College Tuition Costs in the United States: How Does Each State Compare?

Written By Guest Post
Last updated December 28, 2019

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February 9, 2018

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The cost of college in the United States is often one that is covered in the news. Due to rising costs and fees, more and more students are taking out loans to pay for their education. According to the, Pew Research Center, Americans owed around $1.3 trillion in student debt last year, a rate that is more than 2.5 times the amount 10 years earlier. So college can be pricey, but just how do those costs size up from state to state?

At Simple Thrifty Living, we were interested in looking the cost of both in-state and out-of-state tuition across the U.S for four-year public institutions. We turned to College Board who compiled an average cost per state. We then took those numbers and visualized the data to get a complete look at the country. Here’s what we found

For in-state tuition and fees, the New England area of the country came in as one of the most expensive. While home to many prestigious institutions, it will cost you if you’re planning on attending school there. New Hampshire and Vermont were at a virtual tie for two most expensive states at just over $16,000. Pennsylvania and New Jersey were 3rd and 4th, respectively, at around $14,000. Illinois came in at number 5 at $13,620.

As for the cheapest states for in-state tuition, Wyoming came in at the least expensive with an average cost of $5,220. Interestingly, Florida was the second cheapest at $6,360. For such a large state with many quality schools, Florida residents are getting a bargain. Utah, Montana, and New Mexico round out the bottom 5 for in-state cost.


For out-of-state tuition and fees, Vermont again came in as an expensive state. This time it claimed the top spot with an average cost of nearly $39,000 a year. Michigan was number 2 at $36,840. Virginia, California, and South Carolina are next three, all in the $31,000 to $32,000 range. Virginia and South Carolina were both towards the top for in-state tuition, so it’s not much of a surprise to see them towards the top here as well. California, however, was right in the middle for in-state tuition.

As for the cheapest states, South Dakota was the cheapest $12,480. Wyoming, Mississippi, North Dakota, and New York rounded out the bottom 5 for cost. If you want affordable out-of-state tuition, the Dakotas might be a fit for you!

Another statistic that we were interested in at Simple Thrifty Living was the cost of college compared to the median income in a state. For this graphic, we looked at tuition, fees, and housing cost for schools. We felt that adding in housing gave a more complete picture when comparing to median income.

South Carolina came in as the top state with 45.6% — quite a significant percentage. Overall, there was a definite trend of states in the south having a higher percentage than other regions of the country. Many southern states were about 40% and were among the highest in the country for this comparison. States in the west, however, were some of the lowest. Six out of the 10 lowest were states in the west.

Many parents and students end up in large amounts of debt because of college tuition. If you need help with your debt situation, Freedom Debt Relief can be a good option. Also, Accredited Debt Relief is a solid alternative.

Finally, we wanted to look at tuition and fees as a whole compared to a number of rates. First, we looked at it compared to student debt.

Since 2008, student debt has risen 92.7%. Comparatively, public in-state tuition and fees have risen 43.2% and private nonprofit tuition and fees have risen 35.65 during the same time period.

Next, we look at the Consumer Price Index. The CPI has grown by 119.0%, while public and private four-year college tuition costs have grown 612.7% and 419.9%, respectively.

Finally, we wanted to look at college tuition and fees compared to something most people come in contact with every day: gas prices. In 2017 dollars, the average price of gas has grown 30.4%, while public and private four-year college tuition costs have grown 216.7% and 127.6%, respectively.

Overall, we found that where you live has significant impact on how much you’ll pay for school. And if you want to go to go a school outside of the state you live in, you’re going to pay a lot more depending on where you choose. Tuition costs have risen significantly over the years and it’s important to make a plan to pay for it. Education is important but it doesn’t come without a price tag. Having a well-thought out plan can make a difference while you’re in school and after you graduate.

If you’re one of the 40 million Americans in student debt, this study comes a bit too late. Many people have taken on huge debt to cover rising tuition costs and end up in debt. There are options to help you manage your student loan debt, including student loan refinancing. Some refinancing benefits include lowering your overall debt, lowering your monthly payments and reducing the number of payments that you make each month. We have reviewed the top 5 student loan refinancing companies (so you don’t have to), take a look at our review here.

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