The prospect of paying for school is daunting when tuition for a year of college might cost nearly as much as the average new car. Fortunately, you can avoid drowning in student loan debt and still attend a good college by doing your research before enrolling.
To help you find the top colleges that cost $10,000 or less per year, GOBankingRates analyzed 2018-19 tuition fees, graduation rates and retention rates for dozens of colleges across America. If you’re interested in quality education for cheap — whether it’s for your child or to further your own schooling — take a look at the best colleges in the U.S. with affordable price tags.
20. South Dakota State University
- Tuition cost: $7,440
Accredited Schools Online ranked South Dakota State University as the No. 1 online college in South Dakota for 2018-19. However, South Dakota State University offers a retention rate of 79 percent, which is in the bottom five on this list, as well as the lowest graduation rate at 55 percent.
19. CUNY Queens College
- Tuition cost: $8,704
Although this school in the City University of New York system also has the lowest graduation rate on GOBankingRates’ list at 55 percent, Queens College tied for No. 14 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 college rankings of top public schools in the North.
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18. California State University, Northridge
- Tuition cost: $6,574
California State University, Northridge has the third-lowest retention rate compared to other schools on GOBankingRates’ list, but CSUN ranks among the top 25 public schools in the West, according to U.S. News & World Report.
17. California State University, Fresno
- Tuition cost: $6,177
California State University, Fresno is located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range — within an hour’s drive of multiple lake resorts — and boasts a central location between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The retention rate at Fresno State is 79 percent, whereas the graduation rate is 59 percent.
16. Oklahoma State University
- Tuition cost: $9,018
Though Oklahoma State University is a far cry from the most expensive colleges in America, it charges the second-most expensive tuition out of all the schools on this list. Students can choose from over 400 organizations or the university’s popular Greek life for extracurricular activities.
15. Arizona State University, West Campus
- Tuition cost: $8,692
The West Campus at Arizona State University graduates 62 percent of its students and retains 86 percent of them. It’s one of the top three colleges for education, psychology and political science in the Grand Canyon State, according to Niche.
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14. Berea College
- Tuition cost: $2,862
Berea College doesn’t offer the highest graduation or retention rates compared to other schools, but tuition is an absolute steal at less than $3,000 a year — it’s the cheapest sticker price on GOBankingRates’ list of the best colleges that cost $10,000 or less.
13. California State University, Fullerton
- Tuition cost: $8,170
California State University, Fullerton is located in the heart of Orange County in California, which means students can visit the beach to unwind or find internships in nearby Los Angeles to get a jump-start on their careers. CSUF has a graduation rate of 63 percent as well as a retention rate of 89 percent.
12. Fort Hays State University
- Tuition cost: $5,132.70
At 71 percent, Fort Hays State University faces the lowest retention rate out of all the colleges on GOBankingRates’ list. However, 95 percent of graduates from the 2014-15 academic year enrolled in advanced study or found a job by February 2016, according to the university’s website.
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11. CUNY Baruch College
- Tuition cost: $6,730
With a graduation rate of 68 percent and a retention rate of 91 percent, Baruch College lands among U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 undergraduate teaching programs in the North in its 2019 ranking, meaning that the school is committed to fostering undergraduate education instead of graduate-level research.
10. California State University, Long Beach
- Tuition cost: $5,742
California State University, Long Beach is well-regarded in California for its top-ranked campus, student life, athletics and more, according to Niche. CSULB successfully graduates its students at a rate of 71 percent, and the school’s retention rate is 90 percent.
9. US Merchant Marine Academy
- Tuition cost: $3,342
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy offers not only the second-cheapest tuition costs at less than $3,500 a year but also the third-highest retention rate on GOBankingRates’ list at 93 percent.
8. University of Washington Tacoma
- Tuition cost: $8,539
The University of Washington Tacoma has the second-lowest retention rate on this list at 76 percent, but it’s one of the top colleges in the U.S. for information technology, according to Niche. If you’re interested in that field, the University of Washington Tacoma might be a good fit.
7. North Carolina State University
- Tuition cost: $9,100.60
Although you can still attend the school for well under $20,000 a year, North Carolina State University charges the most expensive tuition of all the colleges on GOBankingRates’ list. Three-quarters of its students successfully graduate, and the retention rate is 93 percent.
6. University of Washington Bothell
- Tuition cost: $8,940
The University of Washington Bothell has the third most expensive tuition costs on this list, but it’s still one of the top five value colleges in Washington, according to Niche. As a bonus, UW Bothell ranks No. 3 in diversity among colleges in the Evergreen State.
5. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
- Tuition cost: $4,432
With the third-cheapest tuition costs on GOBankingRates’ list, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley possesses a graduation rate of 78 percent and a retention rate of 84 percent. This school secured the No. 12 spot on Niche’s 2019 ranking of the top public universities in Texas.
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4. SUNY Binghamton University
- Tuition cost: $6,870
Binghamton University, which is part of the State University of New York system, ranks No. 2 for accounting and finance as well as No. 3 for nursing among the best colleges in New York, according to Niche.
3. James Madison University
- Tuition cost: $7,250
According to U.S. News & World Report, James Madison University ranks No. 6 among universities in the South as well as No. 7 for best undergraduate teaching. Its students successfully graduate at a rate of 82 percent, and the retention rate is 91 percent.
2. University of Florida
- Tuition cost: $6,380
The University of Florida has bragging rights to the highest retention rate on GOBankingRates’ list at an astonishing 97 percent. It also claims the second-highest graduation rate at 87 percent.
1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Tuition cost: $8,910
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reigns with the highest graduation rate on this list at 90 percent. Its retention rate of 96 percent is also the second highest, which is the cherry on top of bargain tuition costs.
Click through to discover the starting salary out of the 30 best colleges.
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- From Elementary to College — Average Cost of Education in Every State
- States That Spend the Most and Least on Education
- Watch: Is College Tuition Worth the Cost?
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Methodology: GOBankingRates found the best colleges in the U.S. that cost under $10,000 a year by examining 2018-19 tuition data from several college databases. Tuition only covers the cost of schooling for in-state students, and does not account for housing, food and textbook costs. Forty-five colleges with tuition costs of $10,000 or less were observed for this study. The colleges were ranked by graduation rate, sourced from College Factual, and retention rates were included for reference. Graduation rates are based on graduations that occur within six years of any given student beginning college, which is standard for reporting, and retention rates are based on students who continue their education beyond freshman year of college. Graduation and retention data is from 2017.
About the Author
Grace joined the GOBankingRates team in 2017 with an editorial background in print journalism and magazines. Prior to editing and writing for GOBankingRates, Grace pitched books and movies from Renaissance Literary & Talent, a literary agency and management firm representing clients such as the estate of Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Goldie Hawn and Heidi Murkoff of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series.