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Over the last two decades, families have seen the cost of college tuition skyrocket. Private schools are often much more expensive than public schools and can cost upward of $60,000 in tuition and fees for a single academic year.
For the 2020-2021 academic year, private colleges are charging an average of $35,492, according to the 876 ranked schools across the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that reported this data to U.S. News in an annual survey. But some can cost much more: Among the top 10 most expensive private colleges, tuition and fees cost $61,147 on average. There are 138 ranked private colleges that have sticker prices above $50,000, U.S. News data shows.
Schools reported this data in spring 2020. However, this year many colleges chose to suspend their planned annual hike on tuition because of the coronavirus pandemic and the financial toll it is taking on families nationwide. For example, Duke University reported its tuition and fees for 2020-2021 to be $60,488 — landing the university on this list of the most expensive private colleges — but announced in August it would cancel its planned 3.9% tuition increase and reduce or waive some student fees.
Some colleges have gone a step farther by offering tuition discounts for the fall 2020 semester. Paul Quinn College in Texas, for example, makes the U.S. News list of the 10 least expensive private colleges, having reported its tuition and fees to be $9,125. But the college announced in July it would offer classes online only for the fall semester and as such provide students a 28% discount on tuition, making the institution an even more affordable option for families.
Still, the price tags at many colleges remain in the tens of thousands. Columbia University, which costs $64,380 for tuition and fees this year, is once again the most expensive private college ranked by U.S. News. The New York school is ranked No. 3 in the 2021 Best National Universities rankings, which encompass schools that are often research-oriented and offer a full range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral programs.
Only one other school among the most expensive private colleges placed in the top 10 in its respective ranking category: Amherst College in Massachusetts, which costs $60,890 in tuition and fees and is ranked No. 2 among National Liberal Arts Colleges, schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study.
The most expensive private colleges are concentrated on the East Coast, in states like New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts, among others. But Kenyon College is located in Ohio and charges $61,100 in tuition and fees, and Colorado College, which costs $60,864 in tuition and fees, also made the top 10.
A college’s sticker price, however, does not account for institutional grants and scholarships offered by many private institutions to attract students and bring down the price a family actually pays for college. Duke, for example, met 100% of student financial need in 2019-2020 and awarded nearly half of all students need-based financial aid. For full-time undergraduates, that translated to an average need-based scholarship or grant award of $55,374, according to U.S. News data.
At the other end of the spectrum, the average cost of tuition and fees among the 10 least expensive private colleges is $8,029. Brigham Young University–Idaho tops that list, as it reported $4,208 in tuition and fees for 2020-2021.
Two other Brigham Young campuses — in Hawaii and Provo, Utah — also made the list. Led by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only church members can benefit from these discounted prices. Non-Latter-day Saints at Brigham Young University–Provo, for example, will pay double the $5,970 rate for 2020-2021, at $11,940.
[See: Best Value Schools.]
Whereas the most expensive schools are all either National Universities or National Liberal Arts Colleges, the least expensive private colleges are mainly comprised of regional institutions, and many of these schools are located in the West and Midwest. School ranks vary widely among the 10 schools, with many placing in the bottom quarter of their respective ranking category and therefore displaying a ranking range. Bellevue University in Nebraska, for example, costs $7,851 in tuition and fees and is ranked 119-156 among Regional Universities in the Midwest.
The tables below show the schools that charge the most and least tuition and fees in 2020-2021, as reported to U.S. News this spring. 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)||2020-2021 Tuition and fees||U.S. News rank and category|
|Columbia University (NY)||$64,380||3, National Universities|
|Kenyon College (OH)||$61,100||28 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Franklin & Marshall College (PA)||$61,062||43, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Vassar College (NY)||$60,930||13 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Amherst College (MA)||$60,890||2, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Colorado College||$60,864||25 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Tufts University (MA)||$60,862||30 (tie), National Universities|
|Brown University (RI)||$60,696||14 (tie), National Universities|
|Duke University (NC)||$60,488||12, National Universities|
|Boston College||$60,202||35 (tie), National Universities|
Least Expensive Schools
|School name (state)||2020-2021 Tuition and fees||U.S. News rank and category|
|Brigham Young University–Idaho||$4,208||16 (tie), Regional Colleges (West)|
|Brigham Young University–Hawaii||$5,720||10, Regional Colleges (West)|
|Brigham Young University–Provo (UT)||$5,970||80 (tie), National Universities|
|Donnelly College (KS)||$7,740||58-76, Regional Colleges (Midwest)|
|Bellevue University (NE)||$7,851||119-156, Regional Universities (Midwest)|
|Paul Quinn College (TX)||$9,125||26-33, Regional Colleges (West)|
|University of the Cumberlands (KY)||$9,875||298-389, National Universities|
|Rust College (MS)||$9,900||171-221, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Baker College of Flint (MI)||$9,920||119-156, Regional Universities (Midwest)|
|Southern New Hampshire University||$9,980||75 (tie), Regional Universities (North)|
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 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2020 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. 14, 2020.
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