There’s a saying: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Though that may be true, it doesn’t mean education – especially college – doesn’t cost a lot. Tuition across the nation at both private and public universities is increasing, and student loans stick around for a long time. So where can you acquire the best degree-bang for your buck? Are there any cheap colleges

The answer is yes, you can get a good education for very little money but sometimes there are strings attached. You might need to serve in the military or volunteer your time with a religious organization. It's up to you if you think the extra efforts is worthwhile.

Couple of caveats: we stayed away from any for-profit or Internet-only colleges and universities and tried to come up with a list of the cheapest brick-and-mortar schools where you can get a degree.

That said, here are some of the nation's most well-respected but least expensive college programs (with and without strings attached):

Berea College

LOCATION: Berea, Kentucky

TUITION: $0; cost of education per student is $24,100 for the 2010-2011 school year (provided by the College from the endowment, gifts, scholarships, and grants brought by students). Students pay for room and board, and books, but financial aid is available.

ACADEMICS: Liberal arts-based, with 45 majors, minors and programs;

OTHER: Founded in 1855 by abolitionists, Berea College states that its purpose is “to promote the cause of Christ.” All students participate in a work-study program as part of the school’s mission of service within the faith.

ADMISSSIONS INFO: berea.edu/admissions

Brigham Young University

LOCATION: Provo, Utah

TUITION: For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) $2,210 full-time, per semester for 2010-2011; for non-LDS students, $4,420 full-time, per semester

ACADEMICS: Majors include areas within liberal arts, engineering, languages, science and education

OTHER: BYU is owned and operated by the Mormon Church, and much of the school’s costs are paid for by members’ tithes, which is why tuition is less expensive for LDS members.

ADMISSSIONS INFO: byu.edu/admissionsservices

Cooper Union

LOCATION: New York, N.Y.

TUITION: $0; cost of yearly education is approximately $35,000, and each of the admitted 1,000 students receives a full scholarship

ACADEMICS: Students are awarded bachelors or masters degrees in engineering, bachelors of fine art, or bachelors or masters degrees in architecture.

OTHER: Established in 1859 by inventor and philanthropist Peter Cooper, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is made up of three schools: the School of Art, the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and the Albert Nerken School of Engineering.

ADMISSSIONS INFO: cooper.edu/admissions-registrar/admissions

University of Texas

LOCATION: Austin, Tex.

TUITION: About $5,000 per semester for in-state students, depending on the College. Out-of-state students pay about twice that per semester.  

ACADEMICS: The approximately 40,000 undergraduate students can pursue degrees from several colleges within the UT campus, including the College of Pharmacy, College of Education, McCombs School of Business and School of Undergraduate Studies.

ADMISSSIONS INFO: utexas.edu/student/admissions

U.S. Military Academies

LOCATION: U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Conn.; U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.; U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.

TUITION: $0; required to serve in the branch of the military for a certain amount of time upon graduation

ACADEMICS: Gaining acceptance is difficult and extremely competitive. Many of the academies only accept 10-15 percent of those who apply. In return, these highly selective students acquire a rigorous academic education in subjects including engineering, English and computer science while training for their required service in the U.S. military.

OTHER: In all but the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, students are active members of the Armed Forces of the United States from the day they enter the service academy. By law, with the exception of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, all students must be nominated by a member of Congress, the President of the United States or the Vice President.

ADMISSSIONS INFO: todaysmilitary.com

Know of other cheap colleges we left off the list? Tell us about them in the comments below.

MNN homepage photo: iStockphoto