Students can pay anywhere from $0 to more than $1,500 per college credit hour, according to the latest analysis from Student Loan Hero researchers. But whether students actually pay the higher range depends on the amount of grant aid they receive, which can lower their student loan debt.
Researchers calculated how much a credit hour costs at various institution types, from community colleges to four-year private schools. Here’s what was learned.
- The average cost of a credit hour at a four-year private, nonprofit college is $1,586 — highest among any institution type examined. This is based on average published tuition and fees and assumes a 12 credit hour course load per semester. However, this figure falls by nearly $1,000 a credit hour to $625 after incorporating average grant aid.
- Students looking for the lowest per-credit-hour costs should consider community colleges or trade schools. An in-district student attending a two-year public school would pay an average of $158 per credit hour, but that plummets to $0 after factoring in grant aid.
- Wyoming offers the lowest average in-state per-credit-hour costs, while South Dakota offers the lowest average out-of-state per-credit-hour costs. The biggest difference between in-state and out-of-state costs is in Montana — $303 per credit hour versus $1,116, or 3.7 times.
- In-state students at one of the nation’s 50 flagship universities pay an average of $865 per credit hour less than out-of-state students. Out-of-state students at these universities pay an average of $1,372 per credit hour — 2.7 times more than the $507 average among in-state students.
- Among these flagship schools, the largest difference in per-credit-hour costs for in-state and out-of-state students is at the University of Florida. At the Gainesville campus, out-of-state students pay an average of $1,194 per credit hour — 4.5 times that of the in-state cost of $266 a credit hour.
College credit hour costs vary greatly by institution type
Students attending area community colleges or public, in-state schools pay less than half per credit hour, on average, than their out-of-state and private school counterparts.
Based on published tuition and fees, the average cost of a college credit hour is:
- $158 for students at two-year public, in-district schools
- $448 for students at four-year public, in-state colleges
- $1,148 for students at four-year public, out-of-state colleges
- $1,586 for students at four-year private, nonprofit colleges
The differences grow once average grant aid is considered, but more on that soon.
Costs per credit hour spike when including room and board
Our per-credit-hour costs above don’t account for room and board, which is housing and meal plans for students. These costs can vary depending on whether you live on or off campus.
When accounting for room and board, the average cost of a credit hour can more than triple:
- $547 for students at two-year public, in-district schools
- $945 for students at four-year public, in-state colleges
- $1,646 for students at four-year public, out-of-state colleges
- $2,154 for students at four-year private, nonprofit colleges
What students really end up paying per credit hour
When you include average grant aid, here’s what you could pay per credit hour at the following types of universities:
- $0 at two-year public, in-district schools
- $110 at four-year public colleges
- $625 at four-year private, nonprofit colleges
Full-time students at public community colleges and trade schools receive enough federal, state and local aid, on average, to cover their tuition and fees, making the cost of a credit hour virtually zero. This isn’t taking room and board and other out-of-pocket expenses into account, but attending a local college while living at home could be an option to save money.
Keep in mind:
- The amount of government aid you’ll receive depends on your household’s income and whether you filed as a dependent.
- Tuition costs posted on a college website are rarely the same as what students pay. Depending on the college, you may be able to break down your costs further.
Wide variations seen in in-state, out-of-state per-credit-hour costs
At the state level, Wyoming has the lowest average in-state per-credit-hour costs at $254, followed by Florida ($265) and Montana ($303). South Dakota has the lowest average out-of-state per-credit-hour costs at $535, followed by North Dakota ($594) and Louisiana ($831).
The biggest difference between the two is in Montana — 3.7 times. The average cost of a college credit hour at an out-of-state school is at least three times higher than at an in-state one in 11 states:
- North Carolina
Here’s a closer look at the state data, with the order based on the lowest in-state costs per credit hour:
|Cost of credit hour by state (in state vs. out of state)|
|State||In-state cost of credit hour||Out-of-state cost of credit hour||Difference|
|Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of College Board data|
Where differences stand out among flagship universities
When you break down the numbers at the state flagship universities across the U.S., the difference between the average in-state and out-of-state cost of a credit hour (based on average published tuition and fees) is $865 — $507 versus $1,372.
The out-of-state cost of a credit hour is 4.5 times as high as the in-state cost at the University of Florida — the greatest difference among the flagship universities. Beyond that, out-of-state tuition is at least 3.5 times as high at the:
- University of Maryland, College Park
- University of Montana
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of Texas at Austin
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
Here’s a full look, with the rankings based on the lowest in-state costs per credit hour:
|Cost of credit hour by flagship institution (in state vs. out of state)|
|Flagship institution||In-state cost of credit hour||Out-of-state cost of credit hour||Difference|
|University of Wyoming||$254||$860||3.4|
|University of Florida||$266||$1,194||4.5|
|University of Montana||$312||$1,187||3.8|
|University of Idaho||$348||$1,149||3.3|
|University of New Mexico||$355||$1,052||3.0|
|University of Nevada, Reno||$358||$1,028||2.9|
|University of Mississippi||$372||$1,074||2.9|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$377||$1,538||4.1|
|University of Alaska Fairbanks||$378||$1,114||2.9|
|West Virginia University||$381||$1,076||2.8|
|University of South Dakota||$393||$539||1.4|
|University of Arkansas||$399||$1,100||2.8|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln||$400||$1,113||2.8|
|University of Utah||$409||$1,308||3.2|
|University of Iowa||$414||$1,330||3.2|
|University of North Dakota||$442||$627||1.4|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||$449||$1,610||3.6|
|University of Alabama||$449||$1,260||2.8|
|University at Buffalo (New York)||$449||$1,196||2.7|
|University of Texas at Austin||$453||$1,610||3.6|
|University of Maryland, College Park||$457||$1,610||3.5|
|University of Missouri||$463||$1,269||2.7|
|University of Kansas||$465||$1,168||2.5|
|Indiana University Bloomington||$472||$1,598||3.4|
|Ohio State University||$498||$1,459||2.9|
|University of Maine||$500||$1,400||2.8|
|University of Oklahoma||$500||$1,159||2.3|
|University of Georgia||$503||$1,297||2.6|
|University of Washington||$503||$1,663||3.3|
|University of Hawaii at Manoa||$508||$1,426||2.8|
|University of Colorado Boulder||$521||$1,597||3.1|
|University of Kentucky||$525||$1,317||2.5|
|University of South Carolina||$529||$1,414||2.7|
|University of Arizona||$529||$1,550||2.9|
|University of Tennessee, Knoxville||$553||$1,320||2.4|
|University of California, Berkeley||$593||$1,833||3.1|
|University of Oregon||$601||$1,686||2.8|
|University of Delaware||$626||$1,522||2.4|
|University of Rhode Island||$639||$1,390||2.2|
|University of Minnesota Twin Cities||$640||$1,415||2.2|
|Rutgers University (New Jersey)||$658||$1,375||2.1|
|University of Michigan||$674||$2,218||3.3|
|University of Massachusetts Amherst||$685||$1,540||2.2|
|University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign||$703||$1,430||2.0|
|University of Virginia||$725||$2,164||3.0|
|University of Connecticut||$772||$1,728||2.2|
|Pennsylvania State University||$788||$1,520||1.9|
|University of New Hampshire||$790||$1,550||2.0|
|University of Vermont||$792||$1,829||2.3|
|Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of College Board data|
Considering the various types of higher education? Here are some tips
- Public community colleges and trade schools are an economical option with the least expensive cost per credit hour. Students could consider taking the first half of their credit hours at a community college to save money, then transfer to a four-year institution. Certain states, including Delaware, Nevada and New York, offer scholarships and grants to cover the cost of community college tuition for those who qualify.
- Four-year private colleges come at a premium, but grants can be a dominant source of aid. To ensure you’re not missing out on opportunities, complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and any other forms required by your state or institution. Some grants will rely on those forms, but others have various other requirements, including grade transcripts and personal statements.
- Four-year public, in-state colleges can also offer unique options. You can look into reciprocity agreements like the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the Midwest Student Exchange Program to see if you can receive a tuition reduction.
- If you need to take out student loans, first look at federal student loans. These loans, which are funded by the federal government, offer several repayment plans and the option of loan forgiveness if you work in public service. If that won’t cover the cost of college for you, private student loans from a lender can bridge the gap. Our Student Loan Payment Calculator can help borrowers figure out how much they’ll owe monthly.
Student Loan Hero analysts assumed students took 12 credit hours twice a year (two semesters), totaling 24 credits a year. (Colleges generally require students to take at least 12 credit hours a semester to qualify as full time to receive financial aid.) Researchers then divided different pricing and aid data by 24 for a per-credit-hour level.
Researchers calculated college credit hour costs using College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2021 report.