States with the most highly ranked colleges

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November 15, 2019
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States with the most highly ranked colleges

Delaware Valley University explored some of the reasons why students choose one college over another in a 2015 blog post. Among the factors listed were safety, cost, program ranking, majors offered, career service, and student life. And, of course, one of the most crucial factors in choosing a college is the location. When it comes to higher ed, many students must decide between staying close to home or studying further afield. For students applying to schools out of state, it can be difficult to vet a program from afar.

Every state approaches education differently. For some states, investment in K-12 and higher education is paramount. For others, there is simply not enough tax money to both fully fund the state's public education system and meet certain requirements for higher ed. How this manifests can speak to a student's educational experience in that state.

An example of this is California, which houses some of the best post-secondary schools in the nation. Well-funded up to the 1970s, the University of California and the California State University systems defined international standards. Budget cuts in the last four decades, however, have slowly driven up the cost of tuition, with state funding priorities now directed toward the state's community colleges instead of the state's public universities. The deficit has forced California, in recent years, to spend more in reinvestments than any other state.

New York, on the other hand, is in the midst of a historic reshuffling of state-based college funding. Since 2012, the state has been pumping money into its higher education system, with total support for the 2020 fiscal year estimated at $7.6 billion. For New York State residents that have a household income of $125,000 or less, starting with the 2019–2020 academic year, enrollment in a New York State public university is tuition-free under the Excelsior Scholarship.

California's situation is not unique. As state education budgets ebb and flow, so too do collegiate rankings. Stacker has studied Niche's 2020 Best Colleges in America list to determine which states have the most highly ranked colleges. For this list, states are ranked by those with the most schools in the top 250 of Niche's Best College rankings. Ties are broken by the highest-ranked school. Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and West Virginia are not included as they didn't have a school in the top 250.

Keep reading to find out where your state ranks.

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#42. Wyoming

- Schools in top 250: 1
- Highest ranked schools: University of Wyoming (#225 national rank)

Wyoming is the home of 11 institutions of higher learning. Of these, the University of Wyoming is the only one that is a four-year, degree-granting school. The University of Wyoming has an acceptance rate of 97% and a graduation rate of 58%.

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#41. New Mexico

- Schools in top 250: 1
- Highest ranked schools: New Mexico Tech (#184 national rank)

New Mexico has more than 50 colleges and universities, including the University of New Mexico. New Mexico Tech, or the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, is a university based in Socorro, N.M. A highly selective public school with a curriculum that focuses on science and engineering, the college was originally set up to teach mining at the collegiate level.

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#40. Delaware

- Schools in top 250: 1
- Highest ranked schools: University of Delaware (#127 national rank)

The relatively small state of Delaware has 34 colleges and universities. The University of Delaware, located in Newark, is the state's largest university. The school was ranked the top physical therapy graduate program for 2017 by U.S. News & World Report, as well as the 33rd best public university in 2018.

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#39. Louisiana

- Schools in top 250: 1
- Highest ranked schools: Tulane University (#85 national rank)

New Orleans' Tulane University is arguably the state's most prestigious school. Founded in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana, Tulane is one of the oldest medical and law colleges in the nation.

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#38. New Hampshire

- Schools in top 250: 1
- Highest ranked schools: Dartmouth College (#15 national rank)

Dartmouth College is New Hampshire's Ivy League institution. The ninth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, the school was founded a full seven years before the United States declared independence. Dartmouth Medical School among the best in the U.S., according to U.S. News.

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#37. South Dakota

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: Augustana University (#210 national rank), South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (#243)

South Dakota has over 40 colleges and universities. Augustana University is the state's largest private university. The Sioux Falls school was ranked #9 on U.S. News & World Report's list of Best Regional Universities Midwest 2020. Although Augustana is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, they accept students of all faiths and promote academic integrity that is free of religious bias.

Like New Mexico Tech, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology was started to teach mining on a college level. Since its creation, the school has become a regional leader in engineering and science education, with a focus on geology.

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#36. Nebraska

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: University of Nebraska - Lincoln (#176 national rank), Creighton University (#180)

At 856 acres, the University of Nebraska - Lincoln boasts a sprawling campus. The alma mater of Warren Buffet, the school has a strong commitment to research. Creighton University is a private Jesuit university located in downtown Omaha. Creighton has a 98% post-graduation employment rate and will be one of the first schools to offer a financial technology degree.

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#35. Kansas

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: University of Kansas (#174 national rank), Kansas State University (#175)

Like many of the colleges and universities on this list, the University of Kansas is well known for its athletics program. One of the top Division 1 schools, its men's basketball team regularly participates in March Madness. Success on the court is one thing, but K.U. also boasts some impressive academics. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked K.U.'s city management and urban policy program the best in the nation.

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#34. Arizona

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: Arizona State University (#155 national rank), University of Arizona (#165)

Arizona has a strong public university network, with more than 50 colleges and universities throughout the state. Arizona State University, for example, is one of the nation's largest public universities by enrollment, with U.S. News & World Report naming ASU the most innovative school in the nation in 2019.

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#33. Utah

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: Brigham Young University (#78 national rank), University of Utah (#145)

Brigham Young University is one of the few religious schools on Niche's top colleges list. Owned and operated by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, the school has both an honor code that forbids extramarital sex, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine and mandates study in the Bible and LDS scripture. Despite the strict code of conduct, the school's foreign language and business programs are among the best in the nation.

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#32. Vermont

- Schools in top 250: 2
- Highest ranked schools: Middlebury College (#33 national rank), University of Vermont (#222)

Middlebury College has deep historical significance for this nation. One of the best liberal arts schools in America, the college was the first school in America to graduate an African American with a bachelor's degree. The graduate, Alexander Twilight, would become the nation's first black state legislator. Middlebury was also the first New England school to admit women.

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#31. Mississippi

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: Mississippi State University (#193 national rank), University of Mississippi (#213), Millsaps College (#250)

Mississippi's schools are steeped in tradition and history, for better or for worse. Reflective of the part of the world they reside in, the state's schools have struggled with race issues and coming to terms with their segregationist pasts. Today, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University have both declared themselves to be inclusive.

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#30. Arkansas

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: University of Arkansas (#168 national rank), Hendrix College (#218), Ouachita Baptist University (#224)

Another state whose schools are known for both athletics and academics, Arkansas is the home of the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas's Razorbacks. An agricultural school, the university has also earned high ratings for its law and architectural programs.

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#29. Oklahoma

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: University of Tulsa (#118 national rank), University of Oklahoma (#149), Oklahoma State University (#166)

This private research university manages the Gilcrease Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of American Western art and indigenous American artifacts. Building on its traditions of conservatorship, the school recently made news for taking over the Bob Dylan Archive.

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#28. Georgia

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: Emory University (#30 national rank), Georgia Institute of Technology (#38), University of Georgia (#66)

Georgia's capital city Atlanta is a university-dense metropolitan area. Besides Emory and Georgia Tech, the city is home to Morehouse University—which is the alma mater of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Spelman College, Clark Atlanta College, Georgia State University, Oglethorpe University, and many others. Emory—one of the oldest universities in the nation—is best known for its medical programs.

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#27. Maryland

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: Johns Hopkins University (#27 national rank), University of Maryland - College Park (#104), Loyola University Maryland (#241)

Johns Hopkins University is regarded as one of the finest centers of research in the nation. The school is arguably the first research university in the nation, founded in 1876 and named for its first benefactor, the abolitionist and philanthropist Johns Hopkins. Its medical university is where the cardiac defibrillator was developed.

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#26. Maine

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: Bowdoin College (#21 national rank), Bates College (#47), Colby College (#52)

Maine is known for its liberal arts schools. Bowdoin College, for example, which is technically older than the state itself, regularly ranks among the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Bowdoin has formed an athletic and library-exchange consortium with fellow Maine liberal arts schools Bates College and Colby College.

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#25. Rhode Island

- Schools in top 250: 3
- Highest ranked schools: Brown University (#7 national rank), Rhode Island School of Design (#143), Providence College (#235)

Rhode Island is the smallest of the nation's states. However, as one of the oldest states, it holds a significant place in U.S. history. One example of this is Brown University, which is one of the oldest colleges in the nation and the first to accept students without consideration of religious affiliation.

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#24. Alabama

- Schools in top 250: 4
- Highest ranked schools: Auburn University (#137 national rank), The University of Alabama (#156), University of Alabama - Birmingham (#232)

Yet another state featuring colleges with strong athletics programs, Alabama is home to Auburn University and the University of Alabama, both of which are top schools in the NCAA's Division 1 Football Bowl Series. Typically, both schools have starting roles in the end-of-year bowl games. This is not to dismiss Alabama's educational prowess—both Auburn University and the University of Alabama have been recognized as top public universities.

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#23. Oregon

- Schools in top 250: 4
- Highest ranked schools: Reed College (#97 national rank), University of Portland (#154), University of Oregon (#197)

If you have never heard of Reed College, it is worth taking a look at. The Portland-based school is small yet distinguished. Ranked second in graduates that go on to get doctorates in life sciences and the humanities, third in math and sciences, third in social and physical sciences, and fourth when considering all disciplines. The school is known for its academic rigor and its straightforwardness. The larger University of Oregon is equally impressive. As one of the nation's top public research universities, the school boasts 19 research centers and institutes.

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#22. Wisconsin

- Schools in top 250: 4
- Highest ranked schools: University of Wisconsin (#63 national rank), Lawrence University (#146), Milwaukee School of Engineering (#159)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison—or the University of Wisconsin for short—is considered a Public Ivy, meaning it's a top school capable of providing students with an education comparable to the Ivy League. The oldest university in Wisconsin, the school scores high points for research, having yielded two recipients of the coveted Fields Medal in mathematics.

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#21. Missouri

- Schools in top 250: 4
- Highest ranked schools: Washington University in St. Louis (#14 national rank), Saint Louis University (#138), University of Missouri (#173)

The eighth best medical school in the nation (ranked by U.S. News), Washington University in St. Louis is a world-renowned research university. The host of more presidential and vice-presidential debates than any other institution, the school has been at the forefront of modern political discussion.

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#20. Tennessee

- Schools in top 250: 4
- Highest ranked schools: Vanderbilt University (#12 national rank), Sewanee - The University of the South (#142), Rhodes College (#153)

A legacy school, Nashville's Vanderbilt University was built from a $1 million endowment from railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, despite the billionaire never visiting the South. The school has emerged as one of the most prestigious private schools in the South and a key part of the intellectual heritage of the region.

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#19. South Carolina

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: Clemson University (#100 national rank), Furman University (#124), University of South Carolina (#161)

Clemson University is the defending College Football Playoff National Champion. Having won two national championships in three years and four conference championships in a row, Clemson has emerged as a football powerhouse. A top-tier public research university, Clemson ranked 27th in U.S. News & World Report's 2019 rankings.

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#18. Washington

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: University of Washington (#92 national rank), Whitman College (#107), Washington State University (#157)

Sometimes, a university can help a city to develop. Seattle's University of Washington played a key role in developing the city's tech industry. Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft all choose Seattle as their headquarters in part due to proximity to the University of Washington.

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#17. Iowa

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: Grinnell College (#69 national rank), University of Iowa (#136), Iowa State University (#141)

Iowa is home to more than 50 colleges and universities, including Grinnell College. Grinnell is a liberal arts college known for its high endowment, academic rigor, the pursuit of social justice, and diversity.

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#16. Colorado

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: Colorado College (#67 national rank), Colorado School of Mines (#87), University of Colorado - Boulder (#167)

Colorado is a highly affluent state that draws its wealth from mineral extraction and from its technical affiliation with the federal government. The state's schools reflect this paradigm. Colorado College, for example, is a top-ranking liberal arts school, while Colorado School of Mines is one of the best regional tech schools.

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#15. North Carolina

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: Duke University (#6 national rank), Wake Forest University (#42), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#43)

Another legacy school, Duke University was founded from the Duke Endowment, funded by tobacco industrialist James Buchanan Duke. From 1986 to 2015, Duke had the fifth-highest number of Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall Scholars in the nation.

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#14. New Jersey

- Schools in top 250: 5
- Highest ranked schools: Princeton University (#5 national rank), Stevens Institute of Technology (#101), Rutgers University-New Brunswick (#135)

New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of colonial-era schools that are still in operation. Among these are Princeton University and Rutgers University—which was originally called Queen's College. As a northeastern state, New Jersey has invested a large amount in its schools. Rutgers is considered to be a Public Ivy, while Princeton is a founding member of the Ivy League.

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#13. Florida

- Schools in top 250: 6
- Highest ranked schools: University of Florida (#59 national rank), University of Miami (#74), Florida State University (#110)

U.S. News & World Report found the University of Florida to be the seventh-best public university in the country. With some of the largest single-campus universities in the nation, Florida's public schools have distinguished themselves for their research and academic rigor.

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#12. Minnesota

- Schools in top 250: 6
- Highest ranked schools: Carleton College (#32 national rank), Macalester College (#80), University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (#89)

Similar to Oregon's Reed College, Minnesota's Carleton College is a Ph.D. factory. The school, per 100 students, has one of the highest rates of grads that go on to earn a doctorate degree. The top school in 2019 for undergraduate teaching, the school is considered to be one of the best liberal arts educations in the nation.

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#11. Michigan

- Schools in top 250: 6
- Highest ranked schools: University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (#23 national rank), Michigan State University (#109), Michigan Technological University (#128)

It is true that the University of Michigan has the largest college football stadium in the nation. It is also the eighth-best university in the world, per Scimago. One of the best research universities in the U.S., it is also one of the most well-funded. For the academic year 2018–2019, UM-Ann Arbor has a budget of nearly $9 billion.

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#10. Connecticut

- Schools in top 250: 6
- Highest ranked schools: Yale University (#3 national rank), Wesleyan University (#54), University of Connecticut (#163)

Connecticut is one of the smaller states in the Union. Its proximity to New York City, however, positions it as a strategic proximity option for students. An example of this is the University of Connecticut. The school's presence in the New York City media market helped its athletics to draw better talent, which is reflected in the success of the school's men's and women's basketball teams. UConn's athletic successes highlight the fact that the school has been recognized as a Public Ivy—one of the best public universities in the nation.

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#9. Virginia

- Schools in top 250: 7
- Highest ranked schools: University of Virginia (#29 national rank), Washington & Lee University (#36), College of William & Mary (#56)

Virginia is known for the University of Virginia. Founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson, the school would become a template for universities across the world. The University of Virginia is regarded to be one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States.

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#8. Indiana

- Schools in top 250: 8
- Highest ranked schools: University of Notre Dame (#17 national rank), Purdue University (#83), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (#98)

Any college football fan is probably familiar with Indiana's schools. Whether it's the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish or Purdue's Boilermakers, Indiana's football prowess helps to highlight the academic excellence of these schools. An example of this is the fact that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was a graduate of Purdue, and the tradition holds. At least one person on almost one-third of NASA's space flights is a Purdue alum.

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#7. Illinois

- Schools in top 250: 10
- Highest ranked schools: Northwestern University (#11 national rank), University of Chicago (#18), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (#64)

Illinois' universities have the distinction of having advanced the fields of learning. The University of Chicago, for example, has created new schools of thought in architecture, sociology, economics, and mathematics. Northwestern University is a world-acclaimed research university, with the 10th best endowment for an American university, as of 2018.

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#6. Ohio

- Schools in top 250: 11
- Highest ranked schools: Kenyon College (#72 national rank), Case Western Reserve University (#79), The Ohio State University (#94)

During the early years of the nation, the "frontier" referred to anything west of the Appalachians. This includes the Ohio River Valley, the Tennessee River Valley, and much of what we now call the Midwest. As settlers headed into these areas, there became a need for institutions to train ministers, teachers, and other professionals. These institutions would become these states' most prestigious schools. Ohio's Kenyon College and Case Western Reserve both started as ministry training facilities, for example.

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#5. Texas

- Schools in top 250: 11
- Highest ranked schools: Rice University (#10 national rank), University of Texas - Austin (#51), Southern Methodist University (#77)

One of the largest states in the Union by physical size, the state had plenty of land to offer as land grants for its universities. This allowed the schools to set up endowments by selling the land quickly, Many of the state's land-grant universities, such as the University of Texas, have emerged as national research hubs.

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#4. Massachusetts

- Schools in top 250: 18
- Highest ranked schools: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#1 national rank), Harvard University (#4), Amherst College (#22)

Boston has one of the highest concentrations of universities in the nation. Within its metropolitan area are Boston College, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Harvard University, Tufts University, and many others. A colonial city, many of these institutions have deep connections with the history of the city and the nation.

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#3. Pennsylvania

- Schools in top 250: 19
- Highest ranked schools: University of Pennsylvania (#9 national rank), Carnegie Mellon University (#28), Haverford College (#31)

The home of the nation's first capital, Pennsylvania is a state steeped in history. As such, it hosts some of the nation's most prestigious schools. Pennsylvania's contribution to the Ivy League is the University of Pennsylvania, for example. Due to the concentration of wealth in the state, many local endowment schools were created, such as Carnegie-Mellon University.

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#2. New York

- Schools in top 250: 25
- Highest ranked schools: Columbia University (#8 national rank), Cornell University (#20), Barnard College (#34)

New York is the only state to host two Ivy League schools: Cornell and Columbia Universities. New York is also the home of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the highly acclaimed State University of New York system, Cooper Union, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Colgate University, Syracuse University, and many other well-ranked schools.

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#1. California

- Schools in top 250: 26
- Highest ranked schools: Stanford University (#2 national rank), Pomona College (#13), California Institute of Technology (#16)

California is a highly affluent state that commits a significant amount to educational spending. This is reflected in the University of California and the California State University systems, which make up a significant portion of Niche's list. Other schools on the list include the University of Southern California, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, and Claremont McKenna College.

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