41 Most Expensive Public Colleges for Low-Income Students

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MIchelle Kretzschmar

hands holding pennies with note saying college fund representing most expensive public colleges for low income students


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Most low income students shouldn’t count on financial aid to pay completely for college. The number of colleges in the country that meet 100% of financial need is less than 100. Out of over 1,500 four-year institutions with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, only around 5% will meet 100% of financial need. And these are some of the most competitive colleges in the country.
Ideally, students’ state public universities should be an affordable option for all students. After all, isn’t education supposed to be the great equalizer no matter your origins?

Some public universities are more expensive than other

Unfortunately, the reality is very different depending on what state you live in. Some states do a better job of providing low cost options to low-income students than others. This can be done through lower tuition in general, state need-based financial aid, or financial aid directly from the  university. With at least 30 public universities having a total cost of attendance over $30,000, financial aid for low-income students is just as necessary at public institutions as at private.
If you look at the average net price for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less, you can see that some schools do a much better job providing financial aid than others. Average net price is the average price students pay after gift aid is deducted. This includes federal Pell Grants, any state grants, and any money from the institution that does not have to be repaid. What is left, the average net price, it what the student will have to pay for directly or through loans and work study.
In 2014-15, the average net price for students in the lowest income category was $17,975 for private schools and $9,726 for public schools. Among public universities, the average by state ranged from $6,666 in Washington to $15,005 in New Hampshire. A total of 23 states had averages over $10,000. Obviously, low-income students will find public colleges more affordable in some states than in others.

Public Universities where low income students pay at least half of their family income

The table below lists the 41 public institutions where the average net price for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less is over $15,000. Pennsylvania dominates the list with 14 schools. Alabama, New Hampshire, and Ohio tie for a distant second with three each.
Not surprisingly, these schools tend to have a lot of students taking out loans beyond federal Direct Loans. At 23 of the schools, 10% or more of the undergraduates had PLUS loans where the average for public schools is just over 6%. At 19 of the schools, 10% or more of freshman had non-federal loans compared to the average of 4.7%.
The interesting thing is that the percentage of low-income students attending these schools varies significantly based on Pell Grant recipients. The percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants ranged from a low of 13% to a high of 84%. You can understand why a school inundated with low-income students would struggle to meet financial need. But why is the average net price for the lowest income category over $20,000 when only 13% of freshman are receiving Pell Grants?

Most Expensive Public Colleges for Low-Income Students










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