Our Methodology

Learn how we pinpointed the most affordable colleges across the country.

How we run the numbers

State Rankings

Find the most affordable colleges in each state, and learn about specific ways each state offers to save money on your education.

Online Rankings

Looking for distance education so you can work and live where you want while you study? See the top not-for-profit online learning options in each state.

Subject Rankings

Find affordable colleges and universities leading the way in producing graduates across a variety of subject areas.

Our Definition of Affordability

Our analysis is designed to find schools that are affordable not only for the average student, but for lower-income students as well.

Our High Standards

There’s a strict cutoff (score-wise) for schools to be displayed at all. We want to focus attention on the very best options from an affordability standpoint – not just sort a list of 2,000 schools by price and call them all "affordable." Many of our lists (broken down by state and subject area) are short. Some states have no ranked schools at all.

Our Data

We focus not only on the financial cost of colleges, but on the opportunity cost: we look at what happens to students once they're enrolled. Do they graduate? Can they pay back their loans? In addition, we did extensive research to determine the level of flexibility each school gives you as far as earning credits (credit for prior learning, weekends/evenings, online education, etc.). We shed light on emerging new models like Competency-Based Education that may help you reduce the cost of your degree.

A Word About Rankings

One thing to keep in mind about rankings in general is that they’re only one piece of the puzzle.

The problem for you, the prospective student, is that there are over 7,500 institutions of higher learning in the US that are eligible for federal Title IV student loans. Of those, over 5,000 offer degrees, and over 3,200 offer Bachelor’s or higher-level degrees. So where do you begin?

The most you should expect from rankings like ours (or from any other source, like the somewhat-better-known-than-ours US News rankings) is that they can help you start building the list of schools to apply to. They’re not a substitute for doing your own research.

The data behind a rankings list might turn out to be out-of-date, or just plain wrong. We do our best to make sure that our data is neither of those, but there are a lot of schools out there to keep track of, and sometimes things change without us being aware.

Or, you might be one of the outliers who gets a great financial aid package from a school that doesn’t give them to everyone. Or, you might decide that you’re looking for something really specific (a college where you can study Ancient Greek, learn fencing, and be in a small town).

The point is – while you should USE rankings, don’t RELY on them to make your decisions for you. The best way to learn what you want to know about specific schools is to contact the schools, and ask them a lot of questions.