Click HERE to download the list as a PDF
We’re talking about college admissions here. Even if everyone could potentially be accepted by Harvard, Harvard has only a limited number of seats available so 99.something percentage are going to be rejected. Yet, the fact is that most students wouldn’t meet Harvard admissions requirements (which is not to say they wouldn’t be able succeed at Harvard). Therefore, if doesn’t matter if Harvard has the best financial aid that would significantly lower the cost of attendance since most students can’t get in!
Consider Consumers Reports car rankings. They don’t compare luxury cars with mid-range sedans. It doesn’t matter to the reader if the luxury car may or may not be the best car on the market. Readers want to know which is the best car among those they can afford.
The same is true of colleges. Students and families want to know which are the most affordable among those that are likely to accept the student. The reality is that there are plenty of students who aren’t in the top 10% of their class who would like to go to college as well. Imagine that!
So I thought I would make an attempt at ranking the cheapest or most affordable or best value colleges by acceptance rates. First thing to know is that in no way can this be considered statistically valid. Basically, I’m just trying to create groups based on acceptance rates and then find the cheapest college. My groups aren’t the same size since there are only 149 schools that accept less than 50% of students out of 1,243 4-year colleges with at least 500 full-time undergraduates. If I wanted to keep groups roughly equal in terms of size, I would have some really wide ranges, say under 50%, and some really small ones like 72-74%. Not very useful.
I can’t really argue that mine are more useful. The ten percent intervals I had to resort to at the upper end probably doesn’t represent significant differences between the group before and after. But like I said it’s a start. And it’s really not difficult for people to create their own groups of schools by acceptance rates using a spreadsheet.
There are some other factors to consider when using my groups. I eliminated all colleges that offered four-year degrees but are considered predominately community colleges. The groups also do not include special focus institutions such as art schools or health professions. I did keep the engineering and business schools since they have more options (in my opinion) which I think would appeal to a wider audience. I also excluded the obvious gimmees like the military academies.
There are several ways to compare the costs of college (see 5 Reasons why College Costs will Leave you Dazed and Confused.) The first is to simply look at the sticker price. Even though plenty of people, myself included, argue that’s not the best way to compare costs, I think there is worth in doing so. The simple fact is that there will always be people who know that they are going to pay the full total cost of attendance sticker price. For these comparisons I use the out-of-state costs for public institutions.
The second way and the one I generally recommend using is average net price as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The average net price is the average price undergraduates pay after deducting all gift aid. This is a good indicator of a school’s financial aid generosity, especially among private schools. However, since average net price applies only to students paying in-state rates at public institutions, it’s really not meaningful for out-of-state students.
Because of the differences between public and private institutions, I created separate lists for each. I have 7 acceptance categories and listed the 3 most affordable schools in each. These are the acceptance rates categories: 1-20%; 21-40%; 41-60%; 61-70%; 71-80%; 81-90%; 91% and up.
Using the Total Cost of Attendance for comparison, Mississippi has the most bargain schools based on sticker price with six on the list. North Carolina is second with five and Kentucky and North Carolina tie with three each. Overall, the colleges with the lowest sticker price can be found in 26 states. The private colleges are in 18 states while the public are in only 11.
When you use the average net price for ranking the cheapest colleges, the number of states drops to just 19. Only Mississippi and North Carolina still remain on the list from the top three states ranked by sticker price. Based on average net price, New York has the most affordable schools with 8. California ranks second with 7 and Arkansas and Florida tie for third with 3 each. The private schools are located in 17 states while the public are limited to just 9 states.
Five of the private schools that ranked on the Total Cost List also made it onto the cheapest colleges by acceptance rates Average Net Price list. Among public schools, six schools appear on both the Total Cost List and the Average Net Price list. One thing that stands out about the schools on the list is the number of Historically Black Universities that rank in the top three. There are eight HBUs on the list, six private and two public.
The cheapest colleges by acceptance rates on the list range in size from just over 500 full-time graduates to over 31,000. As usual, most of the colleges on the list are on the smaller size since most colleges in general are smaller. A total of 23 were 5,000 or fewer students, with 21 being under 2,500. Twelve are over 10,000 and only seven fall in the Goldilocks’ range between 5,000 and 10,000.
Given the school sizes, it’s not surprising that Doctoral Universities was the smallest group with just 17 schools. Eight are private and nine are public. The rest of the schools on the cheapest college list were almost evenly split between Baccalaureate Colleges with 28 schools and Master’s Colleges & Universities with 26 schools. Only 7 of the Baccalaureate Colleges are classified as Liberal Arts Colleges. A total of 16 of the Master’s Colleges & Universities are listed as Larger Programs.
The graduation rates for the colleges that made the list have four-year graduation rates as low as 5% to a high of 87%. Of the 71 schools, 53 had graduation rates less than 50%. It’s not easy to say if the graduation rates on the list are generally higher or lower than those in the acceptance group as a whole. Some are higher than the group average, others are lower. Given that I’m not going for statistical reliability here, I leave it to the user to make more detailed comparisons.
The following table lists the top three colleges ranked as the cheapest in its acceptance group category. Click HERE to download list with school size and graduation rates.
|Cheapest by Total Price||Cheapest by Average Net Price|
|Name||Total Price||Name||Net Price|
|St. Andrews University||$49,100||Columbia University||$12,411|
|Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art||$68,708||Harvard University||$13,910|
|Rice University||$71,745||Stanford University||$14,402|
|Alice Lloyd College||$28,120||Berea College||$3,354|
|College of the Ozarks||$31,456||Lyon College||$10,537|
|College of Saint Mary||$33,726||College of the Ozarks||$12,611|
|Brigham Young University||$20,146||Tougaloo College||$8,037|
|Tougaloo College||$23,101||William Carey University||$11,676|
|Allen University||$24,234||Huston-Tillotson University||$11,846|
|Goldey-Beacom College||$25,750||Hendrix College||$9,968|
|Shaw University||$29,734||Agnes Scott College||$13,420|
|Williams Baptist University||$31,390||Williams Baptist University||$14,571|
|Edward Waters University||$27,164||Oakland City University||$11,760|
|Stillman College||$28,052||Holy Family University||$11,935|
|Louisiana College||$28,540||Edward Waters University||$13,228|
|Brigham Young University-Hawaii||$21,867||Benedict College||$11,701|
|University of the Cumberlands||$24,884||Fairleigh Dickinson University-Metropolitan Campus||$12,305|
|Benedict College||$30,000||Saint Xavier University||$13,419|
|91% and up|
|Brigham Young University-Idaho||$12,880||Le Moyne-Owen College||$6,003|
|Le Moyne-Owen College||$20,176||Brigham Young University-Idaho||$6,327|
|Unity College||$25,320||Bethune-Cookman University||$11,717|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||$50,914||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$11,508|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$52,633||University of California-Los Angeles||$13,393|
|University of California-Los Angeles||$66,051||Georgia Institute of Technology||$17,360|
|Eastern New Mexico University||$21,950||San Diego State University||$6,867|
|Alcorn State University||$23,812||Eastern New Mexico University||$7,002|
|The University of Montana-Western||$29,994||University of Florida||$9,809|
|Central State University||$22,442||CUNY Lehman College||$3,220|
|University of Minnesota-Crookston||$25,086||CUNY Bernard M Baruch College||$3,793|
|Chicago State University||$26,179||CUNY Hunter College||$4,586|
|Kentucky State University||$21,858||CUNY City College||$4,213|
|Mayville State University||$23,811||CUNY Queens College||$4,777|
|Jackson State University||$26,326||Kentucky State University||$7,492|
|Elizabeth City State University||$18,425||Elizabeth City State University||$4,085|
|Mississippi Valley State University||$21,260||Farmingdale State College||$6,007|
|Bemidji State University||$22,856||SUNY College at Old Westbury||$6,979|
|Minot State University||$19,806||California State University-Dominguez Hills||$4,500|
|Valley City State University||$24,790||Indiana University-Southeast||$6,344|
|University of Akron Main Campus||$25,824||University of North Texas at Dallas||$6,575|
|91% and up|
|University of North Carolina at Pembroke||$20,915||California State University-Los Angeles||$2,695|
|Mississippi University for Women||$21,679||California State University-San Bernardino||$3,254|
|Delta State University||$21,774||California State University-Monterey Bay||$6,085|
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