College Cost Per Credit Hour

College credits cost 10 times more at private universities than at public institutions. Find the average cost per credit hour for different school types and online programs.

August 2, 2022 · Updated on August 2, 2022

College Cost Per Credit Hour
Opinion & Analysis
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Data Summary

  • The average cost of college tuition per credit hour is $456.[1]
  • Four-year private nonprofit colleges charge the highest tuition at almost $1,200 per credit hour.Footnote [1]
  • Two-year public schools, or community colleges, charge the least at just under $120 per credit hour.Footnote [1]
  • Online colleges may charge less money per credit hour compared to all schools.
  • College classes are typically three credit hours for students on a semester system, but this varies.
  • A college credit typically equals three weekly hours of students' time in class or completing coursework outside of class.

The average college tuition is close to $19,000 a year for full-time students at four-year colleges. But what if you're a part-time student or just taking a few classes? That's when it's important to know your school's cost per credit hour.

Credit hours correspond to how much work you're expected to do for a college course per week. One credit hour typically equals one hour of class time and two hours of work outside of class, such as homework, lab work, or a student internship.[2]

Colleges and universities often have thresholds for when students pay tuition by the credit hour versus paying a flat rate. A part-time student might pay by credit hour. Meanwhile, a full-time student might pay the same flat rate once they reach a certain number of credits regardless of whether they take extra classes to graduate early.

It's helpful to know your school's policy because it can make getting your degree more affordable. Keep reading to find the average cost colleges charge for credit hours, so you can better balance your course load and your budget.

Table of Contents

Average Cost Per Credit Hour

Below, we've calculated the average cost per credit hour based on the average cost of college in the U.S. with a couple of assumptions:

  1. Most schools use semesters versus quarters. Semester-system schools have two 15-week terms, one in the fall/winter and one in the spring. Quarter-system schools have four 10-week terms, including an optional summer term. If you're in a semester system, you need fewer credits to earn your degree (120 for bachelor's) compared to students in the quarter system (180).
  2. Students complete 30 credits per year. Most accrediting bodies require students to complete 120 credits for a bachelor's degree, which typically takes four years. Associate degree programs require at least 60 credits and last about two years.[3]

Tuition Per Credit Hour

Across all school types, the average college cost per credit is $456. However, credit hours are priced differently across institution types.Footnote [1]

  • At four-year institutions, the average cost of tuition and fees per credit hour is $554.
  • Credit hours are over $400 cheaper at two-year schools, where the average tuition per credit hour is $126.
  • The most affordable college credits are at community colleges. The most expensive are at four-year private nonprofit schools. Credits at these schools cost over 10 times more than at two-year public schools.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Total Cost Per Credit Hour

College students encounter expenses beyond the cost of tuition alone. Textbooks, transportation, and room and board add up. To find the all-in cost of college per credit hour, we divided the average total cost of one year of college by 30.

  • The average total cost of college per credit hour for students living on campus at four-year colleges is $1,185.
  • The average cost per credit hour at all two-year schools is about half that of four-year schools, assuming similar living situations.
  • Across school types, students save the most money when they can offset dorm expenses or rent by living with family.

Source: NCES

Source: NCES

Net Cost Per Credit Hour

Many college students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships or grants. Their net cost of college equals their total college price tag minus the amount of aid they receive.

In 2019-2020, the average net price of college per credit hour was $621 at four-year institutions and $303 at two-year institutions.[4]

The net cost of college credit hours varies across institution types, as seen in the graph below. It also depends on students' income level. Lower incomes typically correspond to more financial aid.Footnote [4]

Source: NCES

Historical Tuition Per Credit Hour

Fifty years ago, the average cost of college tuition per credit hour was about $147 — ranging from $42 at two-year public schools to $349 at four-year private schools.

Tuition per credit hour has grown over the years. Across all schools, the average cost of one credit hour has tripled since 1970. Two-year schools, including private schools and community colleges, have remained the most affordable option.

Source: NCES

Cost of Online College Per Credit Hour

Students may try to save money by earning credit hours online, and sometimes they can. Thirty-three distance-learning-only institutions report their net price in the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator database. Their average net price for a credit hour was $516. That's about $100 cheaper than the average for all schools in 2019-2020.

When comparing costs for online college credit hours, the type of school makes a difference. Online college credit hours are the most affordable at public institutions. Private for-profit schools charge the most.

Source: NCES College Navigator Database

Cost Per Credit Hour by State

Two-year public schools offer the most affordable college credits to in-district students. Community colleges in six states charge less than $100 a credit hour for in-district students:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Texas

When it comes to public four-year schools, Florida offers the least expensive college credits for in-state students at $149. Vermont charges the most at $569. Even so, Vermont's four-year public schools are less expensive per credit hour for in-state students than the average four-year private nonprofit school.

Average Tuition Per Credit Hour at Public Colleges by State

Source: NCES

Frequently Asked Questions About College Credit Hours

What does "per credit hour" mean in college?

When colleges list tuition costs "per credit hour," the amount students pay depends on how many college credits they enroll in for a given term. Usually, once a student is enrolled in a certain number of credits that's considered a full-time load, they pay a flat fee.

How many credits is one college class?

On a semester system, it's typical for college classes to equal about three credits. That way students can take an average of five courses per term to earn an associate degree (60 credits) in two years or a bachelor's (120 credits) in four.

That said, the amount of credits you earn for one college class varies. It depends on how much work you're expected to do for the class. One credit hour equals at least three hours of work per week, including class and out-of-class time.Footnote [2]

How much do college classes cost?

The cost of taking one college class usually depends on how many credits it's worth. On average, one college credit costs about $600 — that's $1,800 for your typical three-credit course. However, there is a massive difference in costs between college types.

Four-year private nonprofit universities might charge $1,200 or more per credit hour. In comparison, community colleges charge around $120 per credit hour, on average. That's $360 for a class. If you're wondering if you can afford to go back to school, make sure to consider all of the budget-friendly options.

How much is a college credit at community college?

On average, public two-year colleges charge $117 per credit hour. However, community college costs vary across states.

California, New Mexico, and Arizona have the least expensive community college tuition rates for in-district students — all under $75 per credit hour. New Hampshire, Vermont, and South Dakota have the most expensive rates — all over $200 per credit hour.[5]



References

  1. Table 330.10. Average undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level and control of institution: Selected years, 1963-64 through 2020-21. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). January 2022.
  2. Title 34. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Part 600.2. July 2022.
  3. Source note: Most regional accrediting bodies require 60 and 120 semester hours at associate and bachelor's levels, including Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Higher Learning Commission, New England Commission of Higher Education, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, the NWCCU requires 180 quarter hours at the bachelor's level.
  4. Table 331.30 Average amount of grant and scholarship aid and average net price for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students awarded Title IV aid, by control and level of institution and income level: Selected years, 2009-10 through 2019-20. NCES
  5. Table 330.20. Average undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board charges for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control and level of institution and state or jurisdiction: 2018-19 and 2019-20. NCES. April 2021.