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The college search is often beset with an old but increasingly difficult question for families: How can we afford it?
With runaway tuition, families are paying significantly more now than they were in prior decades. U.S. News data shows that tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 school year cost an average of $38,185 at ranked private schools. Average tuition for out-of-state students attending ranked public colleges comes to $22,698, and average in-state tuition at public institutions is $10,338.
Some college officials point to financial struggles as one of the most common reasons students drop out.
As tuition continues to climb, families are increasingly squeezed financially, especially with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted work for millions. Price-sensitive families — a description that fits many — must consider what they can afford without piling a burden of debt on students that may take years to pay off, depending on how much is borrowed.
Families would be well served to understand tuition costs and factor those into their college search.
U.S. News collected tuition data as part of an annual survey sent to colleges in the spring and summer of 2021. Among the findings from that data is that of the 705 ranked private colleges that provided their 2021-2022 tuition and fees, 145 have sticker prices of more than $50,000 for the year. By contrast, only 55 private colleges reported annual tuition and fees under $20,000.
Among the 10 colleges reporting the highest tuition and fees, two schools — Columbia University in New York and the University of Pennsylvania — are ranked among the top 10 National Universities, institutions that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Columbia is tied at No. 2 while Penn is ranked at No. 8. Keep in mind, however, that tuition costs alone do not factor into the overall ranking methodology, although the calculations do assess schools on the average indebtedness of their graduates.
Four of the 10 most expensive private colleges are categorized as National Universities and the other six are National Liberal Arts Colleges, which emphasize undergraduate education and award half or more of their degrees across liberal arts fields. Colgate University in New York and Wesleyan University in Connecticut, both tied at No. 17, are the highest-ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges on this list.
Tuition and fees at these 10 colleges average out to $62,601, per U.S. News data.
The majority of the 10 private colleges with the highest tuition and fee costs are located on the East Coast, with New York claiming three. But there are two geographic outliers: Colorado College and Kenyon College in Ohio.
While these tuition numbers may be eye-popping, families should understand that sticker prices aren’t always what they’ll end up paying once institutional grants and scholarships are applied, thus bringing the overall costs down.
On the opposite end of this cost spectrum are ranked private colleges across the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that reported the lowest tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 school year. The average cost is much lower among these 10 schools, coming out to $11,642, per U.S. News data.
Of these 10 colleges, the lowest price tag is found at Brigham Young University–Provo in Utah, which reported 2021-2022 tuition and fees at $6,120. BYU is tied at No. 79 in the National Universities category. One caveat about the school’s cost, however, is that this price is only for students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith with which BYU is affiliated. Students who are not members have to pay twice the listed tuition rate, according to BYU’s website, at $12,240 for the year.
Colleges reporting the lowest tuition rates are a mix of National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, as well as one Regional University — a category that encompasses schools that offer bachelor’s degrees, some master’s programs and limited options at the doctoral level — and several Regional Colleges, institutions that focus on undergraduate education but award fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields. The 10 least expensive private colleges are also geographically diverse, spread broadly across the U.S.
The tables below show the schools across the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that charge the most and least tuition and fees in 2021-2022, as reported to U.S. News this spring and summer. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
Most Expensive Schools
|School Name (state)||2021-2022 tuition and fees||U.S. News Rank and Category|
|Columbia University (NY)||$63,530||2 (tie), National Universities|
|Franklin & Marshall College (PA)||$63,401||42 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Kenyon College (OH)||$63,310||30 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Tufts University (MA)||$63,000||28 (tie), National Universities|
|Vassar College (NY)||$62,870||22 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Brown University (RI)||$62,404||14 (tie), National Universities|
|Colorado College||$62,070||26, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Colgate University (NY)||$61,966||17 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Wesleyan University (CT)||$61,749||17 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|University of Pennsylvania||$61,710||8, National Universities|
Least Expensive Schools
|School Name (state)||2021-2022 tuition and fees||U.S. News Rank and Category|
|Brigham Young University–Provo (UT)||$6,120||79 (tie), National Universities|
|Stillman College (AL)||$11,025||168-222, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|National Louis University (IL)||$11,325||299-391, National Universities|
|Tougaloo College (MS)||$11,398||168-222, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Wilmington University (DE)||$11,750||299-391, National Universities|
|Wiley College (TX)||$12,500||36, Regional Colleges (West)|
|Voorhees College (SC)||$12,630||48 (tie), Regional Colleges (South)|
|Philander Smith College (AR)||$13,014||42, Regional Colleges (South)|
|National University (CA)||$13,320||94-122, Regional Universities (West)|
|Allen University (SC)||$13,340||168-222, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find tuition and fees data, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,850 colleges and universities for our 2021 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The tuition and fees data above is correct as of Sept. 13, 2021.
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