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Mapping the Ivy League. Source: Google Maps.

"Over the last few decades, the cost and value of a college degree have fluctuated considerably. Tuitions have skyrocketed by 559 percent since 1985, hovering at an average of $42,500 per year for private universities and nearly $19,000 per year for public universities."

-- ValoreBooks.com

Everyone knows that college costs a lot. A lot of people know that college costs even more when you attend a state-run, taxpayer-funded college as an out-of-state student. But few people realize just how much more public colleges charge their out-of-state students, versus their in-state favorites.

That's something we aim to change today.

Charge what the market will bear
Earlier this month, college textbooks reseller ValoreBooks published the results of a study reviewing the relative tuition rates that public colleges and universities (henceforth just "colleges") have been charging out-of-state students, versus students residing in the colleges' home states. The results are startling.

While it's common knowledge that private colleges charge more than public colleges, and that ultra-expensive private "Ivy League" schools are concentrated in the Northeast, data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveal that regardless of type of school -- public or private -- New England colleges charge out-of-state students more than their college kindred do elsewhere in the United States.

The average list price for tuition charged to out-of-state students attending college in the Northeast exceeds $28,500 per year. That's nearly $6,000 more than found in the neighboring Mid-Atlantic region, and 73% more expensive than schools in the Southwest.

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It's not, however, the most startling revelation of the survey.

"Us" versus "them"
Perhaps the biggest reveal of ValoreBooks' study is that several public colleges outside New England are charging out-of-state students New England-scale surcharges, on top of the tuition already charged for in-state students.

Comparing list prices for public colleges across the country, Valore highlighted the schools with the biggest differences between what they charge out-of-state students versus what they charge in-state students. From worst offenders to least-worst, the top 10 are:

  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor -- $25,148
  • University of Virginia, Main Campus -- $24,994
  • New College of Florida -- $23,029
  • University of California -- $22,878
  • The College of William & Mary in Virginia -- $22,830
  • The University of Texas at Austin -- $22,588
  • University of Florida -- $22,277
  • University of Colorado Boulder -- $21,178
  • Indiana University Bloomington -- $20,016
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- $19,825

On average, these 10 schools charge out-of-state students nearly $22,500 more than they charge their own in-state students. For example, worst-offender UMichigan charges Michigan state residents $12,634 per year in tuition. But it charges out-of-state students $37,782.

UVA, one of the highest-ranked public colleges in the land, is a relative bargain for in-state residents, who pay less than $12,000 annually. But for out-of-state students, UVA's $36,780 tuition bill dwarfs the average tuition rates charged even in New England, home of the Ivies.

And UNC Chapel Hill, No. 10 on Valore's list and a real value at just $7,009 for in-state students, imposes a $19,825 surcharge on out-of-state attendees -- more than the average college cost, public or private, of half the regions in the United States. Total cost: $26,834.

What it means to you
A few caveats and provisos are in order. Defenders of the status quo will point out that there's a reason public colleges charge out-of-state students more than they charge in-state students. Namely, in-staters -- or their parents -- support the schools already through state taxes. Hence, charging them the same rate as out-of-state students pay would essentially amount to "double billing" in-state students.

Other defenders of the status quo will point out that state funding for college education has declined dramatically in recent years. For example, in 1987, the State of Florida covered more than half the operating cost of University of Florida (No. 7 on Valore's list). Today, Florida covers less than 30% of the school's costs. That money has to be made up somehow, and right now it's being made up on the backs of out-of-state students -- who, conveniently, have no vote in how Florida apportions tuition costs.

Economic arguments aside, there's no law that says you have to line up and willingly allow public schools to gouge you. Before agreeing to pay full freight on an out-of-state rate, consider whether your own local public colleges might serve you just as well -- for cheaper. Or if they won't, take a look at this short primer on 5 Sneaky Ways to Get In-State Tuition for Your Out-of-State Kid.

Because even if you absolutely must join 'em, there just might be a way to beat 'em as well.

Fool contributor Rich Smith attended The College of William & Mary -- No. 5 on ValoreBooks' list. He does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on our virtual stockpicking service, Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 275 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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