10 public colleges under $8,500 a year

Home may be where the heart is, but the heartland is the sweet spot for out-of-state college students. If you’re compiling your list of potential colleges this summer and you’re certain you want to go out of state, our list of the least-pricey public colleges for non-residents is worth considering. It’s also a must-read if you’re  equally certain you don’t want to be one of the graduates with $23,000 of debt upon graduation, the average according to the Pew Research Center.

No less than three of the 10 least-expensive public colleges for out-of-state students--according to U.S. News and World Report's annual list--are in Minnesota. The Dakotas are also quite well represented, with five of the country's least-pricey schools located in North and South Dakotas. Indeed, the Midwest and the Plains states come through on their reputation for thrift and value in this list--where the top yearly tuition is under $8,500.

Schools.com took a close look at each of the 10 budget colleges, collecting some of the most compelling facts about each institution--everything from their top majors to famous alumni to nearby sights to quirky bits of history--and investigated how the U.S. News list is compiled.

According to Robert Morse, U.S. News and World Report's director of data research, the methodology of their list is really quite simple. "We collect data from colleges and update it each year," he explains. "Our list is just tracking tuition: We're not saying they're the best schools, quality-wise for the money--they're just the cheapest."

The bottom-line message from the magazine is, essentially, do thorough research on these schools before you apply. Bargain tuition is not necessarily synonymous with quality, though there are many colleges on the list where the dollar-to-return ratio is quite high, even though your annual bill will be quite low.

Below is the list of the top 10 low-tuition schools for out-of-state students, listed in ascending price range. 


Out of state colleges: New Mexico Highlands

1. New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM: $4,632

A safe bet: New Mexico Highlands University is enviably situated. In the "other" Las Vegas, the college--noted archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett was its first president--the school is in a beautiful part of New Mexico, and is just a one hour drive from Santa Fe, and two from Albuquerque.

NMHU offers graduate and undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, education, and social work.

The majority of the school's approximately 3,500 students are in-state and most are Latino. Thus, Highlands' programs focus on its multi-ethnic student body, especially New Mexico's Latino and American Indian cultures.

Fun facts: The campus can be seen in the movie Red Dawn as the town of Las Vegas substituted for a fictional community of Calumet, Colorado. NMHU can also be seen in the John Carpenter film Vampires.

Out of state college: Minnesota

2. Minnesota State University--Moorhead, Moorhead, MN: $6,918

Mano-a-mano class sizes: Minnesota State University--Moorhead is a terrific value and is highly rated academically. In fact, in 2008, it was rated the 18th top liberal arts college in the Midwest by Time magazine.

Set scenically on the Red River of the North, the university is on the western border of Minnesota--across the river is Fargo, North Dakota (commence Marge Gunderson-accent jokes now!).

The student-faculty ratio is an impressive 18:1, and over 40 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students. The most popular majors are biology/biological sciences, elementary education and teaching, journalism, and social work. (Worth noting: The MSUM School of Business has earned the prestigious AACSB International accreditation.)

Minnesota State University--Moorhead is part of the Tri-College University cooperative cross-registration exchange with neighboring Concordia College and North Dakota State University, and students may take classes at all three institutions with no extra cost.

Fun alumn: Soul Surfer actor Kevin Sorbo.

Out of state colleges: Minot State

3. Minot State University, Minot, ND: $7,047

Labor and justice for all: Founded in 1913, Minot State's physical plant is a mixture of beautiful old brick buildings from the early days to the very modern Swain Hall (just renovated in 2010), which houses a mixture of classrooms, labs, and a world-class sports-medicine training facility.

The student-faculty ratio at Minot State University is an enviable 14:1. Though it is historically a teacher-training college, Minot State has recently received approvals to offer a Ph.D. program in criminal justice (in a partnership with the University of North Dakota).

Minot State University's College of Business hosts the country's only U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps Fellowship, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Since its inception in 2001, the Job Corps Executive Management Program has admitted over 100 high-achieving program participants, who graduate with a master's degree in either Information Systems (MSIS) or Management (MSM), ready for high-level positions within the Job Corps system.

Fun alum: Josh Duhamel, Emmy-award-winning actor and husband to Fergie.

Out of state colleges: Southwest Minnesota

4. Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, MN: $7,240

Cutting-edge culinology degrees: Sleek and modern, this Midwestern university is great for those who like their architecture contemporary and their educational programs up-to-date.

Focused on school-to-career education, Southwestern Minnesota State University's most popular degrees are those with a professional bent. The most in-demand courses of study include business administration and management, education, finance, health and physical education/fitness, and marketing/marketing management.

Good news for budding chefs: In 2005, SMSU developed the country's first bachelors-degree culinology program to be approved by the Research Chefs Association.

Fun fact: Celebrated novelist Larry McMurtry has taught at SMSU.

Out of state colleges: Bemidji State

5. Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN: $7,496

Triple-play by the lake: Business, social work, writing: Set on the scenic western shore of Lake Bemidji in the north woods of Minnesota, the Bemidji State University campus is very environmentally conscious, a reflection of its locale.

The most popular majors at BSU include business, management, marketing, education, engineering technology; Homeland Security, law enforcement, firefighting, and psychology. (Students interested in social-work degrees should also note that Bemidji State also has a 96 percent rate of social-work majors passing their licensing exams--as compared to the 76 percent rate for the rest of the state.)

Bemidji is also celebrated for its programs and conferences in writing. It offers the only BFA in professional and creative writing in the Minnesota State system, and the program also includes cutting-edge programs in writing for Web sites. Bemidji is also the setting of the esteemed Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference.

Those interested in international business should note: BSU has a longstanding relationship with China's Liaoning University. Each year, a professor from Liaoning University teaches Chinese at Bemidji, and each summer BSU students participate in "Sino-Summer," a month-long educational and cultural visit to China.

Fun alum: Trent Baalke, who is the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.

Out of state colleges: Midwestern State

6. Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, TX: $7,620

Small classes, progressive philosophy: Midwestern State University aims to be the premier public liberal arts university in Texas, and that is reflected in the focus on progressive thought. As the school's promotional material puts it, students, faculty and staff "continuously challenge points of understanding." The student-faculty ratio at Midwestern State University is a delightful 18:1, and over 30 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students.

At MSU, the most in-demand majors include communication, journalism, computer and information sciences and support services, education, engineering, and natural resources and conservation.

Midwestern State is also the place to be if you're keen on socializing. There are 16 nationally affiliated fraternities and sororities on campus, from Alpha Kappa Alpha to Tau Kappa Epsilon. If the Greek system is not your thing, there are over 100 other student organizations on campus, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and MSU Rugby.

Fun fact: Dr. Phil McGraw is a proud graduate of Midwestern State.

Out of state colleges: Northern State

7. Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD: $7,848

Sports and sciences: Northern State University is South Dakota's top public university, and it prides itself on its mixture of liberal-arts and career-oriented instruction. The campus is also lovely--set on the rolling prairie, with big, open skies and plenty of outdoor activities.

The top popular majors at Northern State University are biological and biomedical sciences; business, management, marketing; education; social sciences; and visual and performing arts.

Sports fans will find lots to cheer about with a committed fan base at NSU: Their men's and women's basketball and football teams are consistently ranked in the top ten nationally for NCAA Division II attendance. The men's basketball team was ranked number one in the nation in attendance for the 2005-06 season. Wolves head basketball coach Don Meyer achieved 700 wins faster than any other coach in college history.

Fun alum: Ronnie Cruz of the Dallas Cowboys.

Out of state colleges: South Dakota

8. South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD: $7,941

Farming and pharmaceutics: South Dakota State University is the place for future farmers. It is the state's designated land-grant institution. The three-part program includes the Agricultural Experiment Station (focused upon research), the Cooperative Extension Service (public service) and the University (education).

South Dakota State's top majors are agribusiness/agricultural business operations; biology/biological sciences; economics; and pharmaceutics and drug design.

The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is at a very impressive 77.2 percent.

Fun fact: Cookies-and-cream ice cream was first created at the university's dairy plant.

Out of state colleges: Mayville State

9. Mayville State University, Mayville, ND: $8,072

Wired and inspired: Though it was founded in the late-1800s, Mayville State University, prides itself on being one of the country's "most wired" campuses: Upon admission, each student is issued a tablet PC notebook computer, and virtually the entire rustic, tree-lined campus is Wi-Fi enabled.

Unsurprisingly, MSU specializes in tech-heavy coursework and is forward-looking in the distance-learning sector. Bachelor of applied science degree programs in business administration, computer information systems, communications, and early childhood education are offered as online options.

The school's hottest majors include business administration and management; child care and support services management; elementary education and teaching; health and physical education/fitness; and psychology.

Basketball fans, rejoice: The Mayville State University Comets finished runner-up at the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament in 2007, the only men's basketball team in North Dakota history to play in a national collegiate championship game.

Out of state colleges: South Dakota Vermillion

10. University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD: $8,259

Law, political science, medicine: The University of South Dakota is gorgeously situated along the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River in the southeast corner of the state. It is South Dakota's oldest university and is home to some of its most impressive educational programs.

USD is home to South Dakota's law school, and is also the setting of the state's oldest and largest political science department. The state's only medical school is here as well, and the Sanford School of Medicine runs community-based programs throughout the state.

The most popular majors at University of South Dakota include business, management, and marketing; education; health professions and related programs; psychology; and social sciences.

For those who crave a social college experience, the Greek system is alive and well at University of South Dakota, home to nine fraternities and four sororities.

The Al Neuharth Media Center is one of the most recent additions to the college, named for its donor who is also the founder of USA Today and a proud USD alumnus.

The academic strength of the university is clear in its results: Thirty-nine USD students have been awarded prestigious Fulbright, Rhodes, National Science Foundation, Boren, Truman, Udall, Jack Kent Cooke and Goldwater scholarships and grants for graduate study.

Fun alum: Tom Brokaw is another media-star graduate of the University of South Dakota.