December 27, 2011

How does Tuition Cost for Public Universities Compare by State?

I wanted an idea of how the cost of in state resident tuition at public universities varies from state to state.  I looked up the cost of tuition and fees for resident undergrads for sample public universities in each state.  For each state I ONLY looked at the University Of [State].   So that means : University of Alabama, University of Alaska, University of Arizona, etc.   Every state tends to have several public colleges and universities and other state public universities may cost significantly more or less.   For example I know in California that UC Berkeley is pricey compared to Cal State Fresno.  The goal was just to get an idea of how public university tuition varies from state to state.   Since I'm only looking at one school per state its possible that that school is not very representative of tuition rates in that states public schools in general.

Here is the list for annual tuition and fee cost totals for resident in state undergrad students:

University of :  Tuition/Fee
Alabama $8,600
Alaska, Anchorage $5,294
Arizona $9,286
Arkansas $7,174
California, Berkeley $12,843
Colorado $9,152
Connecticut $8,256
Delaware $10,670
Florida $5,700
Georgia $9,472
Hawaii $9,100
Idaho $5,856
Illinois $14,414
Indiana $9,524
Iowa $8,057
Kansas $9,222
Kentucky $10,134
Louisiana $4,864
Maine $10,588
Maryland $8,655
Massachusetts, Amherst $12,612
Michigan $12,634
Minnesota $13,060
Mississippi $5,790
Missouri $8,500
Montana $5,775
Nebraska $7,648
Nevada $6,175
New Hampshire $15,250
New Jersey $12,755
New Mexico $5,656
SUNY $6,600
N. Carolina $8,646
N. Dakota $7,092
Ohio State $9,711
Oklahoma $8,324
Oregon $8,883
Penn State $15,124
Rhode Island $12,658
S. Carolina $10,168
S. Dakota $7,689
Tennessee $8,396
Texas, Austin $10,214
Utah $6,088
Vermont $14,754
Virginia $11,794
Washington $10,346
West Virginia $5,674
Wisconsin, Madison $9,672
Wyoming $4,125

As you can see the cost of tuition varies a lot from state to state.
For the list above we get :

median $8,992
maximum $15,250
minimum $4,125
average $9,173

New Hampshire was the most expensive at $15,250 and Wyoming was the cheapest at $4,125.   As you can see there there can be a significant difference in tuition costs from one state to the next.    There is over $11,000 difference spread between states in the listed schools.

60% of the schools on the list charge between $6,000 and $12,000 and the median is almost $9,000.    Thats still a pretty wide distribution.    One Third of schools in the middle charge between $8,000 and $10,000.

Cost versus Quality

This brings me to another question... Does the cost of a public university correlate to the quality of the education you get?    I am going to use the US News list of Top Public Schools as my measure of quality.  (maybe not a perfect measure but good enough for this purpose)

Note that the cost ranks are out of 50 and the quality ranks are out of 111 total.  So the cost and quality ranks are different scales.

Here is a list of the 10 most expensive  public universities from the above list and how they rank as far as quality:

school cost quality
New Hampshire 1 46
Penn State 2 13
Vermont 3 36
Illinois 4 13
Minnesota 5 25
California, Berkeley 6 1
New Jersey, Rutgers 7 25
Rhode Island 8 85
Michigan 9 4
Massachusetts, Amherst 10 42

So these are the 20% most expensive schools.  If cost = quality then you'd assume they'd be in the top 20% of quality as well.   
Half of the schools (highlighted in green) were in the top 20% of the US News rankings.  Those schools followed the correlation between cost and quality.    But thats only half of the top 10.   Four of the schools were in the middle quality.   Rhode Island was closer to the bottom of the US News rankings at #85 even though it was the 8th most expensive public school in my list.

And here is the list of the 12 least expensive public universities out of my list:

school cost quality
Wyoming 50 81
Louisiana 49 --
Alaska, Anchorage 48 --
New Mexico 47 100
West Virginia 46 89
Florida 45 19
Montana 44 111
Mississippi 43 73
Idaho 42 85
Utah 41 59
Nevada 40 100
SUNY        39 54

University of Louisiana and Alaska, Anchorage weren't in the US News ranking list so I'm listing 12 schools and I'll look at the 10 least expensive that were in the US News rankings.

Four of the schools were in the bottom 20% of rankings. Five schools were in the middle.   One school, University of Florida was in the top 20% of quality ranking but was the 6th least expensive school in my list.

While there is some correlation between the tuition rate at public schools and their rankings this isn't dependable at all.   Its just as likely that an expensive or cheap school will be in middle quality rankings.   Its less likely that the most expensive school will be low ranking or the least expensive school will be high ranking but there are examples of each with Rhode Island and Florida respectively.

Note : This analysis is NOT particularly scientific..   I just arbitrarily picked the "University of" schools instead of the "[statename] State University" or other public universities.   I'm also not looking at the typical amount of financial aid at each school which would impact the actual cost to students.   The sticker price and net tuition paid may vary greatly from state to state.


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