential path to financial success, but the degree itself comes at such a high cost, what's a student to do?

In some countries, such as Poland and Denmark, getting an affordable (virtually free) public education is within reach of all citizens and members of other EU nations. In the United States, the cost of public school depends on state residency. Some public universities have remained relatively affordable options for both state residents and out-of-state students. Others, however, have become more expensive on both fronts, or have had to hike up out-of-state tuition costs to keep in-state prices low. Here, Stacker has ranked the 50 best public universities in the country in order from least to most expensive.

To compile this list, Stacker scoured data from Niche, a site that reviews and ranks schools according to factors like acceptance rates, the average student loan amount, diversity, quality of professors, and more. This list comprises Niche's 50 top public colleges of 2020, and the schools have been ranked in terms of their out-of-state tuition costs, sourced from each school's website. For the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas at Austin, rates in this story reflect an average of the tuition for all undergrad schools at the university. Read on to find out which entirely free university will leave your piggy bank full, which pricey school still has some of the happiest students in the country, and which affordable university held an honorary graduation in space.

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#50. United States Military Academy at West Point

- Tuition: $0 (out-of-state); $0 (in-state, #1 least expensive)
- Location: West Point, New York
- Students: 4,491 (student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1)
- Acceptance rate: 10% (ACT: 23-28; SAT: 1180-1400)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 86%; six-year median earnings: data not available

In a world where college prices are rising and student debt is at an all-time high, the United States Military Academy at West Point stands apart as a completely free option for a four-year education. It's not just classes that are covered, either: students at this military academy receive room, board, and health care entirely free of cost. Most West Point students (about 94% of them) come from out of state, but getting into this prestigious academy is no cakewalk for anyone, as the acceptance rate is about 10%.

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#49. North Carolina State University

- Tuition: $14,610 (out-of-state); $4,550 (in-state, #2 least expensive)
- Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
- Students: 21,384 (student-to-faculty ratio: 13:1)
- Acceptance rate: 51% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1230-1390)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 79%; six-year median earnings: $52,500

With Business, Biology, Agricultural Science, and Engineering as some of its strongest and most popular majors, North Carolina State University was ranked by US News & World Report as #34 on the list of Top Public Schools in America. As of 2019, undergraduates made up more than two-thirds of the total student presence on campus, and 80% of students came from in-state. Fun fact: NCSU students often take part in the annual “Krispy Kreme Challenge”, which involves racing to a local Krispy Kreme and then attempting to scarf down a dozen doughnuts.

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#48. University of South Florida

- Tuition: $17,324 (out-of-state); $6,410 (in-state, #4 least expensive)
- Location: Tampa, Florida
- Students: 24,672 (student-to-faculty ratio: 22:1)
- Acceptance rate: 45% (ACT: 24-29; SAT: 1150-1310)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 71%; six-year median earnings: $43,500

The University of South Florida has been lauded for its graduate programs, with grad students comprising about 10,000 spots on campus at the Tampa location, and ranks well for undergraduate studies in nursing, technology, and criminal justice. Both the in-state and out-of-state tuition for this university make it a relatively affordable option, though out-of-state students make up a small portion of the student body. Only 428 new out-of-state students joined the USF Tampa campus in 2018, as opposed to more than 2,000 in-state freshmen.

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#47. Florida State University

- Tuition: $21,683 (out-of-state); $6,516 (in-state, #5 least expensive)
- Location: Tallahassee, Florida
- Students: 29,286 (student-to-faculty ratio: 22:1)
- Acceptance rate: 49% (ACT: 26-30; SAT: 1190-1330)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 80%; six-year median earnings: $46,400

Founded in 1851, Florida State University is both a space-grant and sea-grant university, meaning it participates in cutting-edge space and sea research on a national level. Over 80% of FSU students are Floridians, meaning they get to attend one of Florida's three designated “preeminent universities” at the relatively low tuition cost of $6,516 annually. Undergraduates made up about 78% of the student body, with women making up more than half of total enrollment.

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#46. Iowa State University

- Tuition: $23,230 (out-of-state); $8,042 (in-state, #7 least expensive)
- Location: Ames, Iowa
- Students: 28,743 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 89% (ACT: 22-28; SAT: 1160-1410)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 73%; six-year median earnings: $50,700

Iowa State University offers the traditional spectrum of majors, but students tend to gravitate towards a particular few: in the fall of 2018, 20% of students were studying mechanical engineering, kinesiology, aerospace engineering, animal science, or computer engineering. Gender also plays a role in this breakdown: female students, who comprise 43% of the student body, are also largely interested in elementary education, biology, and psychology. Unlike many other state schools, only about half the students at Iowa State are native Iowans.

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#45. California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

- Tuition: $23,832 (out-of-state); $9,942 (in-state, #14 least expensive)
- Location: San Luis Obispo, California
- Students: 20,584 (student-to-faculty ratio: 22:1)
- Acceptance rate: 35% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1200-1380)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 79%; six-year median earnings: $66,900

With a selective admissions rate, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (often shortened to the much pithier Cal Poly SLO) is an academically revered college, especially for those interested in computer science and aerospace studies. In 2018, students were concerned by a proposal to hike tuition at all CSU campuses by 4%, but the plan was ultimately rejected by the Board of Trustees after sufficient backlash. Officials insist the CSU system needs increased funding to thrive, but will seek this money from the state instead.

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#44. James Madison University

- Tuition: $24,150 (out-of-state); $7,250 (in-state, #6 least expensive)
- Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia
- Students: 18,905 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 75% (ACT: 23-28; SAT: 1100-1260)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 83%; six-year median earnings: $56,600

James Madison University, founded in 1908 and named after the fourth President of the United States (who was, in all likelihood, not as vocally gifted as the musical Hamilton would have you believe), is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. JMU's tuition has increased annually many years in a row; in 2018, it was announced that out-of-state tuition would rise by $684, and in-state tuition would rise by $370. However, in 2019, the Board of Visitors at JMU excited many by voting not to hike in-state tuition prices for the first time in nearly two decades—instead, more than $50 million additional state dollars will be put towards the university.

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#43. University of Oklahoma

- Tuition: $24,191 (out-of-state); $8,810 (in-state, #8 least expensive)
- Location: Norman, Oklahoma
- Students: 19,065 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 74% (ACT: 23-29; SAT: 1150-1380)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 67%; six-year median earnings: $51,100

Despite its large student population, the University of Oklahoma keeps class sizes small—4% of classes on the UO campus have 100 or more students, which may be a factor in the high retention rate. UO, which recently came under fire for allegedly misreporting some information to US News & World Report, boasts impressive financial numbers: the Princeton Review gives Oklahoma University a financial aid rating of 92.

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#42. Washington State University

- Tuition: $25,088 (out-of-state); $10,510 (in-state, #17 least expensive)
- Location: Pullman, Washington
- Students: 22,166 (student-to-faculty ratio: 15:1)
- Acceptance rate: 73% (ACT: 20-26; SAT: 1020-1220)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 62%; six-year median earnings: $50,600

Washington State University, a public college often ranked as amongst the safest and most LGBTQ+-friendly in the nation, has also generated recent buzz around the strength of its online courses: Three of them, including the Engineering and Technology Management Program, were ranked amongst the top in the nation in 2019. WSU also values affordability so much, it teamed up with historic rival University of Washington to promote a campaign called Yes, It's Possible. The campaign aims to raise awareness of collegiate affordability in Washington state.

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#41. University of Cincinnati

- Tuition: $26,994 (out-of-state); $11,660 (in-state, #24 most expensive)
- Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
- Students: 22,622 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 76% (ACT: 23-28; SAT: 1120-1340)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 69%; six-year median earnings: $42,300

Business, Health Professions, and Engineering—all of which typically lead to excellent postgraduate financial success—comprise the most popular majors at the University of Cincinnati, Niche’s #2 public university in Ohio. Over 40% of classes are small (between two and 19 students), and the urban school is a much more likely four-year destination for in-state residents (81%), whose tuition costs are obviously friendlier. Besides a renowned Division I program, non-varsity athletes—and those uninterested in sports—can choose from an array of some 300 campus organizations.

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#40. University of Florida

- Tuition: $28,658 (out-of-state); $6,380 (in-state, #3 least expensive)
- Location: Gainesville, Florida
- Students: 31,384 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 42% (ACT: 28-32; SAT: 1240-1400)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 88%; six-year median earnings: $56,000

The University of Florida, which comprises just over 30,000 full-time undergraduate students and about 12,000 full-time graduate students, has particularly strong Accounting and Engineering courses, and was rated by US News & World Report in the top 50 Best Undergraduate Teaching Schools. The school also offers unique courses, such as its seven-year Medical Honors Program, which allows students to spend their first two years of school as typical undergrads, then graduate from medical school five years later with a dual degree in science and medicine.

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#39. University of Utah

- Tuition: $28,788 (out-of-state); $8,952 (in-state, #11 least expensive)
- Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
- Students: 18,066 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 66% (ACT: 22-29; SAT: 1110-1350)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 67%; six-year median earnings: $53,000

The Salt Lake City institution has been around since 1850 and is renowned for its School of Medicine and primary care program. Besides other high-ranking grad programs, its undergraduates enjoy a 17-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio as well as a geographically diverse population, as 37% attend from out of state or internationally. A member of the Power 5 conference Pac-12, the Utes were one of the top college football teams in the nation in 2019.

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#38. Purdue University

- Tuition: $28,794 (out-of-state); $9,992 (in-state, #15 least expensive)
- Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
- Students: 30,277 (student-to-faculty ratio: 13:1)
- Acceptance rate: 57.% (ACT: 25-31; SAT: 1150-1380)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 78%; six-year median earnings: $55,100

Over the years, Purdue University and NASA have developed quite the friendship: many future astronauts, including Jerry Ross, John Casper, and the inimitable Neil Armstrong, spent their carefree college days at Purdue. In fact, in 2018, Purdue even granted an honorary doctoral degree via live stream to an astronaut still aboard the International Space Station. Purdue has held a tuition freeze since the 2012–2013 school year (through at least the 2019–20 academic year), which both garners positive press and raises whether such an act is a real solution or a publicity stunt.

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#37. Arizona State University

- Tuition: $28,800 (out-of-state); $10,710 (in-state, #18 least expensive)
- Location: Tempe, Arizona
- Students: 38,814 (student-to-faculty ratio: 20:1)
- Acceptance rate: 84% (ACT: 22-29; SAT: 1120-1350)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 63%; six-year median earnings: $47,700

While tuition for out-of-state students at Arizona State University hovers just under $30,000 annually, 84% of ASU students receive some form of financial aid, and 65% of incoming freshman are granted a merit scholarship. The school has been ranked fifth in the nation as a recruitment source, meaning employers favor graduates of the school when seeking new hires. As of 2019, ASU is working on a new plan for structuring its fees and tuition costs that would include only four broad fee categories, as opposed to lengthy lists of fees that are entirely specific to each major and degree type.

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#36. University of Georgia

- Tuition: $28,830 (out-of-state); $9,790 (in-state, #12 least expensive)
- Location: Athens, Georgia
- Students: 27,142 (student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1)
- Acceptance rate: 54% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1200-1370)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $50,500

Fraternity houses tend to be full of college boys and warm beer, but not necessarily Ponzi schemes—that is, until recently, when the SEC accused a University of Georgia graduate of operating a Ponzi scheme while a student and fraternity brother. For most UGA students, however, time on campus is spent participating in well-regarded programs like Communications and Criminal Justice. Eighty-seven percent of the student body comes from within the state, but students from some Tennessee and North Carolina counties that border Georgia will soon be offered in-state tuition as well.

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#35. Rutgers University - New Brunswick

- Tuition: $29,012 (out-of-state); $12,230 (in-state, #22 most expensive)
- Location: Piscataway, New Jersey
- Students: 33,677 (student-to-faculty ratio: 15:1)
- Acceptance rate: 58.% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1190-1400)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 80%; six-year median earnings: $57,900

Rutgers University - New Brunswick is no stranger to higher education—the New Jersey school, founded in 1766, is one of the 10 oldest collegiate institutions in the United States. As is to be expected, in the past 200 and some years, tuition prices have risen just a touch; for the 2019–20 school year, Rutgers (which encompasses three locations in addition to New Brunswick) and its Board of Governors instituted a 2.9% increase in tuition and fees.

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#34. The University of Alabama

- Tuition: $30,250 (out-of-state); $10,780 (in-state, #20 least expensive)
- Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Students: 29,923 (student-to-faculty ratio: 23:1)
- Acceptance rate: 53% (ACT: 23-32; SAT: 1050-1280)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 68%; six-year median earnings: $44,500

The University of Alabama, the flagship university of the state and a strong presence in fields of study such as Communications and Accounting, has recently found itself tied up in the state's biggest current political issue. The university's law school is potentially returning a donor gift of over $20 million after the donor in question, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., made a statement encouraging students to boycott the law school in the wake of Alabama's new abortion legislation; according to Culverhouse, nobody should attend the school “until the state gets its act together.” The school leadership also recently voted that for the first time in several decades, in-state students would not see a rise in tuition for the upcoming school year.

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#33. Georgia Institute of Technology

- Tuition: $31,370 (out-of-state); $10,258 (in-state, #16 least expensive)
- Location: Atlanta, Georgia
- Students: 13,974 (student-to-faculty ratio: 22:1)
- Acceptance rate: 23% (ACT: 30-34; SAT: 1090-1520)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $79,100

You're not alone if the term “SlothBot” makes you think of an extremely adorable sloth robot, but in reality, the SlothBot is a recent Georgia Tech creation that looks nothing like a sloth. Instead, it's a robot that will sit in a forest canopy and monitor environmental changes, moving only when absolutely necessary (hence its name). Seventy-six percent of students who attend Georgia Tech, which is known for its computer science and engineering programs, come from the United States, with 61% and 39% of those students coming from in-state and out-of-state, respectively.

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#32. University of Iowa

- Tuition: $31,793 (out-of-state); $9,830 (in-state, #13 least expensive)
- Location: Iowa City, Iowa
- Students: 21,222 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 86% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1140-1370)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 74%; six-year median earnings: $51,900

The University of Iowa looks pretty good considering it's over 160 years old. Since its founding in 1847, the University of Iowa has established itself as a strong academic choice and is regarded as one of the best schools for creative writing in the country. UI's graduate programs are well respected, and graduate students make up about one-sixth of the student body presence on campus. This June, officials approved a proposed 3.9% tuition hike at both the University of Iowa and Iowa State. Months prior, the UI student president responded by noting that raising tuition by even $300 would mean many students having to work an additional 30 hours to pay that extra cost.

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#31. Auburn University

- Tuition: $31,956 (out-of-state); $11,796 (in-state, #23 most expensive)
- Location: Auburn, Alabama
- Students: 21,762 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 84% (ACT: 24-30; SAT: 1130-1310)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 77%; six-year median earnings: $48,800

The vast majority of Auburn University's 21,762 students come from the state of Alabama, with Georgia and Florida supplying the second and third greatest numbers of students to the school as of Fall 2017. As of that same year, only about 100 students attended Auburn University's graduate schools; for undergraduates, the colleges of Business, Engineering, and Liberal Arts were popular choices. In June, Auburn University’s Board of Trustees voted to approve raising tuition by 2%; however, that followed several years of a 3% annual hike.

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#30. The Ohio State University

- Tuition: $32,061 (out-of-state); $11,084 (in-state, #24 least expensive)
- Location: Columbus, Ohio
- Students: 42,003 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 48% (ACT: 27-31; SAT: 1260-1450)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 83%; six-year median earnings: $46,100

Ohio State University, in Columbus, is home to 42,000 full-time undergraduates, who describe their school as “spirited”, “awesome”, and “diverse.” About 70% of the student body has a primary residence in Ohio, with 23% of students coming from out of state and the remainder coming from outside the country. The university openly prioritizes affordability, and for the past few years, has instituted an “Ohio State Tuition Guarantee”—this means that incoming freshman are guaranteed steady tuition prices for their four years at school, factoring in 1.4% for inflation.

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#29. Virginia Tech

- Tuition: $32,835 (out-of-state); $13,691 (in-state, #17 most expensive)
- Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
- Students: 26,603 (student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1)
- Acceptance rate: 70% (ACT: 25-30; SAT: 1180-1360)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 84%; six-year median earnings: $62,500

Virginia Tech, home to over 25,000 students, is almost too popular for its own good: The school accepted more students than it could handle for its incoming freshman class, and has taken measures to bring the class size down by 1,000. Some students will take a gap year and receive an additional scholarship when they return, others will attend a community college for a year, but all who end up at Virginia Tech will participate in the Engineering and Architecture programs for which the school is known. Oh, and they'll be able to eat the best college food in the country.

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#28. University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

- Tuition: $33,534 (out-of-state); $15,236 (in-state, #11 most expensive)
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Students: 29,991 (student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1)
- Acceptance rate: 50% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1270-1480)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 80%; six-year median earnings: $51,900

After multiple years of double-digit tuition hikes for out-of-state students, the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities has seen its out-of-state attendance fall in the last few academic years. While this can certainly harm a school to attract talent, local lawmakers believe the school should prioritize making college affordable and accessible for Minnesotans, and since raising out-of-state tuition, the school has seen a rise in revenue that can be put towards financial aid. The University of Minnesota is renowned for its Nursing Informatics course and was named a Forbes “rising star” college.

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#27. University of South Carolina

- Tuition: $33,627 (out-of-state); $12,738 (in-state, #19 most expensive)
- Location: Columbia, South Carolina
- Students: 25,243 (student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1)
- Acceptance rate: 72% (ACT: 25-30; SAT: 1170-1330)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 75%; six-year median earnings: $44,900

The Columbia institution has been around since 1801, and even 219 years later, freshmen enjoy one of the best introductory years of any college in America: US News & World Report ranks South Carolina #3 among “First-Year Experiences” due in part to its lauded “University 101,” a unique adjustment program to campus life.The Gamecocks compete in the vaunted SEC with heavyweights like Auburn and Alabama, one of the reasons over 25% of students highlighted the “school spirit” to Niche. Prior to the 2019–20 academic year, USC increased tuition by the smallest percentage since 1998: $76 or 0.6%.

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#26. University of Delaware

- Tuition: $34,160 (out-of-state); $12,730 (in-state, #20 most expensive)
- Location: Newark, Delaware
- Students: 18,195 (student-to-faculty ratio: 15:1)
- Acceptance rate: 63% (ACT: 25-29; SAT: 1130-1330)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 82%; six-year median earnings: $57,000

Who doesn't love a good college love story? Joe and Jill Biden first met in 1975, when Jill was a student at the University of Delaware; Joe Biden had received his college degree from the same university and was by that point serving as a U.S. Senator for Delaware. Besides serving as a plot point in the Biden romance, the University of Delaware has also established itself as a respected choice for those interested in chemical engineering, and the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics is ranked amongst the best undergraduate business programs in the nation. In 2019, the university announced it would increase tuition for in- and out-of-state students, by $600 and $1400 respectively, as well as adding fee increases for some specific programs.

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#25. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

- Tuition: $34,226 (out-of-state); $16,776 (in-state, #4 most expensive)
- Location: Champaign, Illinois
- Students: 32,613 (student-to-faculty ratio: 20:1)
- Acceptance rate: 62% (ACT: 26-32; SAT: 1340-1500)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $61,500

June 2019 was a happy month for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The school received an allotment of $1.9 billion from the new Illinois state budget, including $451 million for the state financial aid program. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is well ranked and respected for its Accounting and Engineering programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. At over 30,000, the student body is large, but the freshman class of 2022 made waves by including the most first-generation college students the school has ever seen in a class.

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#24. Penn State

- Tuition: $34,858 (out-of-state); $18,454 (in-state, #2 most expensive)
- Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
- Students: 39,785 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 50% (ACT: 25-30; SAT: 1160-1340)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $50,100

Penn State comprises several campuses throughout the state, the largest and most prominent of these being the University Park location. In addition to the tens of thousands of undergraduates who call Penn State home (about 13,00 of whom live on campus), an additional 6,000 graduate students spend their days at University Park. About 53% of Penn State students are Pennsylvania residents, meaning that more than half of University Park's student body has benefited from the continued in-state tuition freeze.

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#23. Michigan Technological University

- Tuition: $34,896 (out-of-state); $15,660 (in-state, #8 most expensive)
- Location: Houghton, Michigan
- Students: 5,492 (student-to-faculty ratio: 13:1)
- Acceptance rate: 74% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1160-1340)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 67%; six-year median earnings: $66,400

The Michigan Technological University, founded in 1885, is home to a little over 5,000 undergraduate students, as well as 1,300 graduate students. Across the nation, men are actually becoming the new college minority, but Michigan Technological University has not experienced the same trend; the school is predominantly male, with the gender breakdown falling at 72% male and 28% female. Close to 90% of students at the university are on some form of financial aid, and the school is ranked well in terms of salaries students receive soon after graduation.

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#22. University of Massachusetts - Amherst

- Tuition: $35,112 (out-of-state); $15,791 (in-state, #7 most expensive)
- Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
- Students: 21,577 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 58.% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1180-1360)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 77%; six-year median earnings: $51,400

The University of Massachusetts - Amherst has almost more students than it knows what to do with; in fact, to accommodate a growing student body, UMass Amherst is offering some incoming freshmen discounted student housing in the future in exchange for commuting from off campus this academic year. Like many others on this list, the university is also facing financial concerns. Earlier this year, Massachusetts officials proposed a tuition freeze intended to maintain affordability, but UMass officials responded with concern that freezing tuition could cause damaging cuts elsewhere in the university.

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#21. University of Pittsburgh

- Tuition: $35,784 (out-of-state); $21,292 (in-state, #1 most expensive)
- Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Students: 18,390 (student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1)
- Acceptance rate: 60% (ACT: 27-32; SAT: 1240-1420)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 82%; six-year median earnings: $53,900

Pell Grants are federal aid usually awarded to incoming undergraduates who express great financial need and rarely have to be repaid; the only downside to this generous package is that sometimes, seeing that a student has received a Pell Grant stops colleges from offering that student additional aid, even when it may be needed. For this reason, the University of Pittsburgh recently instituted a revolutionary Pell Grant matching program. Through the program, the school will offer each Pell Grant recipient the same amount as the grant in additional financial aid, which officials believe will bring the total amount up to a much more impactful level.

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#20. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

- Tuition: $35,850 (out-of-state); $8,842 (in-state, #10 least expensive)
- Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Students: 18,303 (student-to-faculty ratio: 13:1)
- Acceptance rate: 24% (ACT: 28-33; SAT: 1270-1460)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 91%; six-year median earnings: $55,600

While UNC Chapel Hill has many renowned undergraduate programs, including creative writing, its graduate programs are the ones receiving buzz: In 2018, US News & World Report ranked the School of Medicine's Primary Care course #1 in the nation, with Social Work and Nursing programs also faring extremely well. Like many other public universities, UNC at Chapel Hill has had to confront the issue of rising tuition prices; while keeping in-state tuition prices fairly low has been a high priority, rising out-of-state tuition prices and fees have been a concern for out-of-state families.

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#19. University of Connecticut

- Tuition: $36,466 (out-of-state); $13,798 (in-state, #16 most expensive)
- Location: Storrs, Connecticut
- Students: 18,555 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 48% (ACT: 26-31; SAT: 1210-1390)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 83%; six-year median earnings: $58,400

What used to be known as the Storrs Agricultural School dates to 1881 and is today the University of Connecticut, a sea grant university with over 18,000 undergrads. Although its average tuition is above the national average, its average financial aid awarded is well above. The Huskies are an internationally known athletics program, and the women’s basketball program’s 11 NCAA titles are the most in the nation. Among a plethora of graduate options, UConn’s Neag School of Education is highly ranked.

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#18. Indiana University - Bloomington

- Tuition: $36,512 (out-of-state); $10,948 (in-state, #22 least expensive)
- Location: Bloomington, Indiana
- Students: 32,212 (student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1)
- Acceptance rate: 76% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1140-1350)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 77%; six-year median earnings: $47,700

In 2018, Indiana University - Bloomington was recognized by the Academic Ranking of World Universities for the strength of its programs in business management and administration, education, psychology, and more. Bloomington is the oldest of all of IU's campuses, and out of the 2019 freshman class of around 8,000, more than 4,500 students were from Indiana. IU Bloomington's tuition structure is based around banded tuition, which means that students taking anywhere between 12 and 18 credits will pay a single fixed tuition price, allowing students more predictability in terms of tuition cost and on-time graduation.

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Maryland GovPics // Flickr

#17. University of Maryland - College Park

- Tuition: $36,891 (out-of-state); $8,824 (in-state, #9 least expensive)
- Location: College Park, Maryland
- Students: 27,708 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 45% (ACT: 29-33; SAT: 1280-1470)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $62,900

The University of Maryland is doing good work: In early June, the public research university was awarded $175 million by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be put towards research about Earth’s atmosphere. The University of Maryland in College Park is strong in areas of study such as Criminal Justice, Architecture, and Agricultural Sciences, and boasts a diverse array of alumni such as Larry David and Gayle King. Though the school is fairly mid level in terms of price for out-of-state students, it’s one of the most affordable options on this list in terms of in-state tuition.

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#16. Colorado School of Mines

- Tuition: $37,350 (out-of-state); $16,650 (in-state, #5 most expensive)
- Location: Golden, Colorado
- Students: 4,584 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 56.% (ACT: 28-32; SAT: 1310-1450)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 78%; six-year median earnings: $84,900

The Colorado School of Mines, known to most simply as “Mines,” is a school devoted to preparing its graduates for careers in engineering and applied science, with a focus on technical skills and hands-on training. The school is one of the smallest on this list, with a student body of about 6,000 including both graduate students and undergrads. Both in-state and out-of-state tuitions at the Colorado School of Mines are relatively expensive, but the school also has the numbers to prove it's a worthwhile choice: Mines boasts the biggest collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers in the country, a retention rate of over 90%, and an average starting salary for graduates of $67,229.

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Maureen.allen // Wikimedia Commons

#15. Texas A&M University

- Tuition: $37,890 (out-of-state); $10,862 (in-state, #21 least expensive)
- Location: College Station, Texas
- Students: 46,724 (student-to-faculty ratio: 21:1)
- Acceptance rate: 71% (ACT: 25-30; SAT: 1140-1360)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 82%; six-year median earnings: $58,000

Texas A&M University, once an all-male college known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College, is today a whopping university known for its engineering and accounting programs. In November, Texas A&M approved tuition hikes that would raise the cost of attendance by 2.6%, thereby generating funding for enhancing classroom technology, adding faculty members, and more.

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#14. Clemson University

- Tuition: $38,550 (out-of-state); $15,558 (in-state, #9 most expensive)
- Location: Clemson, South Carolina
- Students: 18,642 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 47% (ACT: 27-31; SAT: 1220-1390)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 82%; six-year median earnings: $52,400

Clemson University is home to about 19,000 undergraduates students, as well as 5,200 graduate and professional students; about 60% of the student body comes from within South Carolina. Though Clemson is fairly expensive for both in-state and out-of-state students, the school is also creating hundreds of new scholarship opportunities available to students transferring in from South Carolina technical colleges. For the 2019–20 school year, tuition is set to increase slightly for all students, regardless of residency.

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#13. University of Wisconsin

- Tuition: $38,634 (out-of-state); $10,746 (in-state, #19 least expensive)
- Location: Madison, Wisconsin
- Students: 28,977 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 54% (ACT: 27-31; SAT: 1280-1450)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 87%; six-year median earnings: $56,200

The University of Wisconsin in Madison is a highly regarded university and often considered one of the “Public Ivies”, a term coined in the 1980s to refer to public colleges whose academics are at an Ivy League standard. Notable alumni include architect Frank Lloyd Wright, writer Joyce Carol Oates, and former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. The university is devoted to maintaining access and affordability for its in-state students; “Bucky's Tuition Promise” means Wisconsin residents whose household income falls below $56,000 can attend for free—but out-of-state students are looking at rising tuition costs.

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Utexas // Wikimedia Commons

#12. University of Texas - Austin

- Tuition: $39,058 (out-of-state); $10,970 (in-state, #23 least expensive)
- Location: Austin, Texas
- Students: 37,740 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 36% (ACT: 26-33; SAT: 1220-1460)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 83%; six-year median earnings: $58,200

Yes, the University of Texas - Austin is a revered university, but it's also the final note in a truly heartwarming story: as of June 2019, a homeless man who dropped out of the school decades ago and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia is returning to UT Austin to finally finish his degree. Best of all, his tuition is to be paid in full, and a degree in studio art now awaits him. UT Austin also offers free tuition to students—90% of whom come from within Texas—from households in which the gross adjusted income is less than $30,000.

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Jeffness // Wikimedia Commons

#11. Michigan State University

- Tuition: $39,830 (out-of-state); $14,524 (in-state, #12 most expensive)
- Location: East Lansing, Michigan
- Students: 35,404 (student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1)
- Acceptance rate: 72% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1100-1320)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 79%; six-year median earnings: $53,600

Michigan State University isn't just renowned for its undergraduate engineering programs; it's also one of the earliest American prototypes of a land grant university, which is a university that receives federally granted land for the purposes of agriculture, science, and more. In the many years since its founding in 1855, Michigan State University's tuition rates have certainly seen a few changes: In 1979, tuition per credit sat at just $24.50, and by fall 2018, that figure had hit $482. A part of this large increase can be attributed to the fact that in 1992, MSU switched from a four-quarter system to a three-semester system, thereby increasing the cost of each individual credit.

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#10. College of William & Mary

- Tuition: $40,089 (out-of-state); $17,434 (in-state, #3 most expensive)
- Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
- Students: 6,199 (student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1)
- Acceptance rate: 36% (ACT: data not available; SAT: 1300-1480)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 92%; six-year median earnings: $58,500

The College of William & Mary is one of the more expensive state school options for both in-state and out-of-state students. It's a far cry from the good old days of the early 1970s, when the total cost of attending the school (room and board included) sat at $1,590 for Virginia residents and $2,524 for out-of-state students. The College of William and Mary goes back much further than the 1970s, however: the school was founded in 1693 and is named for King William III and Queen Mary II. It also has a lengthy list of “firsts” under its belt, including being the first American college to institute an Honor System, in 1779.

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Allyunion // Wikimedia Commons

#9. University of California - Irvine

- Tuition: $40,434 (out-of-state); $11,442 (in-state, #25 most expensive)
- Location: Irvine, California
- Students: 28,855 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 37% (ACT: 25-32; SAT: 1170-1350)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $58,400

Once upon a time, all California residents could attend the University of California schools for free. But alas, all good things must end, and beginning in the 1920s, small “fees” were introduced for both in and out-of-state residents; by the 1970s, tuition and fees amounted to just over $1,000 for residents, and by 2012, the UC system received more money from student tuition and fees (a whopping $3 billion) than from the state ($2.3 billion). At Irvine, a school revered for both criminal justice and performing arts programs, the total cost of living is still a bit lower than that of most of the other UCs.

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#8. University of California - Santa Barbara

- Tuition: $42,324 (out-of-state); $12,570 (in-state, #21 most expensive)
- Location: Santa Barbara, California
- Students: 21,777 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 33% (ACT: 28-33; SAT: 1190-1400)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 81%; six-year median earnings: $55,300

Many University of California schools have been steadily rising through the ranks over the past several years, and the University of California - Santa Barbara is no exception. In 2019, it was ranked as #30 on a list of best schools in the country, and #5 for best public schools in the country. As of 2018, 88% of all undergraduates who attended UCSB were California residents; though the school is much cheaper for these students than those coming from other states, many still require loans to attend.

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#7. University of California - Los Angeles

- Tuition: $42,993 (out-of-state); $13,239 (in-state, #18 most expensive)
- Location: Los Angeles, California
- Students: 30,458 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 16% (ACT: 29-34; SAT: 1220-1450)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 91%; six-year median earnings: $60,700

The University of California - Los Angeles has long been considered a “Public Ivy,” and is especially revered for its graduate programs in fine arts and public health. With an admissions rate of just 16%, the school is a competitive choice. The most popular majors include biology, political science, psychology, and business economics. In early 2019, the UC Board of Regents voted to increase out-of-state tuition by $762, while in-state tuition would remain steady.

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Charlie Nguyen // Wikimedia Commons

#6. University of California - Berkeley

- Tuition: $44,008 (out-of-state); $14,254 (in-state, #15 most expensive)
- Location: Berkeley, California
- Students: 29,351 (student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1)
- Acceptance rate: 17% (ACT: 30-34; SAT: 1260-1480)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 91%; six-year median earnings: $64,700

A roster of UC Berkeley alumni reads like a list of Silicon Valley greatest hits: the CEO of Intel, an inventor of Powerpoint, and perhaps most notably, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. For Cal students who may not go on to become tech billionaires, rising costs are a concern: hikes for out-of-state students have many worried that UCs are becoming an option only for the wealthy. According to Niche, 69% of University of California - Berkeley students came from within California, while 18% came from other states, and the remaining 12% were international.

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#5. University of California - San Diego

- Tuition: $44,205 (out-of-state); $14,451 (in-state, #14 most expensive)
- Location: La Jolla, California
- Students: 27,880 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 34% (ACT: 27-33; SAT: 1210-1410)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $59,900

The University of California - San Diego is an institution widely regarded for its strength in the sciences—particularly biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience—but the school was also ranked by US News & World Report in the top 30 universities globally for Arts and Humanities. With a student body of nearly 30,000 students, close to half of whom live on campus, UCSD has struggled to meet housing demands; the school in 2019 announced plans to raise rent by at least 3% in order to pay for new residential housing. This comes hand in hand with rising costs for out-of-state UC students.

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#4. University of California - Davis

- Tuition: $44,244 (out-of-state); $14,490 (in-state, #13 most expensive)
- Location: Davis, California
- Students: 29,284 (student-to-faculty ratio: 20:1)
- Acceptance rate: 43% (ACT: 25-32; SAT: 1130-1360)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 85%; six-year median earnings: $58,200

The student population at UC Davis is around 30,000, but would be much higher if another popular group were taken into account—that would be the cows, plenty of whom call this campus their home, and who often serve as a basis for university research. Besides cow cuteness, UC Davis also provides excellent programs in agriculture and managerial economics. As a member of the UC system, Davis has been impacted by the same tuition hikes as many others on this list, and is one of a few UCs to institute a cap on out-of-state undergraduates at 18% of the student body.

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#3. University of Washington

- Tuition: $47,794 (out-of-state); $11,207 (in-state, #25 least expensive)
- Location: Seattle, Washington
- Students: 28,759 (student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1)
- Acceptance rate: 46% (ACT: 27-32; SAT: 1190-1420)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 84%; six-year median earnings: $57,700

Applying to college is an undeniably stressful process, but some students certainly have particular advantages or hardships along the way that impact their academic performance. That's why the University of Washington, along with a handful of other schools, has helped the College Board develop a tool called the Environmental Context Dashboard; the goal is to provide more context to a student's application through data sets that highlight, for instance, how many adults in a student's community attended college. A few fast facts: 73% of students at the University of Washington come from Washington state, 64% of the school's revenue comes from tuition (the rest comes from the state), and 42% of declared STEM majors are women.

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#2. University of Virginia

- Tuition: $49,970 (out-of-state); $16,640 (in-state, #6 most expensive)
- Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
- Students: 15,766 (student-to-faculty ratio: 15:1)
- Acceptance rate: 27% (ACT: 29-33; SAT: 1310-1500)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 95%; six-year median earnings: $61,200

At the University of Virginia, in-state residents make up 69% of the total student body, and graduate students comprise just under a third of the population. Many of the university's graduate programs rank amongst the best in the nation: The schools of Business, Nursing, and Education are particularly well regarded, and for undergrads, English and Economics are popular majors. In the year 2000, tuition and required fees for out-of-state students amounted to just over $17,000; in 2019, the cost has reached nearly $51,000.

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#1. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

- Tuition: $51,200 (out-of-state); $15,558 (in-state, #10 most expensive)
- Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Students: 28,702 (student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1)
- Acceptance rate: 27% (ACT: 30-33; SAT: 1330-1500)
- Outcomes: graduation rate: 92%; six-year median earnings: $63,400

And the winner is...the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, a school that has been ranked the #1 public research university in the country, and that offers some of the top business, engineering, and psychology programs in the nation. Of course, for out-of-state students, that prestige comes with a high price tag: The Board of Regents approved a 3.7% tuition increase prior to the 2019–20 academic year, taking the $49,000 cost above $51,000. However, the cost of tuition seemingly doesn't bear too much of a burden: Niche still ranks UMich as having the #3 student life in America.

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