The 10 Cheapest (Most Affordable) Colleges in the US

Look, there’s no getting around it. College is expensive. Every day on the news, we hear another story about how the cost of tuition is rising, about how students are taking on debt. 

On one hand, there’s nothing surprising about the high cost of education. To create experts in the field, universities and colleges need to be able to attract top-notch faculty, need to have state-of-the-art educational resources, and they need to pay for cutting-edge research projects. None of that comes cheap, and it’s often the student who has to pay for it. 

But there’s an important fact that too often gets lost in these conversations. 

While we don’t always realize it, the fact is that a great education does not need to break the bank. If you look closely, if you skip over the schools that are most famous for their athletic programs (and maybe less known for their academic achievements), you’ll find plenty of schools that offer an excellent education for a fraction of the cost. 

Today, we are looking at the top 10 cheapest (most affordable) colleges in the US, as reported by These schools are not only affordable, but pack a fantastic education as well. 

Here are 10 amazing, affordable schools.

10. Elizabeth City State University (Elizabeth, NC)

Elizabeth City State University
Nyttend, Lane Hall, ECSU, marked as public domain

A public HBCU, Elizabeth City State University has been teaching students since 1891. Over the years, ECSU has grown from a two-year Normal School to a full-fledged university, complete with 28 undergraduate programs and four graduate programs. 

Observing publications praise ECSU for its accessibility, including high marks from the respected U.S. News & World Report. The magazine puts ECSU at 7th place for top public schools, 17th place in top performers for social mobility, and 22nd place for HBCUs in the United States. The Military Times gives ECSU special commendation for its accommodations for former military members, naming it one of the best schools in the Southwest for veterans. 

These rankings demonstrate ECSU’s success in meeting its goals. According to the school’s mission statement, ECSU exists to advance its students and the community’s social, environmental, and economic status. Following the liberal arts tradition, the school uses technology and student-focused teaching to reach all types of learners and help them participate in university life.  

Nothing demonstrates this commitment to bringing in students like ECSU’s summer sessions. Not only do these classes provide professional and personal development opportunities to students, but they let undergraduates and graduates get a head start on their studies. 

Likewise, ECSU’s distance learning program gives students a chance to continue their studies at a flexible schedule and at their own pace. Students can take online classes in subjects such as business administration, criminal justice, homeland security, and more. 

All of those benefits come at an extremely affordable price. In-state students pay $500 per semester, while out-of-state students pay $2,500 per semester per graduate course. Graduate students in-state pay $1,687.72 per class, while out-of-state students pay $8,218.56 per graduate course. 

9. Henry Ford College (Dearborn, MI)

Henry Ford College
Dwight Burdette, Henry Ford Community College Technology Building, CC BY 3.0

Located in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Henry Ford College (HFC) is an excellent two-year college. The school offers pre-requisite courses for those who want to transfer to a four-year school, as well as associate’s degrees or certificate programs in fine arts, STEM studies, and liberal arts. Additionally, HFC has bachelor’s degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality. 

To reach the most students possible, HFC has a robust distance learning program. Over 100 online courses are available to students, as well as numerous hybrid courses. This approach makes it easier for students to access HFC teaching, even if they cannot come to campus or meet on a regular schedule. 

As these attributes make clear, HFC strives to make education accessible and practical. Partnering with local businesses to determine their workforce needs, the School of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development provides industrial skill training. Those who go through the program leave with the skills to immediately take high-ranking industrial jobs. These programs run the gamut from single courses focused on one unique skill to a complete and comprehensive curriculum. 

In addition to generic material for any industrial trade, the school also offers curricula specifically designed according to business needs. Over 40 industrial trade classifications are available through the school, all created in partnership with major companies in the field. 

For those looking to extend their personal and professional learning, HFC has the Center for Lifelong Learning. Non-credit courses offered through the Center help students look for personal enrichment and satisfaction without enrolling in a degree program. 

These benefits come at the low cost of $5,020/year for in-state students and $6,940/year for out-of-state students. Additionally, HFC has several aid programs, which bring the average yearly in-state tuition to $3,299 each year. 

8. Alpena Community College (Alpena, MI)

Located on a 700-acre campus in the small Northern Michigan town of Alpena, Alpena Community College gives students a quality community college education at the low price of $3,183/year for in-state students. With the school’s ample aid programs, that price can drop even lower. 

ACC offers everything one would want from a modern community college. Students can earn a two-year associate’s degree in all major subjects, including the arts and STEM fields. Additionally, one-year certificate programs in thirteen subjects are available through ACC. 

ACC further collaborates with local businesses, other community colleges in Michigan, and six universities to design unique classes intended to fill holes in the workforce. Topics covered in these courses cover everything from accounting and leadership development to safety training and welding. 

Of particular interest is the Michigan Builders Pre-licensing Online Course, a 60-hour online course to prepare builders for the State of Michigan Licensed Builders Examination.

These programs are just some of the unique offerings at ACC. Working to prepare artists to manage their own careers and finances, the school’s art director’s program trains students to make and present their designs. Through this program, future art directors learn how to create websites, draft articles, and publish material in newspapers and digital spaces. 

ACC works in coordination with major universities in the state to help students transfer to a four-year school to finish their degree. This close collaboration allows ACC to offer specialized programs one usually does not find in a community college. 

The associate’s degree in science psychology focuses on mathematics and biological studies to prepare students to study psychological phenomena at a four-year institution. The AS in pre-medicine gives students the mathematics and science base to transfer to a four-year pre-med program. 

As these examples indicate, ACC provides an excellent education for a reasonable price. 

7. Lorain County Community College (Elyria, OH)

Lorain County Community College has a long history of innovation, beginning with its distinction of being the first Ohio community college with an established campus. 

Since its founding in 1963, LCCC has continued this commitment to growing, winning significant awards such as the 2018 Award of Excellence in Student Success from the American Association of Community Colleges and the 2020 Austin Award from Achieving the Dream. 

These awards stem from LCCC’s continuing focus on developing and experimenting. Before LCC, no Ohio community college afforded an applied bachelor’s degree in micro-electrical mechanical systems, which prepares students for paid internships. 

On a national level, LCCC was the first community college, and the second college in the U.S., to have a fabrication lab on its campus. Thanks to a collaboration with MIT, the fabrication lab now sits in LCC’s Campana Center for Ideation and Invention, which gives students access to cutting-edge digital and additive manufacturing labs.

LCCC’s unique approach also extends beyond its science programs. Its humanities division has an artist-in-residence program that would rival those of any four-year institution. 

Members include poet and memoirist Bruce Weigl, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013 and a Lannan Literary Award winner in 2006, as well as composer Jeffery Mumford, who previously served as composer-in-residence at the National Gallery of Art. 

In addition to these on-campus resources, LCCC serves its students with a robust distance learning department. Not only can students take a wide range of courses that fit around their schedules, but LCCC provides full support to these online students. In particular, LCCC’s eTutoring service helps online students improve their study habits. 

Although LCCC has attributes to rival those of any four-year institution, it remains one of the most affordable community colleges in the U.S. For in-state students, tuition is only $4,140/year; with aid, that comes to an average of $3,161/year. 

6. Gulf Coast State College (Panama City, FL)

Gulf Coast State College
Royalbroil, Gulf Coast State College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1957, Gulf Coast State College in Panama, Florida exists to enhance the educational opportunities for students while improving the cultural and economic well-being of the local community. 

To this end, GCSC puts students first, collaborating with local businesses, organizations, and educational institutions to create students who will go on to be excellent learners and employees. 

The evidence of GCSC’s success can be found in numerous ways, but the best might be its acclaimed alumni. 

Former students include professional athletes such as Daniel Davidson, Tony Dawson, and Vontrell Jamison, as well as politician Jimmy Patronis and stuntman/actor Michael Papajohn. 

The school prides itself on its services for veterans and current military members, with numerous programs to help students take advantage of their military education benefits. In addition to Military and Veteran Services offices on campus, GCSC gives veterans and service members early registration status and support while completing paperwork. 

It’s no wonder that GCSC has received accolades from organizations such as Military Friendly® School and Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges. 

For those looking for a more cultured experience, GCSC features a full artistic program. 

At the Amelia Center Gallery, students can visit art exhibitions and attend lectures from faculty members and visiting artists. On the Amelia G. Tapper Center’s main stage, students and community members get to see everything from Black Box performances to large-scale musicals. 

Additionally, the stage hosts performances from Gulf Coast’s music groups, the Concert Chorale, the Singing Commodores, and the Instrumental Ensemble.

With these unique offerings, one would expect to pay the expensive tuition typical to four-year schools. But with aid and support offered through the school, in-state students can attend for only $3,128/year.

5. Chipola College (Marianna, FL)

Even more than their teachers and their student body, modern colleges are defined by their resources. The campus and buildings in which students live and learn are just as important as the material itself. That’s a truism that Florida’s Chipola College understands and the reason that they recently opened a $16 million center for the arts, complete with two theaters to host performances. 

A community college within the Florida College System, Chipola College is a public institution that combines the best of two-year and four-year schools. Not only can you earn a bachelor’s degree in several subjects at Chipola, including business and nursing, but you can also earn associate’s degrees and certifications. All of this for $3,099/year for in-state students!

Like many of the schools on this list, Chipola partners with businesses around Marianna for its Workplace Development program. These ten programs help future employees quickly and affordably gain the skills and knowledge they need to advance their careers or get new jobs. Subjects cover everything from building construction technology to cosmetology to firefighting. 

But the school’s greatest claim to fame is its athletic program. A member of the Panhandle Conference of the Florida State College Activities Association, Chipola has field teams in baseball, basketball, cross country, and cheerleading.  

Of these, the men’s and women’s basketball programs have enjoyed the most success. The men’s basketball team has won nine state championships, more than any other junior-college program in Florida. The women’s team has won multiple titles and earned several #1 rankings in their league. 

Unsurprisingly, the school’s most famous alumni are athletes. Professional baseball players José Bautista, Patrick Corbin, Adam Duvall, and Russell Martin all graduated from the school. Former students who played in the NBA include Chris Porter, Walker Russell Jr., and Chanan Colman. 

4. Palm Beach State College (Lake Worth, FL)

Palm Beach State College
Aaron Kirey, Palm Beach State College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Another institution of the Florida College System takes our number four spot, Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth. Although it too is a community college, FBSC does the work of major institutions, enrolling 49,000 students into more than 100 programs. 

These programs include not only the standard associate’s degrees, certificates, and continuing education courses, but also a bachelor’s degree in supervision and management. 

FBSC has been building and growing since its founding as a junior college in 1933. While the school’s original college building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the school currently boasts a large and modern campus. The main grounds are 114 acres and feature 51 buildings.  

It’s because of these top-notch resources that PBSC can be a leader and innovator. The school recently became one of nine institutions, and the only one in Florida, to participate in a national project to study inequalities in online education

Thanks to a $10 million award from the Department of Education, PBSC and its partner institutions will develop a center to increase accessibility for all students. 

PBSC has equal success on a student level, as proven by the continuing win streak by the school’s teams in EMS competitions. Since the founding of the “First There, First Care” conference in 2004, student teams from PBSC have placed, often taking first place. 

These successes are just the latest in a long line of student achievements from PBSC. The school’s alumni include actors Burt Reynolds and Deidre Hall, and star athletes such as Jesper Parnevik and Yolanda Griffith. 

With these amazing attributes, one would expect to pay top dollar to attend Palm Beach State College. But Florida residents will have to pay only $3,064 every year. In fact, many students will pay even less after qualifying for one of the school’s many financial aid packages. 

3. Sitting Bull College (Fort Yates, ND)

Every student attending Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota receives an excellent education for a mere $3,069 every year. The school was founded in 1973 on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, eventually becoming a land-grant college in 1994. 

But for the 20 SBC students who win the Indigenous Educator Preparation Program (IEEP) each year, tuition drops to nothing. 

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the IEEP program helps members of Indigenous groups become teachers, helping pay for their education and supporting them as they are placed into schools. 

Ten students receive tuition credits and money for books and supplies, while another ten receive all of those benefits along with an $1800 stipend each month and dependent care support. 

Even those who do not participate in the IEEP have plenty of excellent programs to learn their trade. The school’s welding program recently gained national acclaim for its efforts to expand the field and gain new practitioners. Likewise, the Native American studies program instills in students an appreciation for Lakota and Dakota culture, which they develop as they gain knowledge of their people’s government, philosophy, culture, and more. 

As these aspects demonstrate, SBC is deeply concerned with improving its community. To that end, the school recently received a five-year $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Dept of Education to support the teaching and study of Native American languages. SBC will use this money to continue its work in the Dakota/Lakota immersion school it operates. 

These initiatives are part of Sitting Bull College’s mission to build intellectual capital in its student body, following Lakota/Dakota values as they promote academic and technical education. 

2. South Texas College (McAllen, TX)

South Texas College
Talltexan2, STCbuildingU4a, CC BY-SA 4.0

All institutions of higher learning exist to increase the intellectual and academic abilities of their student body. But at South Texas College, a community college located in McAllen, Texas, that goal also includes bringing new students into academia. 

60% of the over 28,000 students who attend STC are the first in their families to attend college, and all Texas residents pay only $1,610 a year. 

In the three short decades since the school was founded in 1993, STC has become the first and only community college in Texas to feature five BA programs (technology management, medical & health services management, organizational leadership, computer & information technologies, nursing), along with its 127 degree and certificate programs. 

One of the most critical parts of STC is its dual credit program, one of the largest in Texas and a model for schools across the country. 

In the dual credit program, high school students in 21 districts can take college and technical courses before going to school, saving millions of money in tuition. Since its beginning in 2000, the dual credit program has reached over 118,000 students. 

Although STC strives to meet the needs of high school students, it also works for the good of non-traditional students out of high school. Students looking to do their pre-requisites at STC benefit from the school’s articulation agreements with four-year colleges across the country, ensuring a smooth transition and easy credit transfers. 

Likewise, lifelong learners who want to increase their knowledge and abilities, without enrolling in a full degree program, can take advantage of the school’s continuing education and workforce improvement offerings. Of particular note is the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, a unique training program created in cooperation with employers who need customized training. The Institute features advanced facilities intended to give participants specialized experience in manufacturing, logistics, cold storage, and other elements of the industry. 

1. Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, FL)

$588 a year. 

That’s all that Florida residents need to pay to attend Indian River State College, a junior college located in Fort Pierce. Named one of the best American community colleges by the Aspen Institute, IRSC gives students a thorough education, without putting them in debt. 

This low price point is all part of IRSC’s larger goals, which include providing open access to all community members and supporting its student’s educational and personal growth. 

With its unique approach to education, IRSC gives students a unique learning experience, complete with educational programs that serve the needs of the students, whether they plan to continue their studies or advance in the workplace. 

That experience includes providing a safe place for diversity and cultural enrichment, all for a reasonable cost to students. 

The school’s success in achieving these goals has earned it several important awards. 

In July 2021, IRSC was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to support its YouthBuild program. 

Through YouthBuild, at-risk youth aged 16 to 24 gain the skills, education, and understanding to find jobs in the construction industry, as well as related positions. Only five other institutions in Florida received similar funding. 

Established programs at IRSC have had similar success. This year, the school’s respiratory care program received the President’s Award for Excellence in Credentialing Success Award from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, the governing body in the field. The award speaks to the program’s ability to create professionals with all of the knowledge they need to succeed. 

With such remarkable support, it is no surprise that IRSC has an impressive group of graduates. Numerous Olympians went to the school, including swimmer Sion Brinn, baseball player Rob Cordermans, and Gordown Touw Ngie Tjouw. 

Florida House of Representatives member Ralph Poppell attended Indian River, as did University of Mississippi baseball coach Mike Bianco.

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