The weight of student loan debt in the U.S. has become a genuine crisis—millions of Americans now cumulatively owe $1.75 trillion in student debt as of 2022, an amount second only to mortgage debt in terms of individual indebtedness. And the debt crisis is only one issue impacting prospective college students; the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on college enrollment, with over a million fewer students deciding to attend school since the pandemic began in 2020. The rising cost of college, combined with economic and physical hardship brought on by the pandemic, has contributed to a growing belief that college is not worth the cost.
And yet, the worth of a college degree in the workplace continues to grow, as college education becomes less financially attainable. In a phenomenon known as degree inflation, employers are increasingly seeking employees who hold four-year degrees, even for roles that have never required that level of education. In a world where a college degree is a potential path to financial success, but the degree itself comes at such a high cost, what's a student to do?
In some countries, such as Poland and Denmark, getting an affordable (virtually free) public education is within reach of all citizens and residents of other EU nations. In the United States, the cost of public school depends on state residency. Some public universities have remained relatively affordable options for both in-state residents and out-of-state students. Others, however, have become more expensive on both fronts, or have had to hike up out-of-state tuition costs to keep in-state prices low. Here, Stacker has ranked the 50 best public universities in the country in order, from most to least expensive.
To compile this list, Stacker scoured data from Niche, a site that reviews and ranks schools according to factors like acceptance rates, the average student loan amount, diversity, quality of professors, and more. In 2022, the weight of ACT/SAT scores was reduced, as colleges put less emphasis on test scores as part of the admissions process.
This list comprises Niche's 50 top public colleges of 2022, and has been ranked in terms of the average cost per year after financial aid for students receiving grants or scholarship aid, as reported by the college.
Read on to find out which entirely free university will leave more money in the bank, and which pricey school still has some of the happiest students in the country, as well as which affordable university held an honorary graduation in space.
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