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July 06, 2010 12:27 PM Public and Pricey

By Paul Craft

In March, the College Guide pointed out that California’s in-state tuition now consumes 13 percent of the Golden State’s Median Family Income (MFI), a figure that reveals California’s famously democratic education ethos - the University of California founding Charter states, “tuition shall be free to all residents of the State” — to be not quite as democratic as it used to be.

But it turns out California is just about average.

According to Washington Monthly calculations, shown in the table below, in-state public university tuition nationwide (which averages out to just above $8,000 a year) takes up 13 percent of the national median family income of $75,356 per year. In other words, an American family of four can expect to spend $13 out of every $100 they earn on college.

Pennsylvanians can expect to pay 19 out of every $100 on tuition, the most in our survey. Penn State in University Park has the greatest in-state tuition of any major public university in the United States. This is a full 6 percent more family income than neighboring Ohioans at Ohio State.

Many flagship Southern schools are bad tuition deals, as well. With the notable exceptions of Florida and North Carolina, Southern universities’ tuition rates eat up a larger-than-average portion of residents’ family incomes: University of South Carolina, University of Georgia, University of Alabama, University of Mississippi, Louisiana State, University of Kentucky, and University of Arkansas cost more than the national average.

This trend is not surprising in light of the Southern states’ low income averages. Southern schools’ tuition rates are not exceptionally high; rather, their residents are exceptionally poor. In contrast, Massachusetts has an exceptionally expensive tuition rate (it is 2nd most expensive) that is offset by the state’s exceptionally large family incomes (3rd highest family incomes). In the end, Bay State residents don’t pay much more of their income than Southern families.

But Southern schools can take heart: (relative) poverty is not destiny. Florida and North Carolina both have low median family incomes and affordable tuition rates.

In fact, residents of North Carolina have probably the best deal of all. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is not only a “Public Ivy,” it’s among the ten cheapest schools on our list. University of Michigan - located in a state hardly known for its robust economy - is also a great deal for in-state students.

It is worth noting that UNC is not dependent on rich out-of-state students to compensate for a low in-state tuition rate. Only 18 percent of UNC undergraduates come from out-of-state. University of Mississippi is 35 percent out of state and University of Alabama are both 21 percent out-of-state. (The University of Vermont, incidentally, draws some 61 percent of its undergraduate population from outside of the state.)

Finally, New Yorkers also have a good deal. Students attending campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system cost their families just under $5,000 a year. Annual SUNY tuition takes up only 6 percent of the state’s median family income. Another old and respected public university system - the UC system — costs the median family much more.

The chart below reflects tuition rates for full-time, credit-maximizing, in-state undergraduates. The Federal government calculates the median family income for a family of four.

CHART.JPG

Paul Craft is an intern at the Washington Monthly.

Comments

  • Bobbie on October 04, 2010 7:32 PM:

    Paul

    Good data here. I wonder if your information is a summary of a longer report. If so, additional information is needed to truly understand your data.

    Glad you provided the Median Family Income percent necessary to pay for college. It would be helpful to know whether this is a percentage for the first year of college.

    What year does this data represent? I know for the current 2010-2011 school year, the tuition only is $10,
    386. Perhaps this report was based on 2009 tuition?

    Please let us know.