U.S. Releases New Lists of Nation's Most- and Least-Expensive Colleges

June 28, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education released its third round of College Affordability and Transparency information on Thursday, calling attention to the nation's most- and least-expensive colleges.

Started in 2011 as a requirement of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the information—with price lists by sector—is part of a continuing effort to give prospective students and their families more information about college. At the same time, the lists call out colleges whose prices are rising most quickly.

Some of the lists look at tuition alone, while others include net price, subtracting grant aid from the total cost of attendance, which includes expenses like housing. The government calculates increases in tuition and net price on a three-year basis, in accordance with the federal higher-education law.

That put South Texas College atop the list of four-year public institutions with the largest jumps in tuition. Its increase, 140 percent, compares its price of $5,160 in 2011-12 to its price of $2,148 in 2009-10. (The most recent year-over-year increase would have been 118 percent.)

Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico had the second-highest multiyear jump in that category, at 58 percent. Its tuition, however, remained flat in 2010-11 and 2011-12, at $4,779, after having risen from $3,033 in 2009-10.

A more detailed breakdown of individual colleges' prices, including year-over-year data, can be found by clicking on their names in the online lists.

Increases by Sector

The tuition for 2011-12 at four-year public colleges rose an average of 15.6 percent, according to the data, while the increase at four-year private nonprofit colleges was 10.2 percent.

At four-year public colleges, tuition ranged from a mere $182 at Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kan., to $16,132 at the University of Pittsburgh, the most expensive for in-state students. While tuition went up more steeply in percentage terms at public colleges, they are less expensive, on average, than are private institutions.

Elite institutions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions were the most expensive private colleges in terms of tuition. Columbia University had the highest tuition among all private nonprofit colleges in 2011-12—just over $45,000—followed by Sarah Lawrence College, Vassar College, George Washington University, Trinity College, and Carnegie Mellon University, where tuition and fees all exceeded $44,000.

Among all four-year private nonprofit colleges, those with the highest net prices tended to be institutions focusing on the arts, continuing a trend seen in previous years.

Changes in Net Price

For both public and private four-year colleges, the average increases in net price—which accounts for grant aid—were less steep than the rise in tuition. Net-price increases were 5.1 percent at public colleges and 8.5 percent at private nonprofit institutions.

Among public colleges with the lowest net prices, Florida, New York, Puerto Rico, and Texas were all well represented. In Texas, two institutions—the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College—even showed negative net prices, according to the Education Department's figures.

Religious institutions also continued to keep net prices down for students, with Berea College, in Kentucky, leading the list of lowest net prices for 2010-11.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Pennsylvania dominated the list of colleges with the highest tuition and net prices.

It was no surprise to Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania State University, that its campuses accounted for 14 of the 33 institutions with the highest tuition among public four-year colleges. Rising costs and dwindling state support have kept Penn State's prices up for years, Ms. Powers said.

"We end up at the top simply because our state support obviously is not as high as other states," she said, pointing out that the university is on track to receive the same level of state support in 2013-14 as it did in 1996, when it was educating many fewer students.

Keeping college affordable is everyone's responsibility, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a written statement accompanying the updated lists.

"With so much information out there," he said, "it's important that students and their families are equipped with the tools they need to make informed decisions about where to go to college."

Correction (6/30/2013, 9 a.m.): The name of South Texas College has been corrected in this article. An earlier version incorrectly referred to the institution on one occasion as South Texas State College. Thanks to the commenter who noticed the error.