7 Colleges With the Lowest Tuition Rates in 2016

college graduation

College students celebrate graduation | Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton may have recently unveiled plans to make college tuition free for many students, but some schools are already there. Though tuition rates at four-year public schools now average $8,543 per year for in-state students and top $26,000 annually at four-year private colleges, some colleges and universities have put the brakes on the ever-rising cost of education. At a handful schools across the United States, tuition rates are still in the four (or even three) figures, and a select few cost nothing at all.

These low-cost colleges may turn out to be trendsetters. Not only are presidential candidates talking seriously about reducing the cost of higher education, but 62% of Americans now believe that public colleges should be free, a recent Bankrate survey found.

It’s too early to say whether Clinton’s tuition-free college proposal will come to pass. (Critics say it won’t solve the bigger problems with our higher education system, will hurt private colleges, and will create capacity issues at schools already crammed with students.) In the meantime, there are other ways for students to earn degrees for cheap. Employers like Starbucks and UPS subsidize the cost of tuition for some of their employees, while elite private schools offer discounted tuition to students whose parents don’t earn big bucks. (At Harvard, tuition is free if your parents earn less than $65,000 per year.) Pell Grants and scholarships can put a college education within reach for many.

Getting a break on expensive tuition is great, but some schools that slash costs offer a great deal right from the start. These seven colleges have some of the lowest tuition rates around in 2016.

1. University of the People

Smiling student holding a book in library

A smiling college student | Source: iStock

A tuition-free, four-year online degree might sound like a scam, but University of the People is for real. This accredited, non-profit school offers master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees in computer science, health science, and business administration. All classes are free, but you will have to pay $60 to apply and $100 for each end-of-course exam. An associate degree should cost about $1,000, a bachelor’s degree $4,000, and an MBA $2,400. Scholarships are available for people who can’t afford the fees.

2. Deep Springs College

Deep Springs College isn’t for everyone. The tiny, all-male school admits just 12 to 15 students per year, and the campus is a working cattle ranch in rural California. Students who make it through the rigorous admissions process pursue a two-year liberal arts degree while working 20 hours per week on the ranch, attending seminar-style classes, and running the college itself (self-governance is a key part of the education program at Deep Springs). Tuition, room, and board for every student is completely covered by scholarships. After earning a degree, most students go on to a four-year college — Yale, Brown, and University of Chicago are common destinations for grads, according to the school.

3. Diné College

Diné College is a tribal college in Tsaile, Arizona, offering two- and four-year degrees. Though the school primarily serves the Diné (or Navajo) community, anyone can attend. Tuition is $660 per year. The school was named the second-best community college in the country by WalletHub in 2015.

A range of other tribal colleges offer affordable degrees. At Haskell Indian Nations University tuition is $715 per semester, though you must be an enrolled member of a tribe or be able to prove Native American descent to attend. Some schools and states (such as Michigan) also offer tuition waivers to Native students.

4. United States Military Academy, West Point

west point cadets

New cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point | Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rather than paying for education in dollars, students at the United States Military Academy at West Point make a commitment to service in exchange for their degree. Tuition, room, and board is fully funded for all cadets, who also earn a monthly salary. Students are on active duty while at the Academy and must serve an additional five years in the Army after graduating. The United States Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, and Coast Guard Academy are also tuition free and require you to serve after graduation.

5. Berea College

Tuition at Berea College, a top-ranked private liberal arts college in Kentucky, is free for every student. Students receive a combination of state, federal, and school-provided scholarships to cover the cost of attendance. They also must work at least 10 hours per week on campus to help subsidize their tuition. Students are responsible for room and board, which costs about $7,000 per year, and any personal expenses. Each student also earns a modest hourly wage from their work study position, which they can use to pay for books and other costs. A handful of other work colleges, including the College of the Ozarks and Warren Wilson College, have a similar subsidized tuition programs for students.

6. University of Wyoming

university of wyoming basketball fans

University of Wyoming basketball fans | Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Tuition at flagship public universities can rival the prices charged at private colleges. In-state tuition at Penn State is $17,514 per year, while students at the University of Illinois pay between $15,000 and $20,000 to attend. So it may come as a shock that you can still pay for an education at a top public university with the earnings from your summer job. At the University of Wyoming, tuition is $3,720 per year for state residents. Plus, 71% of undergraduate students receive grant or scholarship aid averaging $6,711, which helps cover both tuition and other expenses.

7. Brigham Young University, Idaho

Tuition rates at the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University are just $1,915 per semester if you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), making it one of the cheapest private four-year schools in the country. The church subsidizes the cost of tuition with money tithed by members. Room and board are also affordable, ranging from $740 to $2,000 per semester. At less than $12,000 per year for all expenses, this school is cheaper than many public in-state universities. Mormons make up about 99% of the school’s student population.

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