The cost of a college education has skyrocketed in the last thirty years, outpacing both healthcare and total inflation in the United States. Outstanding student loan debt is at an all-time high, now over $1.5 trillion—higher than the national consumer credit card debt.
Private colleges are typically much more expensive than public colleges, and whether or not the student is attending an in-state school plays a large role in the overall price.
Each year colleges publish their cost of attendance figures, or COA.
The published number is a representation of what it costs to attend school there and includes tuition, room and board, fees, books, and possibly more. That number is partly responsible for how much aid the federal government is willing to offer its students.
The more expensive a school is, the more need for financial aid (including student loans) to close the funding gap. As costs continue to rise, college may seem more out of reach for those without the funds to attend, and as a school’s published cost of attendance goes up, the taxpayer burden for federal financial aid does too.
Different types of schools have different costs—and they often vary widely. Below are the average costs for 2-year and 4-year colleges in the United States for the 2017-2018 academic year for undergraduate students. 
Average Total Cost of College by School Type
- Public 4-year in-state: $25,290
- Public 4-year out-of-state: $40,940
- Private 4-year nonprofit: $50,900
- Public 2-year: $17,580
- Private for-profit: $16,000 (only tuition)
Average Cost of Tuition & Fees by School Type
- Public 4-year in-state: $9,970
- Public 4-year out-of-state: $25,620
- Private 4-year nonprofit: $34,740
- Public 2-year: $3,570
- Private for-profit: $16,000
Average Cost of Room & Board by School Type
- Public 4-year: $10,800
- Private 4-year nonprofit: $12,210
- Public 2-year: $8,400
- Private 2-year: $10,178
Average Cost of Textbooks & Supplies by School Type
- Public 4-year: $1,250
- Private 4-year: $1,220
- Public 2-year: $1,420
- Private 2-year: N/A
Average Cost of Transportation by School Type
- Public 4-year: $1,170
- Private 4-year: $1,030
- Public 2-year: $1,780
- Private 2-year: N/A
Average Cost of Other Expenses by School Type
- Public 4-year: $2,100
- Private 4-year: $1,700
- Public 2-year: $2,410
- Private 2-year: N/A
Average Financial Aid Given by School Type
(Note: Per college student, with all income levels)
- Public 4-year: $7,060
- Private 4-year non-profit: $20,090
- Private 4-year for-profit: $5,160
- Public 2-year: $4,980
- Private 2-year non-profit: $5,730
- Private 2-year for-profit: $4,370
10 Most Expensive College in the U.S.
While college is generally considered expensive—and getting more so each year—there are some colleges that rise far above the rest in terms of total costs for tuition and fees. Many people assume that the Ivy League schools are the most expensive—but that’s not always the case.
The state you choose to attend school in matters as well. In Wyoming, the average cost of a public four-year college per year is only $5,220; in Vermont, however, it’s $16,040. Private schools are often higher, and make up the most expensive schools in the country.
Here are the ten most expensive colleges in the U.S. for pursuing a bachelor's degree:
- Columbia University (NY) – Private non-profit, $59,430
- University of Chicago (IL) – Private non-profit, $57,006
- Vassar College (NY) – Private non-profit, $56,960
- Trinity College (CT) – Private non-profit, $56,910
- Harvey Mudd College (CA) – Private non-profit, $56,876
- Franklin and Marshall College (PA) – Private non-profit, $56,550
- Amherst College (MA) – Private non-profit, $56,426
- Tufts University (MA) – Private non-profit, $56,382
- University of Southern California (CA) – Private non-profit, $56,225
- Bucknell University (PA) – Private non-profit, $56,092
10 Least Expensive Colleges in the U.S.
Cost is not always the best indicator of the quality of an education. These schools are the least expensive in the country, but many are also seen as top notch in terms of prestige and employability for graduates. All of the colleges on this list are typically four-year schools, but many of them also have two-year programs as well, if you’re looking for something a bit less time-intensive. Though all of the most expensive schools are private institutions, there are also many that are very cheap. In fact, all of the least expensive schools are private schools.
Here are the ten least expensive colleges in the U.S. for pursuing a bachelor's degree:
- Brigham Young University - Provo (UT) – Private non-profit, $5,620
- Amridge University (AL) – Private for-profit, $9,900
- Tougaloo College (MS) – Private non-profit, $10,600
- Wilmington University (DE) – Private non-profit, $11,210
- Jarvis Christian College (TX) – Private non-profit, $11,720
- Stillman College (AL) – Private non-profit, $11,992
- Alice Lloyd College (KY) – Private non-profit, $12,150
- Talladega College (AL) – Private non-profit, $12,340
- Blue Mountain College (MS) – Private non-profit, $12,584
- William Carey University (MS) – Private non-profit, $12,600
Why Students Should Consider the Net Cost of College
These costs might make college seem like an unattainable goal for many students. Financial aid, however, changes the sticker price significantly. Each year data is available for the net cost or net price of a given school or school type, which is the cost of attendance minus the average financial aid package.
If the average cost of a public 4-year institution’s in-state tuition and fees is $8,702, for instance, and the average financial aid package for that type of school is $7,010, the net cost is only $1,692 in tuition—a far more affordable prospect for most students and their families. Individual financial aid packages vary based on the FAFSA data of each applicant and are based on each family’s financial situation as determined by the FAFSA each year, so it’s important that you submit your FAFSA completely—and early.
How College Costs Have Changed Over Time
The costs of higher education consistently climb almost every year, with most annual increases being a small but still measurable amount.
For four-year in-state student public university tuition costs, for example, there was a 3.1% increase in one academic year alone, from $9,670 in 2016-2017 to $9,970 in the 2017-2018 school year. Those seemingly small amounts, however, add up to big annual cost changes over time—even during the span of one student’s average enrollment.
More students are also taking longer to finish a degree than the standard four years; that translates to not only more college expenses but also decreased exponential earning power—and that means possibly having a harder time paying back the student loans that made college possible in the first place. This includes both federal student loans and private student loans (which typically have higher interest rates).
In order for more students to be able to attend college, it needs to be accessible and affordable. With the costs continuing to rise, that ability hinges largely on the amount of financial aid available. For the near future, at least, financial aid can continue to fill that funding gap seen by so many students. Even in the face of increased cost, the wide variety of college types, range of pricing, and kinds of financial aid available make a college education affordable for most.