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Side by Side Comparison: Top 10 Cheapest Colleges for Foreign v US Students

  • Jessica Stahl

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a great new website, the College Affordability and Transparency Center, designed to help students get information about the cost of an undergraduate college education.

One of the neatest features is a little tool that lets you look at lists of institutions with the highest/lowest tuition and highest/lowest net prices. The net cost lists are particularly interesting - they take into account all the costs of attending university (tuition, fees, housing, books, etc.) and subtract the average amount of aid received in order to find out the true average cost for a student.

But international students beware. That list of net costs only applies to domestic students - and for public colleges, it only applies to in-state or in-district students. Some colleges DO offer a lot of aid to international students, and make an effort to keep the net cost low, but they may not be the same colleges that offer a low net cost to domestic students or state residents.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the top 10 highest and lowest net cost lists you'd get using the college cost tool, and the top 10 for international students, based on our calculations. You can see right away that the results are quite different for international students.

1) Lowest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:
College cost toolNet Cost ($)International studentsNet Cost ($)
Universidad Teologica del Caribe82Berea College*209
Talmudical Academy - New Jersey469Gettysburg College2972
Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa1776Skidmore College3268
Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary1876College of the Atlantic3790
John Dewey College - University Division1956Paine College3820
Turtle Mountain Community College2031Southwestern Christian College4033
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico - Ponce2208Yale University4449
Southeastern Baptist College2699Kentucky Mountain Bible College5024
Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America2839Trinity College6507
Our Lady of Holy Cross College2874Wayland Baptist University6585

4-year Public Institutions:

College cost toolNet Cost ($)International studentsNet Cost ($)
Sitting Bull College938Alabama State University263
Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico996Fort Lewis College6199
South Texas College1317University of West Alabama7386
University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla1591Haskell Indian Nations University7760
University of Texas Pan American1646Alabama A&M University7998
Indian River State College2138The Citadel8243
University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon2345South Dakota State University9474
California State University - Dominguez Hills2451University of Science and Arts at Oklahoma9478
California State University - Los Angeles3263Kentucky State University9991
Elizabeth City State University3335Missouri Southern State University10174

2) Highest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:
College cost toolNet Cost ($)International studentsNet Cost ($)
Art Center College of Design39672Fordham University56454
The New School - Parsons39004Art Center College of Design56190
School of the Art Institute of Chicago38965Rhode Island School of Design55805
The Boston Conservatory37798New York University55542
California Institute of the Arts36997Bard College at Simon's Rock55432
Manhattan School of Music36208Johns Hopkins University55390
Rhode Island School of Design35991Carnegie Mellon University55286
Pratt Institute35506Duke University55150
Santa Clara University35245School of the Art Institute of Chicago55090
Northwestern Health Sciences University35062Pitzer College55080

4-year Public Institutions:
College cost toolNet Cost ($)International studentsNet Cost ($)
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio24192University of Michigan-Ann Arbor48331
University of Guam23902University of Colorado at Boulder46729
St. Mary's College of Maryland21468University of Vermont44838
Rowan University19344University of California:Los Angeles **41784
Miami University - Oxford19305University of Cincinnati-Main Campus41725
Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus19056Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus41548
Pennsylvania State University - Altoona18878University of California: Davis41085
Pennsylvania State University - Erie-Behrend18857New Jersey Institute of Technology40758
University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh18786University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign40680
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Berks18048Colorado School of Mines39551

Pretty different, huh?

Where do these numbers come from?

There are some nuances about how the Department of Education calculates net cost, which will explain why they're not valid for international students.

First of all, they calculate total cost using the lowest available tuition rate, which for public universities is only available to residents of the state or district in which the college is located. Secondly, their calculation for average financial aid received includes federal loans and grants, that international students are not eligible to receive. Finally, and this one might be a little nitpicky, they calculate the cost of room and board using a weighted average of all living options, including living at home with family, which is typically not an option for international students.

I calculated the net cost for international students using the same basic calculation as the Department of Education - total cost minus average aid - but inputted values that would be more relevant to foreign students.

I used the total cost reported by the Department of Education for out-of-state students living on campus (or off campus if on-campus housing was not an option). The value of average aid received comes from the College Board International Student Handbook 2012.

* = Total cost was calculated using information on the school's website rather than the reported number in the Department of Education's data, which appeared to be incorrect
** = Average international student aid was taken from a PDF prepared by the OACAC for 2009/2010, because no number was reported in the CollegeBoard handbook

Some caveats:

The Department of Education lists use net cost as reported for 2008-2009. My calculations for international students used the most recent data available - 2010-2011 for total cost and 2011-2012 for aid. That will obviously create some inconsistencies in comparing the two.

The average amount of aid received is only calculated for those students receiving aid and does not take into account what percentage of students received aid. This is the case for the Department of Education data and the College Board data. For a good analysis of the most generous schools for international students taking into account the number receiving assistance, look at

Finally, this information is just meant to show you how big a difference there is between what net cost looks like for a domestic student compared to an international student. It will not tell you exactly what you will pay for college at any given school, and great financial aid offers may be available at schools that ended up on the list of most expensive schools. Everyone's situation is different.

Click here to see the full spreadsheet with all the data I used - feel free to email if you find mistakes (there was a lot of copy/pasting involved in creating this) or if you want to help fill in all the missing data to create a really complete resource. I only inputted the data I needed for this exact calculation, but it would be interesting to have a really complete data set.