Colleges and universities across the United States are set on some quite beautiful campuses, with architecture and landscaping that is sure to inspire those studying there – yet such aesthetic benefits may come at a high price.
Here are some eyebrow-raising figures to take in: first-time undergraduate students heading to college to study full time in the 2012-2013 academic year were charged an average of $15,639 just for tuition and mandatory fees across all types of tertiary schools that offer degrees. Moreover, this figure rose to $29,408 when allowing for on-campus living expenses such as room and board costs. Make no mistake about it: going to university can be very expensive indeed.
That said, what the following list proves is that freshman students can still opt for elegant campuses in gorgeous surroundings while keeping a tight rein on their budget. The 30 universities and colleges covered here all offer costs that are below the national average and at the same time deliver visually stunning sights that are sure to make studying a pleasure.
Schools included on this list had to be qualified as affordable – with one or both of tuition fees and total cost of attendance below the national average. The institutions then also needed to have campuses we deemed to be attractive, based on factors such as green spaces, views and architecturally significant buildings. The lower-ranked colleges tended to be so placed because of their higher costs by comparison with the other inclusions, but towards the top of the list we tried, as far as possible, to take into account both affordability and beauty.
The average cost of attendance for the 2012-2013 academic year was taken from the National Center for Education Statistics. In all cases, the individual university fees were gathered either at source or from the schools’ profile pages on the U.S. News & World Report colleges website.
The main other lists referred to during the preliminary research and entry selection phase were:
30. Sul Ross State University – Alpine, Texas
The official website for Sul Ross State University lists no fewer than 20 places of interest within two hours of its Alpine, Texas campus, including three national parks, three state parks and a dedicated mountain trail. That said, the great outdoors is also sometimes a more immediate part of the learning environment, with foxes, antelopes and deer all known to pass through the school grounds. The naturally beautiful 600-acre campus is situated in a mountain town 4,500 feet above sea level, with the university suggesting that a variety of al fresco jobs are available to those who attend. In-state students pay as little as $6,036 per semester in 2014-15, meaning that outdoorsy types who don’t want to be put out of pocket should put Sul Ross State near the top of their college list.
29. California State University, Los Angeles – Los Angeles, California
Californians seeking an affordable college might not have to travel far, as the California State University, Los Angeles charges a mere $6,343 for 2014-15 in-state undergraduate tuition and fees. And there’s a fair amount of architectural beauty thrown in for free, not least the magnificent, award-winning Golden Eagle building. Completed in 2003 based on the designs of national firm HGA and the international Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects, it features everything a student needs under two roofs, such as a dining court, bookstore and classroom areas. Another locus of activity on the 175-acre grounds is the main walkway, where a stunning William Granizo mosaic can be seen on the wall of the Eagles Nest Gymnasium – which once played host to the judo competition at the 1984 Olympic Games.
28. Florida State University – Tallahassee, Florida
Prospective Florida-based students needn’t look any further than Tallahassee for an affordable school with a beautiful campus. The in-state tuition fee for Florida State University during the 2014-15 academic year is just $5,016, while estimated living costs are around the $15,000 mark, which isn’t far off the national average. Entry to the campus is through the iconic Westcott Gate, which was finished in 1916 based on a design by South Carolina’s William A. Edwards – who was responsible for many more delightful structures around the Collegiate Gothic-style campus. Several lovely fountains adorn the 451-acre grounds, perhaps the most eye-catching of which is the Heritage Tower, designed by local firm Barnett Fronczak Barlowe Architects and built in 1998. This feature is topped by three classic torches, which represent the ideals of the university, Vires, Artes and Mores – the Greek for “strength,” “knowledge” and “customs” respectively.
27. California State University, Dominguez Hills – Carson, California
The heart of California State University, Dominguez Hills’ Carson, California campus is the multi-award-winning Loker Student Union building. Originally opened in 1992, from 2004 to 2007 the structure received what the American School and University has called a “very impactful” makeover and extension – courtesy of international firm CannonDesign. Loker now boasts 137,000 square feet of floor space and, thanks to its vast transparent facade, stands out as a highlight on the 346-acre campus. Also of note here is the Extended Education Center, designed by California’s Dougherty + Dougherty Architects. Completed in 2000, this multi-purpose facility features an innovative design that makes maximum use of natural light and incorporates systems promoting efficient air distribution. Full-time undergraduate students who reside in California can budget for a total of $6,134 in tuition and fees for 2014-15.
26. University of Texas at Dallas – Richardson, Texas
The University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, Texas is currently initiating the second phase of its “Campus Landscape Enhancement Project,” a full-grounds renovation that aims to improve both aesthetics and ease of access. The $30 million phase one was concluded in 2010, and $15 million has so far been set aside for phase two, which is being led by Berkeley, California firm PWP Landscape Architecture. So far, the project has seen the addition of a more inviting green entryway to the 500-acre campus, helping to fuse the surrounding architectural styles – ranging as they do from brutalism to takes on postmodernism. Texas natives can enjoy super affordable tuition fees of just $5,903 per semester for all four years of their degree if they enroll in fall 2014 and take 15 credit hours.
25. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College – Tifton, Georgia
Despite its name, the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia offers a diverse range of undergraduate degrees within its schools of business, human sciences, liberal arts, nursing and more. The in-state estimate for Georgia resident tuition and fees for the 2014-15 academic year is $3,992, while out-of-state enrollees pay just $12,048 annually. For these prices, students can delight in the renovated Tift, Lewis and Herring Halls, which were restored to their former historic glory by Savannah, Georgia firm Greenline Architecture. This so-called “Sweetheart Circle” of buildings serves as an award-winning grand entrance to the 400-acre campus beyond. Elsewhere, Albany, Georgia’s Yielding Wakeford & McGee Architects was responsible for the dynamic and modern 39,000-square-foot Agricultural Sciences Building, finished in 2004.
24. Palm Beach State College – Lake Worth, Florida
The 114-acre principal campus of Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida is surrounded by natural beauty, located as it is next to watersports-friendly Lake Osborne and tranquil John Prince Park. The grounds themselves also pack a punch, with palm tree-adorned green spaces and a pretty collection of predominantly light-colored buildings. Among these is the Watson B. Duncan III Theatre, which is used for both teaching and performance and counts a sloped roof and distinctive signage among its features. Meanwhile, flaunting floor-to-ceiling windows, the campus’ Belle Glade Wellness Center is equally lovely. As for prices, the school boasts some of the best value tuition fees in Florida, with estimated in-state costs coming in at $3,410 for undergraduates during the 2014-15 academic year.
23. Mayville State University – Mayville, North Dakota
U.S. undergraduates from states contiguous to Mayville State University’s North Dakota location can expect to pay $14,763 for their tuition fees during the 2014-15 school year. Those from in state, meanwhile, are liable for just $13,560. The school sits on a modestly-sized campus of 55 acres and, with a little over 1,000 students in attendance during 2011, the university has a friendly, intimate feel to match its considerable splendor. The dominant building on the Mayville campus is the stately Old Main, which was originally constructed in the early 1890s and was the site of the very first classes to run at the school. More recently, much of the place has been extensively renovated to bring the facilities right up to date, and the work has included a refit of Agassiz Hall – making the living space for students more comfortable.
22. Minot State University – Minot, North Dakota
Students from across the U.S. can benefit from Minot State University’s promise of “in-state tuition for everyone,” which means that the total cost for all undergraduates attending the Minot, North Dakota school is a mere $12,386 per year. Not so unusual, though, is the university’s architectural showpiece being named Old Main; this grand edifice was constructed in 1913 and features an exceptional performance hall within its walls. Elsewhere on the 102-acre campus, the eye is inevitably drawn to the school’s sports facility, simply called the MSU Dome for its iconic, curved shape. The 10,000-seat arena was constructed in 1979 and primarily plays host to Minot State’s basketball team – although a more unusual use came in 2011 when it acted as a shelter in response to localized flash flooding.
21. Bridgewater State University – Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Out-of-state students enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts with the below-average yearly tuition fee of $14,368 in 2013-14. The university’s standout structure is Boyden Hall, which was reopened in 1926 following a campus-wide fire and lies on the classic college quadrangle. Large white pillars forming part of Boyden’s facade give it a stately feel, while the crowning cupola and weather vane create an unmistakable landmark across the school grounds. Elsewhere, the Marshall Conant Science Center was extended by Boston-based firm Payette in 2012, with two awards subsequently scooped for design excellence. The 278-acre campus also boasts the green spaces of the beautiful Stearns/McNamara Memorial Garden and over three miles of hiking opportunities in the site’s Great Hill area.
20. University of Wyoming – Laramie, Wyoming
Old Main is the quintessential structure at the University of Wyoming’s Laramie campus. Its elegant sandstone frontage was finished in 1887 and has influenced every major campus construction that has followed. Elsewhere, local architects W. Eliot and Clinton Hitchcock’s design for the Classroom Building stands out for the curved ridge feature across its top, which is said to have been inspired by a glass cake mold. Constructed in 1968, this building also follows Old Main by way of its light brown brick exterior. It’s not all neutral colors on the 785-acre grounds, however: Prexy’s Pasture is a sizable expanse of greenery that provides the perfect space for outdoor study or socializing. Wyoming natives are looking at a total cost of only $18,690 for the 2014-15 academic year, while out-of-state undergraduate expenditure rises to $28,920, which is just below the national average.
19. University of Texas-Pan American – Edinburg, Texas
In 2009 the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association gave the University of Texas-Pan American’s Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex the award for Outstanding Sports Facility. Designed by Dallas-based Catherine A. Wilson Architects and completed in 2007, the acclaimed building honors the style of the deceased Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn and dominates a corner of the Edinburg, Texas grounds. Other significant and eye-catching features of the 331-acre campus are a relaxing nature garden and the 100,000-square-foot Unity Hall. Conceived to house up to 192 students by Houston firm Kirksey Architecture, this facility opened its doors in 2006. Non-Texas full-time undergraduates receiving a place here will be charged $28,912 for the 2014-15 school year, which is below the national average.
18. Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas
The dome-capped Academic Building is the heart of the beautiful Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. Designed by F. E. Giesecke and finished in 1914, the building houses a Liberty Bell reproduction, as well as a magnificent mosaic of the school’s seal, behind its reinforced concrete walls. Meanwhile, out front is the impressive Academic Plaza, which plays host to the college tradition of Silver Taps plus other events on its wide, green lawns. Further highlights of the 5,200-acre campus are the Bonfire Memorial, Century Tree, a multitude of elegant statues, and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Tuition fees for full-time out-of-state undergraduates for the 2013-14 academic year totaled $12,563 – well below the national average of $15,639.
17. University of Central Oklahoma – Edmond, Oklahoma
St. Louis, Missouri-based architects Hastings+Chivetta designed the University of Central Oklahoma’s iconic 57,140-square-foot Wellness Center, which was completed in 2003 and boasts pillars around its curved exterior plus a two-floor rotunda lobby. This building is just one way in which the green-minded university encourages healthy lifestyles; for instance, several trails are also signposted throughout the charming 210-acre campus. The Edmond, Oklahoma school serves up its share of history, too, with Old North Tower standing as its landmark building. This edifice was constructed in 1892 and the following year began serving as the university’s initial home. It was later designated a national historic site in 1972. Undergraduates looking for beauty and bargains will be pleased to hear that non-Oklahoma residents are charged a relatively modest $13,384 for yearly tuition and fees in 2014-15, which is over $2,000 cheaper than the national average.
16. Great Basin College – Elko, Nevada
The cost of attending Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada during the 2013-14 school year was $26,813 for non-Nevadans and $16,683 for state residents, with both figures well below the national average. Such good value aside, the snow-topped Ruby Mountains can be seen from a campus that has plenty to offer the student-cum-sightseer: 2001 saw the addition of the school’s iconic bell tower, a scenic man-made stream and an al fresco amphitheater, while the desert location gives the place the feel of an exclusive retreat rather than a college. LCA Architects – a firm with an office in Boise, Idaho as well as Elko – was responsible for the overall design of the lovely 47-acre site. Moreover, this is a campus that reaches out to the local community in addition to its student population.
15. Rogers State University – Claremore, Oklahoma
The Claremore, Oklahoma campus of Rogers State University has not one, but two attractive buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The first is Meyer Hall, whose bold lines allude to its original use as military barracks; the second is the focal point of the school, Preparatory Hall, with its white facade and golden cap dating back to 1911. The pretty, environmentally-conscious 160-acre campus is further bolstered by three striking statues of former U.S. presidents, not to mention several new building developments boasting state-of-the-art facilities. The total yearly cost of studying at Rogers State University in 2013-14 was typically $18,244 for in-state residents and $24,964 for out-of-state students; comfortably under the national average of $29,408.
14. College of Coastal Georgia – Brunswick, Georgia
Students fortunate enough to reside at the College of Coastal Georgia’s Lakeside Village complex in Brunswick can enjoy stunning views of a green courtyard or the neighboring lake. The $12 million construction is the work of Georgia’s Lott + Barber architectural firm and was carefully designed to co-exist with its surroundings. Other exceptional buildings around the 193-acre main grounds include the Campus Center – which was completed in 2011 based on the designs of international firm Perkins Eastman – and the more recent 30,000-square-foot Correll Center from Florida’s Baker Barrios. What’s more, the college’s location ensures that undergraduates are close to the sea – and Brunswick has two beaches, with more beautiful white-sand stretches to be found on the nearby St. Simons and Jekyll Islands. For non-residents, the total cost of attending the college in 2014-15 is approximately $21,270, which is comfortably below the national average.
13. Louisiana State University of Alexandria – Alexandria, Louisiana
Residents and non-residents will both pay well below the national average on acceptance to the Louisiana State University of Alexandria, with tuition fees coming in at $6,536 and $12,268 respectively. Among the school’s most striking buildings is the magnificent Multi-Purpose Academic Center, which was finished in 2011 based on the blueprint of local firm Ashe Broussard Weinzettle Architects. The 70,000-square-foot structure features a stepped design that extends from one story at the school’s quadrangle to three stories out back and boasts a tall, light-filled atrium at its center. Moreover, there’s the added benefit of undertaking undergraduate studies at a truly green location – with the Alexandria, Louisiana institution having been awarded Tree Campus USA status for its commitment to trees and conservation. Numerous ancient trees are dotted throughout the approximately 220-acre grounds.
12. Lehman College – New York City, New York
A New York City education may be more affordable than many think, as Lehman College – one of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) senior colleges, located in the Bronx – charged just $12,018 for out-of-state tuition fees in 2013-14. The campus is modestly sized at only 37 acres, but Lehman packs a punch with its vibrant mix of architectural styles. Earlier structures like the Gymnasium Building – once used as the temporary headquarters of the United Nations – are in the Tudor-Gothic style, but many new buildings stand in marked contrast to this. The APEX sports facility, for example, opened in 1994, based on a blueprint by Rafael Viñoly; it features an eye-catching stainless steel covering – plus a large convex roof that resembles a wave. The Marcel Breuer-designed Fine Arts Building also stands out, while the bold Science Hall from global firm Perkins+Will opened its doors in 2013 and was the first CUNY building to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
11. Northeastern State University – Tahlequah, Oklahoma
The magnificent Seminary Hall was dedicated in 1889 and has been the very heart of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma ever since. Designed by St. Louis, Missouri architect C. E. Illsley, the Romanesque Revival building symbolizes the school’s connection with its Cherokee Nation past – and as the oldest edifice on campus, it was formerly home to the Cherokee Female Seminary. The 200-acre campus itself is close to the rugged but naturally beautiful Ozark Mountains. Moreover, adding to its appeal are a collection of newer buildings, like the W. Roger Webb Educational Technology Center and the Science Center – the latter of which cost $10 million, was conceived by Tulsa-based firm Dewberry Design Group (now Dewberry) and opened in 2006. As far as expenditure goes, non-residents paid tuition fees of just $11,608 for the 2013-14 academic year; an appealing total given the national average.
10. Indian River State College – Fort Pierce, Florida
The main campus of Indian River State College occupies 300 manicured acres of Treasure Coast land in Fort Pierce, Florida. The site is also packed with visually striking and award-winning structures, several of which are the work of local firm Florida Architects. These constructions include the Tomeu Center for Career and Academic Advancement and the Health Science Center – but the most prominent buildings are the cutting-edge Kight Center for Emerging Technologies and the enormous Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex. The latter occupies some 50 acres of space and provides education facilities for homeland security and disaster exercises across its eight separate buildings. Florida residents paid tuition fees of just $2,764 in 2012-13, while out-of-state students were charged a very reasonable $10,201.
9. University of Hawai’i Maui College – Kahului, Hawai’i
Who wouldn’t be tempted by the idea of studying in Hawai’i? With 2012-13 tuition fees having come in at $2,550 for in-state students and $9,726 for out-of-state undergraduates, the University of Hawai’i Maui College is comfortably cheaper than the national average. However, arguably the school’s biggest selling point is its location in Kahului on the island of Maui, where there’s a wealth of outdoor activities for potential undergraduates to enjoy – from windsurfing and whale watching, to trips to Haleakalā, a volcano standing more than 10,000 feet high. Back on campus, 2013 saw the opening of the $26 million ‘Ike Le’a Science Building, which one freshman described as “probably one of the coolest buildings they have on the lot.”
8. Western Nevada College – Carson City, Nevada
Lying on the eastern edge of the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Carson City, Nevada main campus of Western Nevada College takes some beating in the beauty stakes. What’s more, with tuition having been set at only $2,700 for in-state students and $9,345 for non-resident undergraduates in 2012-13, prices are certainly competitive. The campus itself has three outstanding structures designed by H+K Architects of Reno, Nevada. Astronomy students can enjoy the curved Jack C. Davis Observatory, which opened in 2003, while the striking Donald W. Reynolds Center for Technology was completed four years previously. However, perhaps the crowning glory is the sublime Joe Dini Library and Student Center. This environmentally-sensitive building had recycled materials used during its construction, and its neutral facade perfectly complements the surrounding landscape.
7. Northern State University – Aberdeen, South Dakota
The 72-acre Aberdeen, South Dakota grounds of Northern State University are said to comprise among the most lovely campuses in the Midwestern U.S. But beauty aside, this is a school that’s also surprisingly affordable, with non-residents paying total tuition fees of an estimated $8,244 for the 2014-15 academic year. For that price, undergraduates can explore the large central green and enjoy historic halls such as Lincoln and Spafford, as well as the grand structures of Graham Hall and the Krikac Administration Building. Meanwhile, sports fans will delight in the Joseph H. Barnett Center, which was constructed in 1986 but underwent significant expansion in 2012. Among its multitude of amenities, the center boasts an 8,000-seat arena, a 25-yard pool, gym facilities and a large weight room.
6. New Mexico Highlands University – Las Vegas, New Mexico
Canadian firm Diamond Schmitt Architects teamed up with New Mexico-based Studio Southwest Architects to design New Mexico Highlands University’s Student Union Building, which opened in 2013. Located on a modest 20-acre campus, the LEED Gold-certified facility has 65,000 square feet of floor space and was developed with the environment in mind: a geothermal well takes care of temperature control, while sunlight levels are optimized using state-of-the-art motorized louvers. The Thomas C. Donnelly Library is another outstanding sight on the Las Vegas campus, with this facility having been completed in 1966 to a blueprint by Robert Walters. The library was expanded 30 years later by Albuquerque’s Van H. Gilbert Architect PC, which saw it grow to 53,500 square feet and take on a Romanesque style. In addition to the prospect of impressive amenities and aesthetics, out-of-state, full-time undergraduates can look forward to paying combined tuition costs and fees of just $3,552 for the fall 2014 semester.
5. University of South Dakota – Vermillion, South Dakota
Whether from in state or out of state, undergraduates will pay less than $20,000 for the total cost of attending the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota during the 2014-15 school year. And students won’t be compromising on aesthetics, either, as the 274-acre university grounds comfortably combine striking old and new structures. Old Main, for example, was first built in 1883 and still serves as an elegant must-see sight on campus, as well as a home for the honors program. The award-winning Wellness Center, meanwhile, opened its doors in 2011, with an angled design from national firm RDG Planning & Design. The center’s plate-clad roof makes the most of natural light, and its many green features have also won it a Silver LEED certification, making it as eco-friendly as it is eye-catching.
4. Northwestern Oklahoma State University – Alva, Oklahoma
Total 2014-15 expenses for Northwestern Oklahoma State University in-state and out-of-state students are just $11,272 and $17,782 respectively. For that price, prospective undergraduates can marvel at the school’s elegant, long-standing edifices, including Herod Hall and the Jesse Dunn Building. Herod Hall traces back to 1924 and is arguably the standout structure of the Alva, Oklahoma campus. Jesse Dunn, meanwhile, was built between 1936 and 1937, following the destruction of Castle on the Hill, the university’s original centerpiece. However, the honor of being the oldest remaining building on the 360-acre college grounds belongs to the Fine Arts Building, which dates back to 1907. Prolific Oklahoma City-based architect Solomon Layton designed the exceptional castle-like structure, which features a turreted roof and embodies a mixture of Tudor and Jacobean Revival styles.
3. Middle Georgia State College – Macon, Georgia
The 78,000-square-foot Charles H. Jones Science Building at the Middle Georgia State College in Macon was designed by John Portman & Associates, which has branches in Atlanta and Shanghai. The bold structure is one of the school’s architectural highlights, boasting as it does an arched roof and clean lines across its brick facade – perfectly complementing the promenade out front. Other highlights of the 167-acre campus include a new-for-2014 $21.5 million recreation center with its very own lake. The university additionally offers the cheapest tuition fees in the Middle Georgia area, with out-of-state students having to pay just $5,879 for the 2014-15 academic year when taking 15 credit hours.
2. Brazosport College – Lake Jackson, Texas
Houston-based firm Kirksey Architecture is behind three recent large-scale improvements to Brazosport College’s Lake Jackson, Texas campus. As part of a main campus renovation project, the architects repositioned the Student Life Center, extended the library and refurbished admin offices. Kirksey also created the 75,000-square-foot Health & Science Technology Complex – featuring modern labs and classrooms – and conceived the impressive Dow Academic Center, which is designed to bridge the gap between the college community and its neighbors. Brazosport has successfully maintained its well-groomed appearance following an extensive aesthetic treatment program to its buildings. In a project taking place between 2002 and 2005, structures across the 156-acre site were pressure washed and repainted, while a special protective coat was applied to keep them looking as good as new. Tuition fees here for 2013-14 were $2,790 for in-state undergraduates and $4,200 for those from out of state.
1. West Texas A&M University – Canyon, Texas
It has been said that in 1916 passersby took one look at the then new Old Main building at Canyon’s West Texas A&M University and thought it “the greatest building in Texas, the Capitol only excepted.” The four-story building, the oldest on the 135-acre campus, is certainly impressive in appearance. Moreover, it sits north of the beautifully-landscaped Charles K. and Barbara Kerr Vaughan Pedestrian Mall, which was officially opened in 2007. Here, students can also spot New Mexico-based artist Doug Scott’s eye-catching marble statue of a buffalo and its young whilst taking in the view of the loftiest structure on campus, the Hayward Spirit Tower. It’s worth noting that freshmen from Texas border states applying for the 2014-15 school year will only be charged $4,161 for tuition and fees per semester, based on 15 credit hours.