10 Least Expensive Private Colleges and Universities

Kelsey Sheehy

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

Private colleges often come with hefty price tags, which can be an automatic turnoff for prospective students. Close to 43 percent of incoming freshmen said they "carefully considered" cost when choosing which school to attend, according to an annual survey of more than 190,000 first-time, full-time students by the University of California--Los Angeles.

For price-conscious students, the cost of private school can be difficult to reconcile against their less expensive public counterparts. Average private school tuition for the 2012-2013 school year was $28,946, compared with $8,176 (in-state) and $18,855 (out-of-state) at public institutions, according to data reported by 1,088 ranked public and private universities in an annual survey by U.S. News.

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But private does not always equal expensive. The average tuition and fees at the 10 least expensive private schools was $7,558 in 2012-2013--more than $21,000 below the average for private institutions--and some schools still fall far below that average.

At Berea College, a private liberal arts school in Kentucky, tuition and fees totaled just $980 for 2012-2013, less than any other private or public school, with the exception of military academies. In fact, all students at Berea work on campus in exchange for free tuition, and some receive financial aid to cover the cost of fees.

Tuition and fees at Brigham Young University--Provo, a private university in Utah, totaled $4,710 for 2012-2013, roughly $24,200 below the average sticker price for a private school and almost $3,500 less than average in-state tuition at public universities.

At BYU, a Mormon university, religious affiliation factors into the lower than average cost. Tuition for students who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was $9,420 for 2012-2013, still far below the national average, thanks to a subsidy from the church, according to the school's website.

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Several of the least expensive private schools are designated as Rank Not Published (RNP), which means they fell in the bottom one fourth of their ranking category. U.S. News calculates a numerical rank for these schools, but has decided not to publish them. Unranked colleges, which do not submit enough data for U.S. News to calculate a ranking, were not considered for this report.

Below are the 10 private colleges and universities with the lowest tuition and fees for the 2012-2013 school year (figures do not include room and board, books, and other miscellaneous costs):

School name (state) 2012-2013 tuition & fees U.S. News rank and category
Berea College (KY) $980 75, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Brigham Young University--Provo (UT) $4,710 68, National Universities
Arkansas Baptist College $7,800 RNP, Regional Colleges (South)
Rust College (MS) $8,300 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Lane College (TN) $8,560 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Concordia College (AL) $8,590 RNP, Regional Colleges (South)
Mid-Continent University (KY) $8,810 RNP, Regional Colleges (South)
Blue Mountain College (MS) $9,230 23, Regional Colleges (South)
Amridge University (AL) $9,260 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Life University (GA) $9,342 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find tuition data, complete rankings, and much more.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The tuition and fees data above are correct as of Jan. 29, 2013.