Pennsylvania State University had the highest in-state tuition for a four-year public university at $15,250 during the 2010-11 school year. When the costs of room, board, and other expenses are factored in, the total rises to $19,816, the fourth-highest net price nationwide.
Bill Mahon, a spokesman for the school, said a 19.6 percent cut in state funding last year, coupled with a decade of weak state support, "has left Penn State increasingly reliant on students and their families to fund most of the costs of their Penn State education."
Zach Zimbler, who graduated from Penn State this spring with a degree in information sciences, said his total tuition came out to about $50,000 for four years. He now has loans totaling around $25,000. He said many students don't realize how much debt they have amassed until it comes time to pay.
"The students themselves don't really know what they're getting into," he said.
Zimbler said he worked during school and feels confident about the value of the education he received, even though it came with a high price tag. He's working on starting his own software business.
At Full Sail University, a film and art school in central Florida, the average price of tuition, fees, books, and other expenses totals $43,990, even when grants and scholarships are factored in. The average net price for an incoming Harvard student: $18,277. Net price is cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said students need to be smart consumers and states must do their part by making higher education a priority in their budgets. Forty percent of states cut higher-education spending last year, the most important factor in tuition increases.
"As a nation, we need more college graduates in order to stay competitive in the global economy," Duncan said. "But if the costs keep on rising, especially at a time when family incomes are hurting, college will become increasingly unaffordable for the middle class."
The College Affordability and Transparency lists were first published last year to fulfill a reporting requirement passed into law in 2008. The lists track tuition and fees as well as the average net price at public, private, and for-profit colleges and universities.