The 25 Cheapest Universities: Are They a Bargain?

Last Updated Jul 7, 2011 6:15 PM EDT

Here is the final installment in a series on the nation's most expensive and cheapest colleges.
The Nation's 25 Most Expensive Colleges and Universities
25 Colleges With the Highest Hidden Price Tags
It's the name brand schools that hog the headlines when those yearly lists of the most expensive schools hit the press. But what about the schools that are priced cheaper than a 1999 Honda Civic?

There are plenty of schools that, on the surface, look like bargains. Take, for instance, California State University - Los Angeles, which educates close to 16,000 undergrads. When you deduct grants (free money) that students at this urban school typically receive, Cal State LA's net price was recently just $3,263.

According to federal statistics on net prices, Cal State Los Angeles is the nation's sixth cheapest public university among the 50 states. A sister campus in Los Angeles County -- Cal State Dominguez Hills -- costs even less.

Are these schools, however, really inexpensive? Before you decide, here are the 25 cheapest schools, based on net prices, among all four-year state universities in the United States.

25 Cheapest State Universities and Colleges

  1. Sitting Bull College, ND $938
  2. South Texas College $1,317
  3. University of Texas-Pan American $1,646
  4. Indian River State College $2,138
  5. California State University-Dominguez Hills $2,451
  6. California State University-Los Angeles $3,263
  7. Elizabeth City State University, NC $3,335
  8. Palm Beach State College, FL $3,490
  9. Haskell Indian Nations University, KS $4,302
  10. CUNY Lehman College, NY $4,335
  11. Louisiana State University-Shreveport $4,364
  12. Chipola College, FL $4,568
  13. CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice, NY $4,568
  14. Texas A&M International University $4,594
  15. Bellevue College, WA $4,749
  16. Middle Georgia College $4,809
  17. Oglala Lakota College, SD $4,871
  18. California State University-Fullerton $4,874
  19. University of Louisiana at Lafayette $5,042
  20. University of Hawaii-West Oahu $5,201
  21. University of Texas at El Paso $5,224
  22. Dalton State College, GA $5,309
  23. Oklahoma Panhandle State University $5,434
  24. College of Coastal Georgia $5,449
  25. Midland College, TX $5,471

Are These Schools a Bargain?

While the tuition is low at these 25 schools, the price is deceiving. Why? Because most of the students aren't graduating in four years.

The six-year graduation rate, for example, for students who started as full-time freshmen at Cal State LA is only 34%. I pulled that number off the school's profile on the federal College Navigator, which is a great resource for evaluating universities. The four-year grad rate at this school is 8.8% You can find the four-year grad rates for any college or university at College Results Online.

Over at Cal State Dominguez Hill, the six-year grad rate is 35% while it's four-year rate is a shocking 4.9%!

These schools attract a large percentage of poor students. At Cal State LA, 62% receive federal Pell Grants, which are aimed at low-income students. That should not be an excuse, however, for state universities to produce such miserable graduation rates.

Bottom Line:
The longer students stay in school, the more expensive the price. But there's also a hidden cost to the cheapest schools. If you can't graduate, you are postponing the time when you can start on your career. And that's a huge price to pay.

Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:

Why America's Most Expensive Colleges Could Hurt Your Wallet
Where Professors Send Their Children to College
25 Private Colleges With the Best Graduation Rates
Here's the Nation's Easiest College Major
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Cal State Fullerton by leedybot. CC 2.0.

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