With thousands of colleges and universities spread across the country, those who want to attend higher education have an incredible number of choices. Yet the majority of higher education students—over two-thirds—attend a school within 50 miles of home. Over half attend a school within 20 miles1. This fact suggests that despite a theoretical abundance of choice, most postsecondary students choose among nearby schools. Because students and schools are not equally distributed around the nation, some students will have more choices than others. Also, because schools have different costs of attendance, it will be more expensive, on average, to go to college in some areas than others.
The interactive map above shows the average college price (tuition and fees) for each county in the lower 48 states for each year from 1997 to 2012. Hovering over a county will show its unique price, which is a distance-weighted average of the tuition and fees at surrounding colleges and universities. Within each year, the variation in price across the country is shown by the differences in color. Blue values are given to comparatively lower prices, red values to higher. Because dollar amounts are adjusted to constant 2013 dollars, moving the slider or clicking the play button shows how these average prices have increased since the late 1990s.
Using the selection widgets, you can change the college sample to include:
- all colleges
- only public colleges
- only four-year public colleges
- only two-year public colleges
Different college samples will give different ranges of price since some schools (public two-year colleges) are generally less expensive than others (public four-year and private universities). You can also change whether the weighting computation includes all schools or only those in the same state as the county. Visit the methodology page for a more complete explanation of how the weighted averages are computed.
Doyle, W. R., & Skinner, B. T. (forthcoming). Does postsecondary education result in civic benefits? The Journal of Higher Education.
Doyle, W. R., & Skinner, B. T. (2016). Estimating the education-earnings equation using geographic variation. Economics of Education Review, 53, 254–267.
County-level weighted price data were computed in R by the authors using information gathered from IPEDS. The interactive maps were constructed using D3.js, the US TopoJSON file made available by Mike Bostock, and plugins created by Susie Lu, Bjørn Sandvik, and Felix Gnass.
Numbers computed by author using the NCES 2011-2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:12) ↩