26 MIN READ

We Crunched the Numbers and Found the Best College Bargains in Each State

A college graduate and family members smile during commencement ceremonies.
Engineering graduate Rohan Malagaveli with his mother Shantan Malagaveli, left, and his aunt Chaitanya Malagaveli during commencement ceremonies at West Virginia University. Colleges in West Virginia have the third lowest average net cost in the nation for a year of in-state tuition. Brian Persinger/West Virginia University

I always knew I’d end up at Florida State University.

My dad and older brother are diehard Seminoles — FSU alumni — and I’d grown up visiting the campus every year. If I had elected to attend, say, the University of Florida (the arch enemy of any Seminole), I might have been permanently excommunicated from the family.

Well, I went to FSU. And even did a victory lap (an extra two semesters) so I could enjoy the campus one more year. But here’s the big question from a now-Penny Hoarder’s point of view: Did I get the most bang for my buck at the Tallahassee campus?

Personally, I think I did. But I had a unique experience in that I was going to school purely on scholarship money, and slinging sushi at a Japanese restaurant to pay for everything else. So thankfully, I’m not grappling with a chunk of the $1.4 trillion in student loan debt the rest of the country is.

By now, student loans — and the debt borrowers face later — are a part of life. So I was curious: Which colleges give you the best bang for your tuition? Mainly, where can you go that you’ll have the best shot after graduation at living comfortably while paying off your student loans?

Luckily, there’s data for that. (See below for the methodology.)

We analyzed annual tuition cost, net cost, enrollment, acceptance rates and other factors for every college with available data to produce a “bang-for-your-buck ratio.” The higher the ratio, the further your tuition dollars will go.

But we went an extra step and plucked out the best-value four-year school as well as the best bang-for-your buck trade school or community college, since those are both great options with a huge shortfall in the availability of workers for infrastructure jobs. And we did it for every state.

Of course, there are a variety of factors, from choice of major to the metro area where a graduate finds a job, that can influence earnings. So make sure to do plenty of research on what your needs are before applying to one of these schools.

And be sure to do as many things as possible to save money while in college.

As you’ll see when you scroll down to Florida, I didn’t necessarily pick the school with the best bang for its buck. But, you know, at least I’m still allowed to attend Thanksgiving with my family.

Methodology

College Scorecard, an online college-comparison tool created by the U.S. government, has information on everything from tuition cost to student loan default rate by race — the perfect starting point to determine where college tuition will take you the furthest.

We dug into the hundreds of megabytes of data and used a statistical technique to weight the following factors:

  • Enrollment.
  • Acceptance rate.
  • Average net cost (the total cost of attending college, including tuition, books and housing, minus scholarships and other financial aid).
  • In-state tuition cost.
  • Median earnings 10 years after graduation.
  • Student loan default rate.

To see your state, select a link from the table below.

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California
Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia
Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri
Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey
New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio
Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina
South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont
Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming

Alabama

I know the rabid “Roll-Tiders” of the University of Alabama will probably skewer me for this, but the school just doesn’t stack up when it comes to value. But, fortunately for Alabamians whose families won’t kick them out them for going anywhere but ’Bama, the state does have plenty of options for low-cost, high-reward schools.

The ratio of school cost to earnings is about is about nine percentage points lower for Alabama schools than for the U.S. as a whole, and the median net cost of universities is more than $3,200 less than in the rest if the country. So, if you live in ’Bama, go to school in ’Bama — but maybe look at schools other than the University of ’Bama.

Troy University

Enrollment: 16,208

Admission Rate: 68.2%

In-State Tuition: $7,275

Average Net Cost: $11,192 (Includes books, housing, etc., less scholarships and other aid)

Median Earnings: $36,660

George C. Wallace State Community College-Dothan

Enrollment: 4,293

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,900

Average Net Cost: $2,681

Median Earnings: $27,100

Alaska

There’s not much to say about universities in Alaska other than… well you don’t have a ton of options. Ten, to be exact. But, of those schools, the median bang-for-your-buck ratio is the best in the country, and half of Alaskan university graduates earn more than $40,000 10 years after graduation.

That’s the second most out of all 50 states.

University of Alaska Anchorage

Enrollment: 13,116

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $5,147

Average Net Cost: $8,160

Median Earnings: $42,000

Arizona

Students in class
Median earnings for students who graduate from Arizona State University is $45,200. W. Scott Mitchell/Arizona State University

For such a populous state, with 125 universities, I would have expected the competition to lure graduates would keep costs low and academic payoff high. But, the bang-for-your-buck ratio is 15 points lower than the rest of the U.S.

Still, the top community or trade school on our list in this state does deliver a whopping value for its students.

Arizona State University

Enrollment: 38,480

Admission Rate: 80.23%

In-State Tuition: $9,861

Average Net Cost: $11,480

Median Earnings: $45,200

Pima Community College

Enrollment: 26,600

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $1,724

Average Net Cost: $2,759

Median Earnings: $30,100

Arkansas

Arkansas has great trade schools, and its college value is greater than the U.S. average. And that’s considering graduates of this state’s schools generally make less on average than their peers in other states.

So if you love the Ozarks, consider school in this southern state.

Arkansas Tech University

Enrollment: 8,734

Admission Rate: 85%

In-State Tuition: $5,598

Average Net Cost: $9,128

Median Earnings: $35,000

Northwest Arkansas Community College

Enrollment: 6,698

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,998

Average Net Cost: $6,846

Median Earnings: $32,300

California

Two smiling female college graduates
Average net cost to students at California State University, Los Angeles, is $44,900 a year. Photo courtesy of California State University

California is the first state on the list to demonstrate a trend you’ll see several times from now on: The best value usually comes from a satellite campus of a well-known school. This is usually because it’s cheaper to live in, or commute to, that area.

Despite the wealth of satellite campuses at schools like Cal State, California still scores low on value in our analysis. But, you know, it’s freaking California, man. In my eyes, the weather and surf more than make up for it.

California State University, Los Angeles

Enrollment: 17,042

Admission Rate: 67.5%

In-State Tuition: $6,344

Average Net Cost: $44,900

Median Earnings: $32,300

Grossmont College

Enrollment: 17,042

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $1,387

Average Net Cost: $2,288

Median Earnings: $32,300

Colorado

Colorado is gorgeous, and its universities deliver just about the same value (remember, the ratio of annual tuition to earnings after graduation) as the rest of the country. But, it also has one of the highest gaps in costs between in-state and out-of-state students.

So, unless you already live here, consider a university in your own state — unless that state is Arizona, that is.

University of Colorado-Denver

Enrollment: 10,470

Admission Rate: 75.9%

In-State Tuition: $7,933

Average Net Cost: $13,594

Median Earnings: $73,800

Arapahoe Community College

Enrollment: 8,920

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,063

Average Net Cost: $8,792

Median Earnings: $35,200

Connecticut

For a northeastern state with lots of old money, I expected Connecticut’s costs to outweigh the eventual earning benefits for graduates. But, with annual earnings 10 years after graduation at roughly $36,000 and average net prices of $15,700, the state is right around the national average in its bang-for-your-buck ratio.

University of Connecticut-Tri-Campus

Enrollment: 2,382

Admission Rate: 42%

In-State Tuition: $10,056

Average Net Cost: $13,099

Median Earnings: $53,900

Manchester Community College

Enrollment: 6,773

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,786

Average Net Cost: $4,319

Median Earnings: $35,200

Delaware

University of Delaware students at the Twilight Induction Ceremony
In-state tuition for students at the University of Delaware is $12,112 a year. Evan Krape/University of Delaware

There are only 12 universities in Delaware with public data on after-graduation earnings and tuition, so there isn’t a big sample to find the best bang for your buck. But the state does have a slightly greater value for college students than the country as a whole.

And I was surprised to find some really great trade schools in Delaware, a state known for its massive financial sector.

University of Delaware

Enrollment: 17,729

Admission Rate: 64.7%

In-State Tuition: $12,112

Average Net Cost: $15,998

Median Earnings: $54,300

Delaware Technical Community College

Enrollment: 6,492

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,380

Average Net Cost: $4,963

Median Earnings: $33,500

Florida

If you visit Florida, most folks you see will be sporting one of three color patterns: garnet and gold, blue and orange or green and orange, the colors of Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of Miami, respectively.

But several overlooked schools are making waves in academics and sports. The University of Central Florida is the largest university in the state, and the University of South Florida is getting more and more recognition. But of all the rivalries, the school that will give students the best bang for your buck has arguably the most Florida of mascots: the gator.

(That’s not saying much, given Florida has the fifth lowest bang-for-your buck ratio in the country.)

University of Florida

Enrollment: 32,346

Admission Rate: 46.6%

In-State Tuition: $6,263

Average Net Cost: $12,582

Median Earnings: $51,300

Palm Beach State College

Enrollment: 26,106

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,378

Average Net Cost: $2,557

Median Earnings: $31,500

Georgia

Sudents walk on a college campus.
Georgia Tech’s admission rate is 54.9%, and median earnings of graduates are $74,000 10 years after graduation. Allison Carter/Georgia Technical University

Georgia’s bang-for-your-buck ratio, tuition costs and graduate earnings are all right around the U.S. average. But it has a high ratio of trade schools that add some additional value, at least in my view.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Enrollment: 13,975

Admission Rate: 54.9%

In-State Tuition: $10,650

Average Net Cost: $11,053

Median Earnings: $74,000

Georgia Highlands College

Enrollment:  5,324

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,720

Average Net Cost: $5,993

Median Earnings: $34,100

Hawaii

This came as a shock: It’s surprisingly affordable to go to college in Hawaii. When you take housing, books, scholarships and other financial aspects into consideration, the median annual cost of a university in this state is about $11,200, which is more than $4,000 less than the U.S. median.

It’s paradise. But come on, it’ll be so expensive for your parents to send those care packages across the Pacific Ocean.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Enrollment:  14,097

Admission Rate: 80.1%

In-State Tuition: $29,904

Average Net Cost: $11,102

Median Earnings: $33,300

Kapiolani Community College

Enrollment:  6,025

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,604

Average Net Cost: $4,388

Median Earnings: $33,300

Idaho

Idaho is another state that has a few options for university value, but as a whole doesn’t offer the same bang for your buck you’ll get in other states. In this state, the median bang-for-your-buck ratio is around 37%, while the U.S. as a whole sits at 51%.

Still, the average admission rate for Idaho colleges is 20 points higher than the rest of the country, so there’s more opportunity for those of us who slacked a bit in high school.

No trade school or community college made the grade, so we’re including only one recommendation.

Brigham Young University – Idaho

Enrollment:  20,208

Admission Rate: 99.6%

In-State Tuition: $3,850

Average Net Cost: $7,409

Median Earnings: $39,000

Illinois

A student looks at a laptop in a learning center at a college.
The Math and Science Learning Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois at Chicago

Illinois universities largely fall in line with the value of U.S. colleges as a whole when it comes to the payoff graduates get from the investment. But for those looking for a cheaper, or more hands-on type of learning, trade schools and two-year universities outnumber traditional colleges by nearly three-to-one.

University of Illinois at Chicago

Enrollment:  16,601

Admission Rate: 71.4%

In-State Tuition: $13,410

Average Net Cost: $13,656

Median Earnings: $51,600

Triton College

Enrollment:  9,184

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,452

Average Net Cost: $4,657

Median Earnings: $31,300

Indiana

For a Midwest state, I was surprised to find that Indiana was actually a pretty expensive place to go to college. The median net price, which includes housing, books and other costs, is more than $18,700 a year. That’s $3,200 more than the rest of the country.

Still, at $33,200, median annual earnings for Indiana college graduates is slightly greater than that of the U.S. And this state is another one with plenty of trade schools and community colleges that won’t break the bank.

Purdue University

Enrollment:  30,167

Admission Rate: 60.4%

In-State Tuition: $9,992

Average Net Cost: $15,543

Median Earnings: $52,600

Ivy Tech Community College

Enrollment:  87,017

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,605

Average Net Cost: $8,911

Median Earnings: $28,400

Iowa

College students walk on a campus.
More than 80% of students who apply to The University of Iowa are accepted. Photo courtesy of University of Iowa

Cue the “Music Man” song. (Actually don’t, or it will be stuck in your head for the next 24 hours.) Iowa has roughly the same acceptance rate and bang for your buck as the country as a whole.

So if you already live in the Hawkeye State, you might want consider staying for your next chapter.

The University of Iowa

Enrollment:  21,314

Admission Rate: 80.2%

In-State Tuition: $7,726

Average Net Cost: $14,336

Median Earnings: $47,200

Iowa Central Community College

Enrollment:  3,494

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,520

Average Net Cost: $7,465

Median Earnings: $32,700

Kansas

Kansas colleges generally deliver better value than the rest of the U.S., their graduates make more annually a decade after school and it has a higher acceptance rate. But of all the states we analyzed, Kansas also had the 10th lowest premium for out-of-state tuition.

So if you’re looking to get away from your parents — but not go Hawaii far — you’ll still get major value out of attending a school in Kansas.

Washburn University

Enrollment:  5,320

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $5,774

Average Net Cost: $11,215

Median Earnings: $37,900

Highland Community College

Enrollment:  1,777

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,610

Average Net Cost: $5,007

Median Earnings: $33,200

Kentucky

A college mascot who looks like a viking plays a bean bag toss game.
Students at Northern Kentucky University get a fairly low bang-for-their-buck rating. Photo Courtesy Northern Kentucky University

Kentucky had one school that threw off our analysis for a second: Berea College.

Berea College has a huge bang for its buck, with the average student paying a net cost of about $1,776 a year and coming away earning more than $34,000 a year. The school has a sticker price of about $23,100 a year, but it’s one of the only colleges with a “no-tuition pledge”: Once you’re accepted, you don’t pay anything. But it has a 34% acceptance rate and less than 2,000 students, so we had to pass on it.

If you throw that school out of the analysis, Kentucky actually has a low bang-for-your-buck rating.

Northern Kentucky University

Enrollment:  11,976

Admission Rate: 46.7%

In-State Tuition: $8,376

Average Net Cost: $8,753

Median Earnings: $36,100

Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College

Enrollment:  3,122

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,456

Average Net Cost: $6,327

Median Earnings: $29,200

Louisiana

Louisiana is another state that had its big college’s satellite campuses dominating the top of the list. As you know, I went to Florida State — once ranked the No. 1 party school in the country — and I can tell you the main campus “true college experience” isn’t worth the premium you’re paying for it.

Sorry, Baton Rouge, but I’d take Shreveport over the fratmosphere.

Louisiana State University-Shreveport

Enrollment:  2,796

Admission Rate: 83.5%

In-State Tuition: $5,606

Average Net Cost: $7,436

Median Earnings: $36,700

Delgado Community College

Enrollment:  17,467

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,302

Average Net Cost: $6,592

Median Earnings: $28,200

Maine

Students walk on a college campus.
Average net cost for a year at University of Maine is $16,831. Photo Courtesy of University of Maine

Maine happens to be a super expensive state to live in, which drives up the net cost a student will pay to go to college there.

Even with private colleges like Bowdoin, Bates and Colby offering generous scholarships (that generally bring their per-year costs from $45,000 down to $25,000), the median difference between sticker and actual price is $3,689 a year.

University of Maine

Enrollment: 8,619

Admission Rate: 81%

In-State Tuition: $10,600

Average Net Cost: $16,831

Median Earnings: $38,700

Central Maine Community College

Enrollment:  2,531

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,630

Average Net Cost: $8,612

Median Earnings: $33,300

Maryland

Graduates of Maryland colleges make a lot more than the average U.S. graduate 10 years after school. The median annual earnings of a former Maryland university student are around $38,000, which dwarfs the $31,000 of the country as a whole.

But with net costs soaring above $16,000 a year, the bang for your buck of Maryland’s universities is pretty average. Those crabs, though.

University of Maryland University College

Enrollment:  26,006

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $6,552

Average Net Cost: $9,358

Median Earnings: $50,700

Carroll Community College

Enrollment:  3,583

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,302

Average Net Cost: $4,157

Median Earnings: $35,800

Massachusetts

Total enrollment at Middlesex Community College is 8,871. Photo courtesy of Middlesex Community College

It’s got Harvard and MIT, but Massachusetts doesn’t have much in the way of value in its colleges. With the eighth lowest bang-for-your-buck ratio in the U.S., Massachusetts also has the third highest annual tuition costs.

But, if you’re looking to pick up one of those cool Boston accents, it might be worth the price.

University of Massachusetts Boston

Enrollment: 11,786

Admission Rate: 71.4%

In-State Tuition: $11,966

Average Net Cost: $11,741

Median Earnings: $45,800

Middlesex Community College

Enrollment:  8,871

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,274

Average Net Cost: $4,047

Median Earnings: $35,800

Michigan

When it comes to pretty much any measure, Michigan schools fall around the middle of the rest of the U.S. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being average, my mom used to tell me that all the time!

Michigan is another case of the best value coming from satellite campuses, and the state has plenty. There are also 95 trade schools and community colleges from which to choose.

University of Michigan-Dearborn

Enrollment:  6,793

Admission Rate: 62.8%

In-State Tuition: $10,614

Average Net Cost: $9,800

Median Earnings: $47,400

Schoolcraft College

Enrollment:  9,535

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,140

Average Net Cost: $4,310

Median Earnings: $31,000

Minnesota

Like most states, community and technical colleges dominated the top 10 universities where you’ll get your money’s worth.

But, one nontraditional school stuck out: Metropolitan State University, which actually ended up No. 1 on our initial list. It’s designed for older, working students and offers night classes. It seems like a great option for folks who are looking for a career change, but we were trying to stick to traditional bachelor’s-degree institutions for this list.

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Enrollment:  12,542

Admission Rate: 65.6%

In-State Tuition: $7,557

Average Net Cost: $14,161

Median Earnings: $42,700

Century College

Enrollment:  9,484

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $5,360

Average Net Cost: $9,601

Median Earnings: $35,000

Mississippi

The University of Mississippi admits only 59.4% of applicants. Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

In Mississippi, more than two-thirds of universities are certificate or associate institutions, so there are lots of options for cheaper community colleges. But that also means if you’re looking for a four-year degree, the options are limited.

On our initial list, the top three four-year schools included a university for women only and two private schools.

The University of Mississippi

Enrollment:  16,432

Admission Rate: 59.4%

In-State Tuition: $6,760

Average Net Cost: $13,858

Median Earnings: $40,600

Pearl River Community College

Enrollment:  5,170

Admission Rate: 85.7%

In-State Tuition: $2,630

Average Net Cost: $573

Median Earnings: $38,100

Missouri

Missouri college graduates tend to earn less than the national average but spend about $4,000 more on their education, making this state one of the lower bang-for-your-buck states on our list.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Enrollment:  6,064

Admission Rate: 82.2%

In-State Tuition: $9,510

Average Net Cost: $15,153

Median Earnings: $65,500

St. Charles Community College

Enrollment:  6,744

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,400

Average Net Cost: $3,454

Median Earnings: $32,000

Montana

Montana is another state that just doesn’t have a huge university system. Heck, there are probably more bison than college kids in this state.

So, while it might not make the best choice for an out-of-state option, if you already live in Big Sky Country, there’s at least one good school choice to get the most for your cash.

No university met our criteria, so we’re offering only one recommendation.

Montana Tech of the University of Montana (Now Montana Technological University)

Enrollment: 1,825

Admission Rate: 88.9%

In-State Tuition: $6,464

Average Net Cost: $11,619

Median Earnings: $39,800

Nebraska

Nothing against Nebraska (my sister-in-law’s family hails from Lincoln), but pulling any striking statistics about the state was tough. In bang-for-your-buck ratio, Nebraska schools came in at 26th place, and in average net price they were 25th in the country — dead in the middle.

But the state’s admission rate was in the bottom half of the country, so be on the lookout when spending valuable time filling out applications.

University of Nebraska Omaha

Enrollment: 12,153

Admission Rate: 70.8%

In-State Tuition: $6,550

Average Net Cost: $12,532

Median Earnings: $41,800

Southeast Community College

Enrollment: 7,512

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,554

Average Net Cost: $7,555

Median Earnings: $35,200

Nevada

Students on a college campus.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has a high acceptance rate and fairly low in-state tuition. Photo courtesy of Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services

Nevada may be a great state for gambling, hiking and the outdoors and settling into suburban life. But it’s not the best state when it comes to value for your college education.

Nevada has the fourth lowest bang-for-your-buck ratio. Ouch. But it does have the No. 1 average admission rate in the U.S. So, there’s that.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Enrollment: 22,742

Admission Rate: 85.1%

In-State Tuition: $6,690

Average Net Cost: $11,159

Median Earnings: $43,500

College of Southern Nevada

Enrollment: 29,848

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,700

Average Net Cost: $6,932

Median Earnings: $31,900

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has one of the highest average school cost-earnings ratio, making it among the worst states when it comes to bang-for-your-buck universities.  If you absolutely have to go to school in this state, well, you don’t have many options outside of Dartmouth.

Granite State College

Enrollment: 1,680

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $7,065

Average Net Cost: $14,515

Median Earnings: $32,100

Nashua Community College

Enrollment: 2,026

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $7,232

Average Net Cost: $14,204

Median Earnings: $34,500

New Jersey

College graduates sit in chairs at a commencement ceremony.
With an enrollment of 6,748 students, Rutgers University-Newark admits 54% of applicants. Photo courtesy of Rutgers University-Newark

I’ve got a soft spot for New Jersey. My mom’s family hails from Cape May, and I nearly went to Rutgers at the urging of my great uncle, who offered to let me stay with him rent-free. I’m sort of glad I didn’t take him up on that offer since it’s in the bottom 10 states in the country when it comes to tuition value.

Rutgers University-Newark

Enrollment: 6,748

Admission Rate: 54%

In-State Tuition: $12,998

Average Net Cost: $12,762

Median Earnings: $54,800

Essex County College

Enrollment: 11,150

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,380

Average Net Cost: $4,065

Median Earnings: $31,000

New Mexico

University of New Mexico ranks high on our bang-for-your-buck scale. Russell Contreras/AP Photo

New Mexico is ranked No. 8 on our list of states with the highest average bang-for-your-buck ratio. So if you go to school here, it won’t be a “Breaking Bad” investment. Eh? Eh?

All joking aside, the state also has good technical and trade schools for your money.

University of New Mexico

Enrollment: 20,847

Admission Rate: 64.6%

In-State Tuition: $6,846

Average Net Cost: $8,126

Median Earnings: $35,900

Central New Mexico Community College

Enrollment: 25,090

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $1,364

Average Net Cost: $3,961

Median Earnings: $30,200

New York

With most of the big colleges clustered in and around New York City, you know you’ll be dropping major dime going to school here. (I’ve written about the cost of living in this big city. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that New York colleges won’t deliver the value you’d see somewhere like New Mexico.

But New York also has one of the lowest premiums for out-of-state tuition. So if it’s your dream to spend your college years in the Big Apple, I say go for it.

CUNY Queens College

Enrollment: 14,424

Admission Rate: 37%

In-State Tuition: $6,207

Average Net Cost: $5,527

Median Earnings: $48,000

CUNY Queensborough Community College

Enrollment: 14,345

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,540

Average Net Cost: $4,563

Median Earnings: $35,900

North Carolina

Wolf sculptures occupy a plaza on a college.
Average annual net cost to attend North Carolina State University is $13,164. Roger Winstead/North Carolina State University

North Carolina is one of several southern states with colleges that will deliver the best bang for your tuition bucks. One thing we noticed through this analysis was that you see a lot more large state schools with major tuition value at their main campuses in the South.

So if you’re looking for the traditional college experience, look to the Carolinas.

North Carolina State University

Enrollment: 22,977

Admission Rate: 50%

In-State Tuition: $8,206

Average Net Cost: $13,164

Median Earnings: $47,500

Fayetteville Technical Community College

Enrollment: 10,681

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,378

Average Net Cost: $4,667

Median Earnings: $27,700

North Dakota

There are only about 30 colleges in North Dakota, but this frigid state ranks No. 10 on our bang-for-your-buck list. But, with the mining boom turning bust in the past year, there’s not as much opportunity once you get out of college.

So make sure to keep that in mind.

North Dakota State University

Enrollment: 11,629

Admission Rate: 84.1%

In-State Tuition: $7,660

Average Net Cost: $14,404

Median Earnings: $46,300

Bismarck State College

Enrollment: 3,233

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,487

Average Net Cost: $7,968

Median Earnings: $38,100

Ohio

It took quite a while to sift through Ohio universities to find a four-year degree institution that fit our criteria when we analyzed this state. That means you’re not going to get a ton of value from going to a big school in Ohio, but, there are still plenty of affordable satellite campuses and community colleges in the Buckeye State.

The University of Toledo

Enrollment: 15,440

Admission Rate: 90.7%

In-State Tuition: $9,275

Average Net Cost: $14,595

Median Earnings: $40,200

Lorain County Community College

Enrollment: 10,582

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,977

Average Net Cost: $3,769

Median Earnings: $28,700

Oklahoma

Oklahoma rounded out No. 10 on the state list of the best value colleges. And considering the state’s economy is outpacing the rest of the country, there’s also value in staying in the area after you graduate.

Oklahoma City has a ton of opportunity, especially in the tech sector, and it happens to be one of the few cities where workers have actually seen growing wages.

Northeastern State University

Enrollment: 7,215

Admission Rate: 73.4%

In-State Tuition: $4,992

Average Net Cost: $6,668

Median Earnings: $35,000

Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City

Enrollment: 6,529

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,661

Average Net Cost: $4,575

Median Earnings: $34,400

Oregon

Oregon school graduates on average earn less than $30,000 a year 10 years after graduation, which isn’t the best payoff when schools cost around $13,800 a year on average.

Of course, if you’re a “Goonies” fanboy like me, it might be worth it to be able to daytrip to where they filmed the movie in Astoria.

Oregon Institute of Technology

Enrollment: 3,443

Admission Rate: 71.4%

In-State Tuition: $8,548

Average Net Cost: $13,809

Median Earnings: $50,100

Clackamas Community College

Enrollment: 7,355

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,133

Average Net Cost: $4,246

Median Earnings: $33,800

Pennsylvania

College students study in a solarium
In-state tuition at Penn State Abington is $13,608 a year. Photo Courtesy of Penn State Abington.

Ah, Pennsylvania, the state where you have to go to a government-run liquor store for your Natural Light. OK, so maybe this isn’t the best state for partiers.

And unfortunately, the state as a whole ranks in the bottom 10% in terms of bang for your buck. This is largely driven by lower than average salaries after college.

Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Abington

Enrollment: 3,231

Admission Rate: 77.7%

In-State Tuition: $13,608

Average Net Cost: $13,276

Median Earnings: $47,500

Northampton County Area Community College (Now Northampton Community College)

Enrollment: 10,114

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,690

Average Net Cost: $6,052

Median Earnings: $32,500

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is small. So it’s no surprise that there are only 22 universities in the state.

But nearly half of all of them are traditional four-year universities — including pricy private colleges like Brown University and Providence College. So if you’re looking for affordability or for a more technical career route, you may want to look in another part of the country.

Rhode Island College

Enrollment: 7,253

Admission Rate: 69.2%

In-State Tuition: $7,602

Average Net Cost: $9,938

Median Earnings: $39,600

Community College of Rhode Island

Enrollment: 16,856

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,950

Average Net Cost: $6,552

Median Earnings: $29,100

South Carolina

Carillon Garden on Clemson University's campus
Median earnings for Clemson University alumni 10 years after graduation are $49,400. sbrogan/Getty Images.

Of all the southern states besides Florida (if you’d even consider that the South), South Carolina has the lowest average bang-for-your-buck ratio across schools. With an average net cost of more than $15,000 but earnings of less than $28,000 10 years after graduation, South Carolinians might want to consider out-of-state options for the best tuition value.

Clemson University

Enrollment: 16,801

Admission Rate: 57.9%

In-State Tuition: $13,054

Average Net Cost: $12,377

Median Earnings: $49,400

Trident Technical College

Enrollment: 15,747

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,822

Average Net Cost: $6,433

Median Earnings: $29,100

South Dakota

In South Dakota, where traditional four-year schools outnumber community colleges and trade schools, you’ll get more value out of most colleges than half the country. And with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. — 2.6% — you’ll also get a boost in economic opportunity if you stay in the region after you graduate.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Enrollment: 2,194

Admission Rate: 86.1%

In-State Tuition: $10,040

Average Net Cost: $16,443

Median Earnings: $52,300

Mitchell Technical Institute

Enrollment: 1,136

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,296

Average Net Cost: $11,327

Median Earnings: $38,000

Tennessee

Tennessee has twice the number of trade schools and community colleges as four-year universities, which makes sense given the state’s reliance on the manufacturing industry (compared with other states.)

But when you single out bachelor’s-degree institutions, Tennessee’s bang for your buck is well below the national average.

The University of Tennessee at Martin

Enrollment: 6,554

Admission Rate: 76.7%

In-State Tuition: $7,507

Average Net Cost: $6,933

Median Earnings: $34,800

Nashville State Community College

Enrollment: 8,349

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,561

Average Net Cost: $6,316

Median Earnings: $30,100

Texas

Texas is a great choice if you’re going to school purely for the college football atmosphere. But it doesn’t deliver the tuition value of other states. It ended up in the bottom 15 states in our bang-for-your-buck analysis.

However, because it’s a big state, Texas has plenty of worthwhile college choices. As in other large states, the best value can be found at satellite campuses of major universities.

The University of Texas at El Paso

Enrollment: 19,527

Admission Rate: 99.8%

In-State Tuition: $7,255

Average Net Cost: $7,586

Median Earnings: $39,800

South Texas College

Enrollment: 18,034

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,246

Average Net Cost: $1,357

Median Earnings: $29,100

Utah

Utah was just about the biggest surprise. In past stories, we’ve found Utah super affordable and filled with plenty of job opportunities. But when it comes to universities, the state just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the U.S.

With average earnings at $29,700 and annual tuition at $16,000, Utah came in third to last on our bang-for-your-buck list. But as you’ll see below, there are some hidden gems around the Great Salt Lake.

Utah Valley University

Enrollment: 24,243

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $5,086

Average Net Cost: $9,642

Median Earnings: $43,500

Salt Lake Community College

Enrollment: 24,494

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,342

Average Net Cost: $7,169

Median Earnings: $36,200

Vermont

UVM Fall Campus
With a total enrollment of 9,970 students, University of Vermont admits 77.6% of applicants. Sally McCay/The University of Vermont

On average, it costs about $21,400 each year to attend college in Vermont. And while earnings after graduation, roughly $35,000, are pretty high, they don’t justify the cost and knock Vermont down to sixth-from-last on our bang-for-your-buck list.

University of Vermont

Enrollment: 9,970

Admission Rate: 77.6%

In-State Tuition: $15,718

Average Net Cost: $14,876

Median Earnings: $44,000

Community College of Vermont

Enrollment: 4,401

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,668

Average Net Cost: $10,159

Median Earnings: $25,400

Virginia

There are some really great schools in Virginia, and the state comes in at No. 16 in average earnings after graduation. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the priciest places to attend college, knocking it way down on our list of the best bang-for-your-buck college states.

George Mason University

Enrollment: 31,324

Admission Rate: 62%

In-State Tuition: $9,908

Average Net Cost: $18,305

Median Earnings: $57,000

John Tyler Community College

Enrollment: 6,402

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,970

Average Net Cost: $6,594

Median Earnings: $25,400

Washington

In-state students get a good value at University of Washington. Photo courtesy of University of Washington

Washington comes in at No. 5 in our state-by-state analysis of the best places for tuition value. This state also has the fifth highest average admission rate, which means you’ve got a better chance of ending up at the school of your choice.

One thing to know about Washington: It also has the highest premium for out-of-state students, so you may want to reconsider jumping states to go to college here.

University of Washington

Enrollment: 28,754

Admission Rate: 55.2%

In-State Tuition: $12,397

Average Net Cost: $11,904

Median Earnings: $52,100

Seattle Community College-North Campus (Now North Seattle College)

Enrollment: 2,752

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $3,861

Average Net Cost: $2,864

Median Earnings: $34,500

West Virginia

 

West Virginia has the third lowest average net cost for a year of tuition — $9,645 — but comes in at No. 19 on our state-by-state list of college value. That’s because median earnings 10 years after college are middling compared with the rest of the country.

 

West Virginia University

Enrollment: 22,130

Admission Rate: 85.1%

In-State Tuition: $6,456

Average Net Cost: $10,449

Median Earnings: $43,900

 

West Virginia University at Parkersburg (Not affiliated with West Virginia University)

Enrollment: 2,043

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,712

Average Net Cost: $7,323

Median Earnings: $29,200

 

Wisconsin

 

Wisconsin has nearly 50 technical, trade and certificate schools that train students for high-paying jobs after graduation. A push by the U.S. Department of Labor to encourage apprenticeships and a looming infrastructure crisis combine to give that education plenty of value — even though in bang for your buck, it’s about in the middle of the pack.

 

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Enrollment: 10,438

Admission Rate: 84.7%

In-State Tuition: $7,578

Average Net Cost: $13,183

Median Earnings: $41,200

 

Fox Valley Technical College

Enrollment: 7,027

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $4,152

Average Net Cost: $8,118

Median Earnings: $35,200

 

Wyoming

 

Wyoming is last on this list, but certainly not least when it comes to college value. Although it has the fewest number of colleges we used in this analysis — 11 — all of the schools deliver a great bang for your buck.

 

Wyoming came in second to Alaska in the state analysis of the best tuition value and No. 1 in average net price.

 

University of Wyoming

Enrollment: 9,969

Admission Rate: 95.7%

In-State Tuition: $4,404

Average Net Cost: $11,292

Median Earnings: $46,200

 

Casper College

Enrollment: 2,771

Admission Rate: N/A

In-State Tuition: $2,448

Average Net Cost: $3,316

Median Earnings: $32,900

 

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. Go ‘Noles!

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