Finding Value: Public Liberal Arts Colleges
For many students and their families, attending a liberal arts college sounds like an expensive proposition. After all, liberal arts schools are known for their small class size, available faculty, individualized attention, and undergraduate research opportunities – all characteristics that stand in stark contrast to the giant lecture hall, face-in-the-crowd, anonymous existence at some large state universities.
We previously highlighted private liberal arts schools that, thanks to generous aid packages, can actually cost less than many public schools. Yet, an even more hidden gem exists—the public liberal arts college. Outside the awareness of the average college consumer, 27 public liberal arts schools are spread across the United States, offering some of the best values in higher education. A quick profile of a few of these schools will give you a taste as to why.
Located in Northern Missouri, Truman State is a selective institution (1205 mean Reading/Math SAT) offering a fantastic education for a bargain price. Truman students pay an average annual net tuition price of just $13,000. For residents of the “Show-me state,” that cost drops to just over 7K, meaning that you can have a bachelor’s degree from Truman State for the same price as a single semester at George Washington University or NYU. The average class size is 24 students but some courses will be in the single digits, translating to an intimate educational experience.
New College of Florida
Formerly a private institution, New College became part of Florida’s public education system at the dawn of the new millennium. Located right against scenic Sarasota Bay, New College educates a student body of just 800 and boasts a miniscule 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It is even more selective than Truman State, with the average admitted student sporting a 1270 SAT and a 4.0 GPA. With a list price of 27k but at a net price of just 12k, New College provides strong students a prestigious college education for a shockingly reasonable sum.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
A bit pricier at $14,800 in-state, St. Mary’s still represents a relative bargain for the 1,800 students who grace its 361 acre campus. While it sounds like a religiously affiliated school, St. Mary’s has surprisingly been a secular institution since its founding in 1840. Designated as a public honors college, St. Mary’s has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and boasts a 70% 4-year graduation rate. Like Truman State and New College, St. Mary’s is selective but accessible to B students with solid SATs—their admit rate is 69%.
Other highly reputable (and often affordable) public liberal arts colleges include:
CT’s Bottom Line: Simply being aware of public liberal arts colleges makes you more knowledgeable than the average prospective college student. Even though 23 states in the U.S. do not have a public liberal arts college, meaning that in-state tuition is off the table, many of these institutions offer such reasonable out-of-state tuition rates that they are still worth your careful consideration.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).