If they haven’t already done a little homework, the families of college-bound seniors are rapidly discovering how much it’s going to cost to send their children across state lines to attend public institutions.
“Do you know how much more it’s going to cost us to send ‘Joey’ to the University of Michigan instead of Virginia Tech?” asks a Virginia-based family sorting through the various offers their son received.
Yes. And the price difference hasn’t changed substantially in the past year when their son began the process of applying to his dream school in Ann Arbor.
A little late in the game, these parents are figuring out they’ll be working ten more years and sacrificing retirement for their son to go to Michigan. And he’s upset and disappointed to see all he’s worked for suddenly taken off the table because it’s “just too expensive” or “not worth” an additional $130,000 or more over four years for him to leave state.
Despite repeated requests for families to look carefully at cost before launching an all-out admissions campaign, this question or one similar comes up every single year from Virginia families grappling with the final decision of which school makes the most sense from a financial perspective.
And although Virginia offers really good college deals to residents, comparable questions are being asked in other sections of the country as families consider the bottom line cost of a college education outside their home state.
But taking a step back, it’s really interesting to see how quickly the in-state/out-of-state differential has grown.
Within recent memory, top-ranked public institutions discovered that out-of-state (including international) students potentially represent a serious source of revenue for budgets suffering from relentless reductions in state appropriations. They coined the title “public ivy” and began setting prices to match—some more aggressively than others.
According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing, the average published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose by 3.4 percent last year or from $23,107 in 2014-15 to $23,893 in 2015-16. Average total charges (including room and board) came to $34,031.
Compare this with the published tuition and fees for in-state students, which increased from $9,145 to $9,410. Including room and board, the average in-state student could expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $19,548.
And differences across states can be really significant.
In 2015-16, the published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions ranged from a little over $6,000 in North Dakota or Nebraska to north of $40,000 in Michigan and Virginia.
Not surprisingly, tuition rates for out-of-state students at “name” public institutions continue to go through the roof as schools probe exactly how much the market will bear.
For example, in 2001, the University of Texas at Austin charged nonresidents $10,445. In 2015-16, these students paid $34,836—way more than three times as much. At the same time, rival Texas A&M went from $10,052 to $28,021, for out-of-state students—a slightly more modest increase.
During this period, Clemson went from $11,284 to $32,800, and the Citadel increased from $10,402 to $33,440. Always a costly option, the University of Vermont went from $20,705 for nonresidents in 2001 to $39,130 in 2016. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill increased out-of-state tuition from $11,934 to $33,673, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville went from $11,320 to $30,626.
On the west coast, the University of Washington increased to $34,143 from $13,257, while in the south, Georgia Tech rose to $32,396 from $12,350.
State college systems are definitely looking for out-of-state (and international) students, both to help balance budgets but also to make up for declining populations of students graduating from high schools within their borders.
And colleges love to brag about how many states are represented on their campuses.
But just because you represent a little “geographic” diversity for the most expensive schools, don’t expect to receive much in the way of financial aid. Most merit aid goes to support other more pressing interests.
So do your research before assuming that a public institution is automatically less expensive than a neighboring private college or university. You may be surprised to find that between reasonable tuition and generous financial aid, the private option looks pretty attractive.
For the record, the following are 25 residential public institutions where out-of-state students paid the most tuition (based on data collected by the College Board and compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education) in 2015-16:
- University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: $43,476 ($54,030 including room and board)
- University of Virginia: $43,082 ($53,482)
- College of William and Mary: $40,516 ($51,494)
- Virginia Military Institute: $39,550 ($48,216)
- University of California at Irvine: $39,458 ($52,405)
- University of Vermont: $39,130 ($50,310)
- University of California at Davis: $38,659 ($53,176)
- University of California at Santa Barbara: $38,573 ($52,765)
- University of California at San Diego: $38,265 ($50,336)
- University of California at Riverside: $38,235 ($53,935)
- University of California at Berkeley: $38,139 ($53,701)
- University of California at Merced: $37,913 ($53,559)
- University of California at Santa Cruz: $36,582 ($51,312)
- Michigan State University: $36,360 ($45,934)
- University of California at Los Angeles: $35,631 ($49,083)
- University of Connecticut: $34,908 ($47,082)
- University of Texas at Austin: $34,836 ($46,292)
- Colorado School of Mines: $34,828 ($45,836)
- University of Washington at Tacoma: $34,209 ($45,042)
- University of Washington: $34,143 ($45,453)
- University of Colorado at Boulder: $34,125 ($47,319)
- University of Washington at Bothell: $34,062 ($44,895)
- Indiana University at Bloomington: $33,741 ($43,536)
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: $33,673 ($44,575)
- The Citadel: $33,440 ($39,821)