Let me start by saying you never know how much a college is actually going to cost until you get the college’s financial aid award. That’s when you really know if a college is affordable. But there are indicators that some colleges are more likely to be affordable than others. Knowing these indicators mean that you can make sure you apply to colleges more likely to meet your financial needs. That doesn’t guarantee they will because we are talking averages here. But it does improve your chances.
As I’ve mentioned before, not all 50-50 colleges are necessarily affordable. In this post, I’m going to go over some of the indicators to pay attention to when looking for affordable public universities. As I go through this information, keep in mind it only applies to those who qualify for in-state tuition. Some may be great values for out-of-state students, but that’s not include in the data I’m using here.
Start with Average Net Price
When looking for affordable public universities, the first thing to pay attention to is average net price. This is the average price students pay after gift aid. I look for public schools with an average net price of less than $15,000. This could be because students are receiving large amounts of gift aid or because the sticker price is actually pretty low. In either case, it means students are paying less to attend.
Of the 165 public 50-50 colleges, 79 had an average net price of less than $15,000. This is probably a good enough indicator of an affordable public university to get most people started. However, there are a few other indicators to pay attention to depending on your financial situation.
If you are looking for colleges that meet financial need, take a closer look at the average net price for lowest income category, family income of $30,000 or less. If you see an average over $10,000, chances are you’ll be “gapped” for financial aid.
On the list below, 17 of the schools had averages below $7,500 for this category. Basically, this means the students in the low-income category could probably pay for college with a federal student loan and a part-time job.
What About Average Percentage of Need Met?
Why not just look at the average percentage of need met for freshman when searching for affordable public universities? Because this information is reported through the Common Data Set and isn’t readily available from all schools. Furthermore, the definition allows colleges to include subsidized loans as part of meeting need.
Another problem with the definition is that it is essentially based on taking the total amount of financial aid provided and divided by the total amount of calculated need for all students. The amount of need is going to vary according to a school’s total cost of attendance.
Of the 17 schools with the lowest average net price for those in the lowest income category, the average percentage of need met ranged from 71% to 91%. If you look at all six 50-50 colleges that met 71% of need (if the information is available), you’ll see the average net price ranged from $9,5050 to $18,215. For families in the lowest income is was $7,108 to $10,566.
How About Merit Aid?
For families looking for merit aid, they should consider the percentage of freshman receiving institutional aid. Institutional aid includes both need-based and merit-based aid. However, it is still a very useful indicator since the higher the percentage, the less likely only students with need are receiving institutional aid.
The average for public schools is around 45% which is much lower than the 85% for private schools. Yet, this makes sense since public schools charge a lot less so fewer student require need-based aid. When over 75% of freshman at public universities are receiving institutional aid, it’s very likely a significant number are getting merit-based scholarships.
This doesn’t mean that those will lower percentages aren’t offering merit aid. For example, only 46% of freshman at University of Maryland-Baltimore County are receiving institutional aid. However, if you look at the Common Data Set, you’ll see that 21% of freshman without need receive merit awards. This may be part of the reason why the average net price for the lowest income category is over $10,000 and only 21% of freshman are receiving Pell Grants.
The fact is that each schools decides how much of its money to allocate to need-based and merit-based aid. Therefore, a school great for merit-aid may not be such a great deal if you’re looking for need-based aid. You can find both on following list of affordable universities. It contains 62 best bets for financial aid for public schools on the 50-50 list. As usual, the five-year graduation rates is used for public schools. (Create your own list using the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.)
Best Bets for Affordable Public 50-50 Universities