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Policy & Advocacy

How much do in-state students pay in tuition and fees to attend four-year public universities?

Graphic with college costsPublished in-state tuition and fees at public four-year universities averaged $10,940 during the 2022-23 school year, compared with $39,400 at four-year, private nonprofit universities. These prices rarely reflect the actual cost students pay. 

On average, in-state students at public four-year institutions paid just $2,250 in tuition and fees during the 2021-22 academic year, compared with $14,630 at four-year, private nonprofit universities. This cost, known as average net price, reflects the actual cost of tuition after scholarships, grants, and tax benefits have been taken into consideration.

Graphic of Pell enrollment at public universitiesFinancial aid can reduce out-of-pocket costs to attend most universities. A full-time student at a public four-year institution received an average of $8,690 in grant aid and tax benefits during the 2022-23 school year. Grant aid includes federal programs like Pell Grants and veteran’s benefits, as well as state and institutional grants and scholarships.

An Investment, In perspective

While public universities continue to provide the most affordable path to a quality higher education and the associated benefits, steep cuts in state funding have pressured public institutions to increase tuition in order to make up some of the loses in state funding. Graduates begin reaping those benefits soon after completing their degrees and they continue to accrue over their lifetime. According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, investing in stocks has yielded an annual return of 7 percent since 1950 and the return for a college degree today is about 15 percent. In fact, median lifetime earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients are 65 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma. 

While public universities continue to provide the most affordable way to receive a quality higher education to help realize these benefits, steep cuts in state funding in past recessions have pressured public institutions to make up some of their lost funding through tuition increases in recent decades. On an inflation-adjusted basis, appropriations per full-time student remain nearly 15 percent lower than they were in 2001.

Image of net priceImage of college enrollment by sector