Most Affordable In-State Public Universities 2021

By ACO Staff with contributions from Genevieve Carlton

Published on September 3, 2021

Most Affordable In-State Public Universities 2021

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College costs continue to rise. In the decade between the 2007-2008 and the 2017-2018 academic years, college costs rose between 23-31%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students can save money and limit their debt by choosing an affordable in-state public university.

Public universities receive financial support from the state government. In exchange, public institutions provide a substantial tuition discount to state residents. While out-of-state students pay over $26,000 in tuition and fees per year, on average, in-state students pay around $9,000 per year. 

Over the course of a four-year bachelor's program, in-state students save an average of $68,000 compared to out-of-state students. Our ranking helps prospective students identify the most affordable universities for in-state students.

Frequently Asked Questions About In-State Tuition

true Q. What is the difference between a private and public university?

Public universities receive government funding, while private universities do not. As a result, public universities offer a tuition discount to state residents.

true Q. What is the difference between an in-state and out-of-state student?

In-state students meet the residency requirements to receive significant tuition discounts at public schools. Students who do not meet these requirements pay out-of-state tuition rates.

true Q. Is it better to go to college in state?

Choosing an in-state college offers several benefits, including tuition discounts, opportunities to save on living expenses, and admission policies that prioritize in-state applicants.

true Q. How can I avoid paying out-of-state college tuition?

Out-of-state students can establish residency to receive in-state tuition discounts. They can also research affordable online universities that offer in-state tuition rates for all students, regardless of residency status.

true Q. How do I qualify for in-state tuition?

Requirements vary by state, but in most states, students must live in the state for at least 12 months and show financial independence to qualify for in-state tuition.

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Why Choose an In-State Public University?

Students who choose an in-state public university benefit both professionally and personally. The following list outlines several benefits of attending an in-state public university.

In-state public universities charge lower tuition rates than out-of-state public schools and private schools. While in-state tuition rates averaged $9,000 annually in 2018-2019, out-of-state tuition exceeded $26,000 and private school tuition reached nearly $32,000. Students at in-state institutions benefit from access to a local professional network, which may help students secure jobs in their area after graduation. Public universities often rank among the best institutions in higher education. Students at in-state public schools benefit from a high-quality education at a lower cost. Undergraduates who choose an in-state public university often save on living expenses. For example, students can save by living at home or choosing a more affordable option than on-campus housing. Students who choose an in-state public university benefit from a local support system of friends and family.

How to Make an In-State University Affordable

In-state schools rank at the top of the list of affordable universities. However, in-state tuition still costs around $9,000 per year. Fortunately, there are several ways to make school more affordable. 

First, students should research scholarships and grants to lower the cost of their degree. Scholarships and grants provide free money toward college expenses. Programs like the Pell Grant provide thousands of dollars annually to undergraduates who meet income eligibility requirements. Scholarships and grants from colleges, government agencies, and private foundations help many students afford college.

In addition to tuition, college students must spend money on textbooks and fees. Students can save on textbooks by buying used books or buying books online. Undergraduates also qualify for tax credits like the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. 

Public universities often let students transfer credits toward their degree. By taking advanced placement examinations in high school, undergraduates can earn college credits at a more affordable rate. The College Board charges $95 for most advanced placement tests, which costs much less than taking a college course. Students can also take placement exams and transfer credits from a community college toward their bachelor's degree to save money.

Prospective students should also research affordable online universities. Some schools offer tuition discounts for fully online students or allow all online students to pay in-state tuition regardless of residency. Affordable online colleges also help degree-seekers find low-cost degrees without limiting their search to one state.

What Are the Requirements for State Residency and Tuition?

Incoming students who have lived in the state for at least one year typically qualify for in-state tuition rates automatically. Out-of-state students can also earn in-state residency status and qualify for tuition discounts. The process for establishing residency varies by state. In most states, students must live in the state for at least 12 months and demonstrate financial independence. 

Colleges also look for evidence of established ties to the area, which can include applying for a driver's license in the state, registering a car locally, or registering to vote in the state. Filing state taxes and opening a local bank account also help students meet residency requirements. 

Meeting residency requirements takes time. Students who relocate to attend a public university may need to pay the out-of-state tuition rate for one or more years while establishing residency. 

However, some states offer reciprocity programs or agreements that provide tuition discounts for residents of nearby states. For example, the Western Undergraduate Exchange offers discounted tuition rates for students from Western states attending public universities in other Western states. Students should research state and regional exchange programs to find programs that apply to their state. 

Each state sets its own tuition policies and residency process. Prospective students should research the rules in their state or contact their college or university to see if they qualify for in-state tuition.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

In 2017-2018, 86% of undergraduates used financial aid to pay for college costs. Financial aid includes grants, scholarships, and loans. Grants and scholarships represent the best type of financial aid because recipients do not need to repay the award. While borrowers must repay student loans, researching repayment options and interest rates helps graduates make their monthly payments more affordable.

Every year, the federal government awards more than $120 billion in grants, work-study aid, and student loans. Undergraduates and graduate students can qualify for these forms of financial aid by completing the FAFSA form each year. 

In addition to the FAFSA, students should research state grants, institutional aid, and private scholarships. While public universities tend to award fewer grants and scholarships than private institutions, students may receive financial aid through their school. Scholarship programs may provide money based on factors like a student's background, major, career goals, or financial need. Learn more about financial aid and scholarships.

Most Affordable In-State Public Universities 2021

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

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