I teach at a community college in California. Our students' tuition is approximately 85% subsidized for the half of our students who can't show enough financial need, and 100% subsidized for the other half, who get fee waivers. There are various proposals at the federal level to eliminate tuition at two-year colleges, and possibly four-year state colleges as well. As a Californian, I find this kind of odd, since our community colleges are already essentially free, and the real financial struggle faced by students living in poverty is actually their need to work too many hours to pay for food and rent.

But is this different in other states? Do some states not have community college systems at all? Do some states have community colleges that charge significant tuition? Are there any statistics available for the US, broken down by state?

  • Up to 2012 you could probably find this in Statistical Abstract of the United States. Unfortunately the US doesn't compile that sort of information currently.
    – Buffy
    Apr 22, 2019 at 16:59
  • This report seems to have access to the data you are wondering about: demos.org/research/… Specifically Figure 8, "Annualized rates of growth in Average Annual Published charges..." They cite as their source: "National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, various years". The report argues that cost has increased in the aggregate just for listed tuition alone, not counting room/board.
    – BrianH
    Apr 22, 2019 at 17:27
  • This report says similarly that cost has grown beyond the Pell Grant: cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/… In short, that the Pell Grant is the primary source of tuition funding for many low-income students, but the percentage of cost to attend college it covers has decreased over time. None of these reports seem to have access to, or report on, actual "bottom line cost of attendance" after all aid sources are taken into account, anywhere. Not really an answer, but hopefully helpful!
    – BrianH
    Apr 22, 2019 at 17:30
  • Here's the first Google result for "community college tuition by state:" communitycollegereview.com/avg-tuition-stats/national-data Does this not work for you? Apr 22, 2019 at 18:15
  • My local community college has quite a patchwork of tuition rates depending on where you live (in tax district, in state but not in tax district, out of state) as well as what you are studying (or even specific courses). Then there are possibly course fees (e.g. lab fees) added on. And that is before any tuition wavers, grants, state-sponsored scholarships, etc. etc. etc. So, I'm not sure even how to begin answering the question.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 22, 2019 at 23:00

1 Answer 1


From people's comments and more web-surfing, I've found enough info to take some kind of stab at answering my own question.

California has the lowest community college tuition rates in the US. It appears that every state has some kind of community college system. Most states charge about 3 times more tuition than California. Roughly speaking, in most states a student paying full community college tuition (because they don't qualify for free waivers) is paying about 60% of the cost of instruction, with the other 40% being a subsidy from the state government. In California, it's more like 20% and 80%.

It's extremely difficult to give a clearcut comparison of costs. Various states have their own baroque rules. E.g., in California about half of students get fee waivers. These waivers used to be called BOG (board of governors) waivers, but are now subsumed under the College Promise program.

As an example of how complicated this can get, Pennsylvania has a system where some school districts choose to contribute to community college funding and others don't. If you live in a district that doesn't contribute, you pay higher "non-sponsored" tuition to attend a community college. The highest per-unit in-state tuition at any community college in the US seems to be $318/unit for non-sponsored tuition at Community College of Philadelpha; this is about $10,000/year, or about 7 times higher than California tuition.

College Promise is extremely complicated, and is implemented in different ways by different states. It's been sold to the voters as "free community college" or "free first year of community college," but it's actually both more and less than that.

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