Affordable colleges: a new tool for cost comparison

Affordable colleges might be easier to track down now with a new online tool out from the US Department of Education, which compares the cost of attending different kinds of institutions. We put together a list of the most and least expensive 4-year or longer institutions, in three categories: public institutions, not-for-profit institutions, and for-profit institutions. Prices are based on the "net cost" of each, which is the average price after grants or scholarship aid is subtracted from the total cost of attendance. Often, the average net cost is quite different from an institution's listed tuition. The numbers here are based on costs for the 2008-2009 academic year.

1. Private, not-for-profit institutions

Damian Dovarganes / AP File
Lizzie Eggart, a Master of Fine Arts technical direction student, works on her Egg Babies, light robot part of the KarmetiK Machine Orchestra robotic orchestra, Wednesday, May 11, 2011, for an upcoming concert at the Walt Disney Modular Theatre in the California Institute of the Arts campus in Valencia, Calif. The institution has the No. 5 highest net cost of private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions in the country on a list from the Education Department that can help people find affordable colleges.

Average: $19,009

Lowest: Talmudical Academy, Adelphia, N.J. – $469

Highest: Art Center College of Design, Pasedena, Calif. – $39,672

The top of the list of institutions with the lowest net cost is dominated by small, religious institutions. The cheapest one, Talmudical Academy, is a rabbinical college that offers just a bachelors degree. Its student population is tiny: 63 students. Next on the list is Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, in Jacksonville, Texas, which costs $1,876. The rural Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt, N.D., costs $2,031, and Southeastern Baptist College in Laurel, Miss., costs $2,699.

The most expensive 4-year private, not-for-profit institutions tend to be art and music schools (six of the Top 10 are). The Art Center College of Design has the highest average cost for students, but the price of attending actually dropped by about two percentage points from the 2009-2010 academic year to the 2010-2011 year. The other institutions with the highest net costs are The New School in New York City, which has a net cost of $39,004, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which costs $38,965, The Boston Conservatory, which costs $37,798, and California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif., which costs $36,997.

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