Why Choose a Public College or University in Pennsylvania?
Public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania offer access to a relatively affordable education and leading research centers and facilities.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator shows that Pennsylvania has 101 public colleges and universities. These include four-year and two-year institutions, as well as schools offering programs that can be completed in less than two years.
Four-year public colleges include The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University.
Prospective students may think cost matters most when deciding on the right college — and it does. However, they must also weigh other factors, such as which schools offer courses in the field they want to study.
Penn State, for example, ranks 22nd for its research, according to the National Science Foundation rankings of Higher Education Research and Development research expenditures. The university boasted 12 fields of research that ranked in the top 10, including material science (which ranked first), psychology, sociology, and engineering.
The cost of attending private colleges in the Keystone State, such as the University of Pennsylvania, can be nearly three times as much as attending Pennsylvania’s public schools.
Out-of-state students also typically pay more to attend college in Pennsylvania, especially since Pennsylvania does not maintain regional reciprocity agreements with other states. Online programs often offer flat tuition rates for students no matter where they live.
This guide details the most and least expensive public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, what they cost, and how to choose the right college for you.
Pros and Cons of Attending a Public College or University in Pennsylvania
Wide selection of majors, minors, and professional certificates
Larger campuses with plenty of activities, social clubs, programs, and events
Greater diversity in the classroom and on campus
Prominent faculty and state-of-the-art research facilities
Greater exposure to world views
Students at public college often still borrow money, which they must repay with interest when they graduate
Bigger public colleges may not offer the tight-knit communities some students seek
Students may feel overshadowed by the campus size and enrollment
Public schools may not attract as many international students
Admissions at leading public colleges can be competitive
Instructors may not provide personalized attention available at smaller, private colleges
Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Universities in Pennsylvania
There has been a lot of attention on for-profit colleges. Any profits these schools make is distributed among their shareholders. The shareholders’ roles and the priority to make profits have been scrutinized.
For-profit schools are often viewed as providing a less rigorous education than nonprofit colleges. However, this is not always the case.
Pennsylvania has 106 private for-profit schools. Many provide specialized vocational training. These schools can offer flexible programs where students can quickly learn skills and get training in fields like cosmetology, automotive services, and aviation.
Nonprofit colleges, which include public and private schools, earn accreditation, a voluntary process that assures students that the school and its curriculum have been examined by an independent agency.
Nonprofit public universities and colleges in Pennsylvania get funding from the federal government as well as from tuition, donations, and endowments. Profits get reinvested into the schools. The funds are used to improve students’ educational experience, pay instructors and professors, and fund research.
How Much Does It Cost to Attend a Public College or University in Pennsylvania?
According to NCES, in-state undergraduates at Pennsylvania public four-year colleges paid, on average, $15,656 for tuition and required fees, plus $11,838 for room and board, in 2019-2020. Private four-year colleges in Pennsylvania charged students an average of $42,812 for tuition and required fees during that same academic year.
Pennsylvania does not have regional reciprocity agreements with other states, which means nonresident students may pay double, if not more, for tuition.
NCES reports that Pennsylvania four-year public colleges charged out-of-state students $30,222 for tuition and required fees in 2019-2020. At two-year colleges in Pennsylvania, students paid $5,348 for in-state tuition and fees and $13,480 for out-of-state tuition and fees.
Colleges commonly add additional fees to pay for such things as campus activities, technology services, distance learning, and more.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Public Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania
How many public colleges and universities are there in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, there are 45 four-year and 26 two-year public colleges and universities, where students can pursue their educational goals.
These schools offer a wide variety of classes. So students can develop their current interests and form new ones that encourage them to engage with the world around them.
Some people may think public schools are not as academically challenging as private schools. This, however, is untrue.
Public colleges and universities are staffed with instructors and professors who are passionate about the subjects they teach and ignite this same enthusiasm to learn in their students. At any of the public institutions in Pennsylvania, students have the opportunity to thrive.
What is the most expensive public university in Pennsylvania?
The University of Pittsburgh ranks among the most expensive public colleges in Pennsylvania. For the 2021-2022 academic year, its undergraduate tuition rates were $19,092 for full-time, in-state students and $34,124 for out-of-state degree-seekers.
Nationwide, college tuition has increased over 170% over the last 40 years. To date, over 43 million Americans have $1.75 trillion in student loan debt.
What is the least expensive public university in Pennsylvania?
Bloomsburg University (BU) of Pennsylvania — with a full-time undergraduate tuition rate of $7,792 in 2022-2023 — ranks among the least expensive public universities in the state.
Other public universities in Pennsylvania with the least expensive tuition rates include California University of Pennsylvania, Lincoln University, and Millersville University.
Tuition at Pennsylvania’s public universities fluctuates, and a student’s residency status or their degree choice can make the final cost of college more expensive. Graduate students may also pay more for their education than undergraduate students.
What is the biggest public university in Pennsylvania?
Penn State is the biggest public university in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855, the school has 24 campuses with 22,000 acres. Penn State boasts a total enrollment of 88,914 as of 2021 and more than 707,000 alumni worldwide. The enrollment includes 15,438 graduate students and 73,476 undergraduate students.
In 2021, Penn State received more than 168,000 applications.
Students choose from more than 160 bachelor’s degree programs, as well as more than 90 associate degree and 190 graduate degree programs.
Penn State reported $993 million in research expenditures in 2021.
Is a public college or university right for me?
No one can truly answer this question but you. There are pros and cons to attending a public institution — what suits one student might not suit the next.
Public colleges typically cost less than private schools. Public colleges and universities provide a robust catalog of programs and research opportunities.
With a larger enrollment, the campus life at public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania can offer more social activities, volunteer and civic opportunities, clubs, and networking.
Private colleges also come with benefits such as prestige and generous scholarships and grants, thanks to funding from endowments.