Looking to get a good bachelor's degree at an affordable price?
Where you live might have a lot to do with the quality of the choices you have.
The 2020 MoneyRates.com study of best states for college students found some stark differences in the collegiate environment from state to state. Here are some examples of the contrasts:
- The annual cost of a bachelor's degree program in North Dakota is less than half what it is in each of the 11 most-expensive states.
- Only one in four college students in Nevada completes a bachelor's degree within six years, while 22 states have six-year graduation rates of 50% or better.
- College students in Nevada are also more than twice as likely as those in Connecticut and Massachusetts to leave or change schools.
- The ratio of students to teachers - which can determine how much individual attention a student can get - is an average of 14 across all states, but in Arizona it is much worse at an average of 19 students per teacher.
What this means is that, depending on where you live, it may pay to look beyond your home state when considering colleges. A broader range of choices could help you find the best path toward a marketable degree without being overwhelmed by debt when you graduate.
Ranking the Best States for College Students
To help would-be college students and their parents direct their choices, MoneyRates.com ranked each of the 50 states based on five factors relevant to the affordability and effectiveness of college programs:
- Average cost
Since the idea is for students to be open-minded about where they look for the right college, the study looked at total costs for both in-state and out-of-state students living on campus.
- Retention rate
It's a bad sign if a lot of students are dropping out or transferring. Average retention rates show how good a job schools in different states do at holding on to their students.
- Student-to-faculty ratio
Do you hope to have individual interaction with your college teachers, or are you content to be one of dozens of students sitting in a large lecture hall? The student-to-faculty ratio can give you a sense of which type of college experience you'd have in store.
- 6-year graduation rate
Many students need more than the traditional four years to get a bachelor's degree; but if the process drags on too long, the costs start mounting up and the chances of completing the degree fade. The higher the 6-year graduation rate, the more students in that state are having a successful college experience.
- Breadth of choice
Even though some states may have generally better college conditions than others, the decision still comes down to choosing a particular school. Students have a range of very different interests, career goals and visions of what kind of college experience they want. The more choices a state offers, the better chance a student has of finding the right fit.
Big picture, the rankings in this study could help point you toward states where you may have a good chance of finding the right college.
The other takeaway from this study should be to suggest what information you should research when considering any particular college.
The Best States for College Students
The goal of this study was to select the ten best states for college students. However, due to a three-way tie for tenth place, the list is expanded to a full dozen.
How to Afford College: Meeting the Challenge
As you can see by the cost figures mentioned above, even in the less expensive states, paying for college is a big challenge. Here are some tips to help you meet that challenge.
1. Get an early start on a 529 college savings plan
Obviously, it's easier to save if you can spread the saving out over more years by starting early. In addition, starting early helps because the primary tax advantage of a 529 college saving plan is that it allows you to grow your college savings tax-free.
The earlier you start, the more years of tax-free growth potential your savings will have.
2. Learn which degrees employers value
Since college is expensive, it's important not to waste any time pursuing the wrong degree program.
Colleges may advertise programs that sound relevant to a given field, but those degrees are not necessarily the qualifications employers demand. Check out the job market for the career you want before you start college, so you can spend your time and money pursuing the right degree.
3. Compare choices
Costs can vary greatly, so try to identify more than one college that offers the kind of education you want. Being able to compare multiple choices gives you more of a chance at finding a cost-effective solution.
4. Research financial aid
The so called "sticker price" charged by colleges tells only part of the story. Financial aid can go a long way toward making college affordable. Talk to the financial aid office of any college you are considering to see what kind of help they are able to offer.
5. Focus on graduation rates
The investment in college is largely wasted if you don't get a degree. Be wary of college programs with low graduation rates.
Where you decide to attend college makes a big difference. Both the state and the particular school matters, but so does asking the right questions to put yourself on course to earning a worthwhile degree.
Overall Ranking of Best States for College Students
|Overall Rank||State||Average |
|Price Rank||Retention Rank||Student-To-Faculty Rank||Graduation Rate Rank||Number Of 4-Year Institutions||Choice Rank|