The States Where College Students Stay Close to Home

In these hard economic times, it’s best to cast a wide net when applying for colleges. But most college students continue to stay close to home.

Staying close to home for college can sometimes be a mistake.  For some students, the best colleges — financially and economically — will be a time zone or two away.

Why aren’t state schools always the most economical? For starters, state schools often don’t have the money to provide the best financial aid packages. Even more important, only 28% of students attending state schools graduate in four years. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly on my college blog, you need to check any private or state school’s four-year graduation rate before figuring out the total costs.

In Alaska, 96% of residents attend state schools. On the other extreme, in Massachusetts, which has a strong private school tradition, only 43% of  residents attend their state schools.

In California, where the University of California and Cal State systems are undergoing a financial crisis, there are signs that more students are looking outside their state.

Below you’ll find statistics published by The Chronicle of Higher Education that pinpoint the percentage of college students in individual  states who enroll in their own state institutions.

Region                            Students Attending Own State Schools

Northeast/East Coast

  • Massachusetts      43%
  • Pennsylvania        55%
  • New York               55%
  • New Hampshire   59%
  • Vermont                 59%
  • Connecticut           64%
  • Maine                      72%
  • New Jersey            80%
  • Maryland               82%


  • Missouri                58%
  • Iowa                       63%
  • Minnesota            65%
  • Illinois                  67%
  • Ohio                      73%
  • Indiana                 74%
  • Wisconsin            80%
  • Michigan              81%


  • Kansas                         88%
  • Nebraska                     76%
  • South Dakota              78%
  • North Dakota             87%
  • Montana                      91%
  • Wyoming                     95%


  • Tennessee             71%
  • Florida                   74%
  • Virginia                 78%
  • Kentucky              82%
  • North Carolina    82%
  • South Carolina    83%
  • Louisiana             86%
  • West Virginia      86%
  • Alabama              89%
  • Mississippi          90%


  • Arizona               58%
  • Oklahoma           86%
  • Texas                   87%
  • New Mexico       92%


  • Utah                   73%
  • Colorado             75%
  • Hawaii                75%
  • Idaho                  76%
  • Oregon                81%
  • California            84%
  • Washington        85%
  • Nevada                91%
  • Alaska                 96%

As a practical matter, exploring more alternatives can be a lifesaver if the public universities in your state are cutting back enrollment due to shrinking budgets.

My  nephew, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, now worries that the California state universities that he thought he could get into next fall may  end up rejecting him because of the state’s financial turmoil. He and his parents are now scrambling to find back-up choices.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

Read More:

Beware of Wildly Different Graduation Rates

Six Questions to Ask a State University

College Search: 6 Ways to Find the Right College

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  1. Thank you for pointing out the four-year graduation rates. My two sons do attend California state schools and the problem is getting worse. The schools are cutting classes so students can’t get into the classes they need to graduate.

    I didn’t see Alabama (my husband’s home state) on your list. I would imagine that a fairly high percentage of students attend either the University of Alabama or Auburn.

    Thanks for the interesting blog, Lynn.

    1. HI Lorrie,

      You are so right that a big reason why kids are graduating on time is because they can’t get their classes! Universities don’t mention that ugly reality in their marketing materials.

      I will add Alabama’s figure to the post. In Alabama, 89% of students attend state schools.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. “In Alaska, 96% of residents attend state schools.” Of course, when you consider that Seattle is about 2,100 air miles distant (nearest Lower 48 terminus) such a figure is not surprising.

    As the parent of a college-bound high schooler, I’m attuned to what she and her peers have to say about the University of Alaska system (which has three major campuses: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau), which summarized is “no way, I’m going Outside to school!” (There is only one private university–Alaska Pacific–in our great state.)

    Often, however, financial reality sets in (with the parents, at least), and the kids come to realize that the UA system actually offers a pretty good education. Another plus: one-half to full tuition, four year scholarships to a UA school are now available to students with 2.5 to 4.0 GPAs and meeting certain SAT/ACT standards.

    Your 96% figure is not surprising; I’m actually surprised it’s not higher.

    1. Hi Denny,

      Thanks for your email and letting us know about higher ed in Alaska! I definitely learned something. As you observed, leaving the state won’t always result in a cheaper education. The Alaskan tuition breaks seem quite generous! That said, I think too many families assume that a bachelor’s degree at a state school will always be less expensive than a private university.

      One thing that many parents don’t consider is the four-year grad rates. I looked up the four-year grad rates at the three University of Alaska campuses and they ranged from 3.3% (Juneau) to 8.9% (Fairbanks.) You can find four, five and six-year grad rates at

      Thanks for commenting on my college blog.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy