What you said about the current students warms my heart because my son was one who stayed for auditions.
It says a lot about the program and the faculty that all of those kids wanted to stay and be part of the process.
In looking for schools that "won't break the bank" be sure to investigate what types of scholarships are available to MT's and how that will impact the bottom line. You may find, as we have, that staying close to home is not always the most affordable option.
For example, at Tx State, out-of-state students who receive a scholarship for $1000 or more, qualify for an in-state tuition waiver. While it may seem like an unfair benefit for out-of-state kids, it actually levels the playing field, because unlike in some states, the in-state kids are not competing against out-of-state money.
Also, at many private, as well as many state schools, kids with good to great academic profiles are automatically given academic scholarships that may make them competitive with even your most affordable in-state options. Some, like Coastal Carolina, also offer perks like Honors housing and a free laptop to students in their Honors Program.