All too often the big guys make the headlines, and the little guy gets overlooked. The quarterback gets the face time but owes his success to his linemen. The loud students are heard, but the quiet ones do the best work. This list is meant to bring attention to the little guy, the quiet girl, the lineman whose role sometimes goes unnoticed. The small colleges in our nation number in the thousands and enroll tens of thousands of students. Bigger isn’t always better, and for many students, large state universities can be overwhelming. Small colleges offer an opportunity for a close relationship with professors, a community where it is possible to recognize almost everyone on campus, and intimacy that is lacking on larger campuses. We gathered data from the National Center for Education Statistics regarding enrollment, retention, graduation rate, tuition, and degrees to narrow down the list to the top 50. These were ranked based on a scoring rubric and give us the best small colleges our nation has to offer.
The list was compiled based on the following criteria.
- 500-2000 undergraduate students
- Provide campus housing
- Offers graduate degrees
- Over 50% graduation rate
- No more than $30,000 tuition
- Student to faculty ratio 15:1 or less
- 74% or higher retention rate
50. Cabrini University
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian-American religious sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Founded by the Sisters, and starting as an orphanage, Cabrini University is now a coeducational Roman Catholic liberal arts institution. With a strong emphasis on social justice, Cabrini was one of the first universities to make community service a graduation requirement. Cabrini is also recognized for community engagement by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The campus is beautiful, with the iconic and elaborate Elizabethan Tudor-style mansion (listed as a National Register of Historic Places) as the centerpiece. CU offers over 35 majors, minors, and certifications. Of those who graduate, 95 percent are employed, in graduate school, or completing a year of service within ten months of graduating. The School’s unique vision, 11:1 student to faculty ratio, and 76 percent retention indicates an institution that knows who it is and where it’s going.
49. Concordia University-Nebraska
When one professor and twelve young men started a school in 1894, they did not know that it would become part of the Concordia University System of Schools. After several names over the years and a lot of growth, Concordia University, Nebraska arrived where it is today. Located in Seward, about 25 miles west of Lincoln, Nebraska, CUNE is a private university in the Lutheran tradition that offers 2600 total students (1478 undergraduates) a “Christ-centered community equipping men and women for lives of learning, service, and leadership in the church and world.” This mission is lived out in all aspects of a student’s experience. Academic options include over 50 majors, including graduate and post bachelor’s options. With 76 percent retention and a 98 percent graduation placement, Concordia produces results. Tuition is $19,144, and 100 percent of students receive financial aid. CUNE is one of only 61 schools in the nation named as a Christian College of Distinction.
48. Muskingum University
It was when Ohio was “an infant state and covered wagons were bringing adventurous settlers westward over the newly completed National Road through New Concord,” Muskingum University was born. Named from a Delaware American Indian word meaning “town by the river,” the School’s heritage belongs to Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who settled the area. Academics and affordability is a source of pride at MU. All students are given a strong liberal-arts curriculum, known as the “Liberal Arts Essentials” with a determined focus on field work and independent studies at an affordable price. Tuition is $19,005 currently, however, it is commendable (and rare) that considering rising costs in the country, the University lowered tuition in 1996 by $4000. Touting an “exceptional education at an exceptional value, ” the School’s enrollment has risen in recent years. There are approximately 1700 undergraduate and 1300 graduate students. MU offers 68 academic majors, including 13 interdisciplinary majors, eight pre-professional programs, teacher licensure in 23 areas, and 11 international exchange study programs.
47. Midway University
Based on the tragic lack of education among female orphans, Dr. Lewis Pinkerton, a physician and minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), opened the Kentucky Female Orphan School in 1847. With a liberal-arts curriculum, the School has given countless women opportunity in business, equine studies, nursing, and teacher education. On May 12, 2016, the Midway University Board of Trustees voted to become fully coeducational in all its undergraduate programs in the fall of 2016. Situated on 200 acres of a working farm in Midway, Kentucky with a total enrollment of 1200 students (950 undergraduates), the School offers an excellent equine program. The University is divided into three schools: Arts & Sciences, Business, Equine & Sports Studies, and Health Sciences. Study abroad, service-learning abroad, and equine-study abroad programs are also available at MU. Tuition at Midway is $20,54, and 90 percent of students receive some aid.
46. Morningside College
Ethical leadership and civic responsibility are held up at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. The private, liberal arts school was founded by the Episcopal Methodist Church in 1894; it is affiliated with the United Methodist Church today. Though a small school with 2900 students, of which 1300 are undergraduates, MC feels like a larger university. The campus is attractive and sits on 69 acres, some of which is designated as a National Historic District. Academics are student-centered and aimed at creating critical thinkers. MC students are given choices in 60 areas of study from bachelor’s to master’s, study abroad options, a May term, and three- or four-year pacing. The faculty is caring and personal, and a 13:1 student to faculty ratio maximizes learning. Over 50 student organizations and clubs, a fantastic performing arts program and opportunities, a provided laptop, and access to city life make Morningside “big enough to offer lots of opportunities, but small enough that you can actually make a difference.”
45. William Jessup University
During the Great Depression, Eugene Sanderson founded San Jose Bible College. Under the leadership of William Jessup, the young institution began to grow. Since then, and several name changes later, the institution became the William Jessup University of today. WJU is a private Christian University in Rocklin, California. WJU takes faith formation seriously as every student, regardless of denomination or faith, signs the Community Covenant. Essentially, this is an agreement to uphold the values of the community. Enrolling 1300 total students and 1000 undergraduates, WJU offers a Christ-centered liberal arts curriculum with an emphasis on career preparation. There are over 20 undergraduate degrees with master’s degrees in Teaching, Business Administration, Education, and Leadership. The most popular concentrations are psychology, theology and religion, management, business, and education. The student to faculty ratio is 11:1. Lastly, it should be noted that as an intentionally Christian campus, Chapel attendance is required two days a week, and domestic and international service opportunities are offered every year.
44. Lutheran College
When a School generates $44.9 million of annual economic impact, it shows the tremendous value of education. Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has, and continues to make a difference in the world. WLC enrolls 1,200 total (1071 undergraduates) students who are “prepared for lives of Christian leadership.” Founded in 1970 and growing steadily since the College is dedicated to continued growth and impact with their Vision 2020 as well as their 30-year Strategic Plan. Students at WLC choose from over 30 majors and can earn bachelor’s, master’s and pre-professional degrees such as law and medicine. Students benefit from a 12:1 student to faculty ratio and enjoy faculty who know them personally. Tuition is $19,748, and 99 percent of full-time traditional undergraduate students are awarded financial aid. Student life is filled with service opportunities, study abroad options, NCAA III Athletics, Intramurals, music and the arts. The retention rate is 75 percent, showing that most students who begin Lutheran College, stick around to finish.
43. Walla Walla University
The Orange and Green go way back. Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington opened the doors in 1892. Founded by Seventh-day Adventists, the mission remains “to convey to students wisdom that translates academic achievement into responsible citizenship, generous service, a deep respect for the beauty of God’s creation, and the promise of re-creation through Jesus Christ.” Walla Walla is beautiful, and only three and a half hours from Seattle and Portland. Nestled among scenic mountains and meandering creeks, yet with low annual rainfall compared to rest of the region, many of the 1800 students enjoy outdoor activities and recreation. Academic options are quite diverse with dozens of bachelor’s and multiple master’s degrees. The most popular undergraduate programs are nursing, engineering, business, biology, and education. WWU also offers ten study abroad programs. A retention rate of 76 percent indicates students are satisfied with WWU.
42. College of Mount Saint Vincent
The motto at the College of Mount Saint Vincent is, “Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge.” That captures the essence of this small, private Catholic school. Located in The Bronx on a 70-acre campus of rolling lawns and wooded hills overlooking the Hudson River, 1800 total students (1600 undergrads) enjoy a quality education in the Catholic tradition. Founded by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, who originated from the famous American Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the focus remains on education and nursing. Students choose from over 40 bachelor’s, master’s, and post-master’s degrees. Other notables include solar panels in the College’s largest parking facility, one of the biggest solar arrays in NYC, and Fonthill Castle, a gorgeous country estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Student life is active in athletics, intramurals, and service and in 2014, CMSV students volunteered for more than 3,500 hours of service.
41. Mount Mercy University
When a steamboat with seven nuns came to Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the late 19th century, little did the area know what a difference the sisters would make. A boarding school for girls that led to a university and a hospital, and later led to multiple rural hospitals and a large medical center; all stemmed from seven Catholic nuns. The Sisters of Mercy founded Mount Mercy Junior College in 1928. Since then, it has grown into a respected university. The main campus is 40 wooded acres in the heart of historic Cedar Rapids, 30 minutes from Iowa City. There are 1900 total students (1500 undergraduates) who choose from more than 45 programs of study with a liberal arts core under eight academic departments. MMU is known for nursing, education, business, criminal justice, biology, international studies and human resource management. The Catholic identity informs the many services and volunteering opportunities, which MMU is also recognized for, and daily Mass is offered. Also notable is the fact that there are excellent research opportunities available for a small school.
40. Anderson University
“The mission of Anderson University is to educate for a life of faith and service in the church and society.” Anderson Bible Training School began in 1917 and has now become a full-fledged university offering degrees in the Christian liberal-arts tradition to 2300 total students (1900 undergraduates). The Church of God tradition remains alive and active as students continue to serve the world. Tri-S (Study, Serve, Share) is AU’s program for faith in service. About 21,000 students have participated, spanning six continents, 102 countries, and 27 states, and it is estimated that students contribute more than 24,000 hours of volunteer service annually. Respectable retention at 75 percent demonstrates the effectiveness of AU’s powerful mission. Service complements academics as students learn from 135 faculties who know them at an individual level; student to faculty ratio is 11:1. Anderson University also makes education accessible to all with 98 percent of students receiving financial aid.
39. Avila University
Avila University is a small, Catholic liberal-arts school in Kansas City, Missouri. The University was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1866 as St. Theresa’s Academy. The School then associated with St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in 1930 and has grown into the institution of today. Avila enrolls 1423 undergraduates and offers 60 majors (there are six graduate degrees). Even though the school is small in numbers, it is large in spirit with many traditions, including the Kickoff, a campus-wide party at the beginning of the year. Avila has a particularly good student to faculty ratio at 10:1. This, coupled with the fact that 77 percent of faculty have the highest degree their field, is why Avila’s retention is at 74 percent. The current President summed up Avila best: “For 100 years, Avila has been guided by the values of our founders – the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – to serve the dear neighbor, turn potential into purpose, build relationships and find connections.”
38. Roberts Wesleyan College
If seeking a college experience “committed to historic Christianity” and dedicated to preparing “thoughtful, spiritually mature, service-oriented people who will help transform society,” Roberts Wesleyan College is a good fit. Located in Rochester, New York on 188 suburban-acres, the private, coeducational Christian school enrolls 1700 total students (1300 undergraduates). Over 60 programs are offered to undergraduates and 15 for graduates, with three-year graduation options, an honors program, and study abroad options as well. The most popular majors include Health-related programs, Business, Marketing, Education, and Psychology, and to graduate from RWC, full-time students are required to obtain at least 22 spiritual life credits each semester. These life credits are accomplished through chapels, speakers, service projects, and missions. In step with being a small school, the student to faculty ratio is a beneficial 13:1 and retention are 78 percent. Tuition is $22,276, and 85 percent of full-time undergraduates receive some need-based financial aid.
37. St. Thomas Aquinas College
Named after one the great geniuses of Western Civilization, St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York continues the intellectual tradition he ignited. A private, Catholic institution 15 miles from New York City, founded by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, the School “asserts the vitality of the liberal arts and sciences to effect within a moral and ethical framework a student’s development as an intelligent, curious, and socially engaged citizen.” By enrolling a total of 2800 students, with 1700 undergraduates, this small college feels big in many ways, yet remains small in the best ways. For example, there are over 100 academic programs, but the student to faculty ratio is 15:1. There are over 40 student organizations, but the campus culture is close-knit and community oriented. The state-of-the-art facilities, such as the Bloomberg Professional Laboratory, Kraus Fitness Center, HDTV Television Studio, Digital Imaging Labs, and updated technology provide students with a large campus feel.
“For Christ and Country” has been the motto and spirit of Geneva College since the late 19th century. The small, Christian liberal arts school is located on 55 acres in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, which is 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is the only institution affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and faith permeates every aspect of the student experience (1600 total and 1400 undergraduates). The School was named after John Calvin’s Geneva in Switzerland, the art, and origin of Reformed Christianity. The campus is alcohol-free, tobacco is not allowed, and there are no Greek houses. For the right niche of Christians, the College offers an excellent education and is one of 15 Christian Schools in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities with a full-fledged and respected engineering program. GC offers about 40 undergraduate degrees and a handful of master’s. The majors with the highest enrollment are Business, Engineering, Education, Biology, Communication, Psychology, Student Ministry, and Human Services.
35. Johnson University
In the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee offers a private, Christian education. JUTN is part of the Johnson University System three campuses—East Tennessee, Central Florida, and online. The School “strives to be faithful through twenty-first-century methods to its historic purpose of preparing students to preach the Gospel.” Founded by Ashley S. Johnson as the School of the Evangelists in 1893, the original mission still holds considerable sway. A solid Christian worldview informs every aspect of college life from the classroom to the dorm room. The curriculum features an Arts and Science core, a Biblical Core, and a Professional core in over 70 areas of study. The 800 undergraduates (and 70 graduates) reap the benefit of a 14:1 student to faculty ratio. JUTN continues the original mission: teaching the Christian worldview at an affordable price. Tuition is $15,458, and over $2.4 million was given in scholarships with 350 work/study jobs as well.
34. MidAmerica Nazarene University
MidAmerica Nazarene University was founded in 1966. It is affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene, and one of 11 Nazarene institutions of higher education in North America (though students are not exclusively Nazarene or required to be so). MNU is located in Olathe, Kansas about 19 miles southwest of Downtown Kansas City. It is situated on 100 acres, with over 1,000 trees and 6,000 flower bulbs planted annually, the campus is gorgeous, especially in the spring. Academically, MNU offers associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees to 1900 total students, of which 1378 are undergrads. There are more than 35 undergraduate programs and six graduate degrees in the areas of nursing, business, education and counseling. About 74 percent of undergraduate students live on campus and enjoy fine arts and performing arts centers as well as an athletic center. Tuition is $19,143, and the student to faculty ratio is one of the lowest on the list at 7:1.
33. Alfred University
Alfred University in New York was founded in 1836. It is located in the beautiful foothills of the Allegheny Mountains on 230 acres with an additional 400 of recreational land. In the 19th century, the School was progressive in many ways. First, it was co-educational, something uncommon at the time, and second, it became the second school in the country to be racially integrated during the 1850’s. Now a private, non-sectarian school with state-sponsored programs in engineering and art and design, AU offers a first-rate education and excellent research to 1800 undergraduates and 200 graduates. Scoring on par with Yale and Princeton, according to the Brookings Institution’s “value added” assessment, illustrates that though small, AU’s education and research is complementary to the big guys. Tuition is $20,903, and more than 98 percent receive some financial assistance. With graduates surveyed at an incredible 98 percent career outcomes rate, it’s not hard to see why Alfred is a top small school.
32. Bethel College-Indiana
Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana is a small Christian liberal-arts institution. The School takes faith seriously as all students are required to take a Bible and Introduction to Theology class as part of the liberal arts requirements. They also have chapel three days every week as a spiritual component to campus life. The School has almost 1500 undergraduates and offers 50 areas of study. Some points of pride include: Eighty-nine percent of graduates who applied to medical school have been accepted since 2001, more than twice the national average, one-hundred percent were accepted into nursing school, and 99 percent of music education majors were placed. A unique aspect and program is the Worship Arts major, who now works with Bethel’s new music label, Helm Christian Media, to prepare leaders for service in the church. Add to that an advantageous location near Notre Dame and opportunities for cultural enrichment abound. Lastly, Bethel is one of only 59 schools named as Christian Colleges of Distinction, something they’ve accomplished six times in a row.
31. Clarks Summit University
“If you want the Bible, you want Clarks Summit University.” This small Christian school was founded as a Bible College and today serves 900 total students. The School is located on a 141-acre suburban campus in South Abington Township outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. Students enjoy a newer 62,000 square-foot rec center as well as 11 residence halls (91 percent of undergrads live on campus). The education at CSU includes a high-school dual enrollment option, one-year Bible certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Double majors in Bible are common and there more than 40 undergraduate academic programs from which to choose. CSU is a Christian education in a Christian environment. Students attend chapels during the weekdays and study the Bible in and out of class. With a student to faculty ratio of 11:1, students develop personal, mentor-like relationships with their professors. For $18,157 a year in tuition and 95 percent receiving financial assistance, Clarks is worth considering.
30. Nebraska Wesleyan University
From the first graduating class of four students, Nebraska Wesleyan University has been a pioneer in the Cornhusker State. NWU was founded by Methodists in 1887 and remains affiliated today. The liberal arts at NWU are outstanding and have been nationally recognized by respected organizations like Forbes. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has pointed to NWU as a national role model for 21st-century liberal arts education. The instruction is enhanced by its location in Lincoln, a college town offering access to internships, businesses, and social and cultural life. Also, NWU has a 25-acre arboretum and a campus boasting the historic Old Main. For a small school, 2100 total students (1800 undergrads), there are many academic options: 106 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs to be exact. Student life is active with over 40 student organizations, seven Greek chapters and a thriving study abroad and service program.
29. William Woods University
What began as the Female Orphan School for children of the Civil War in 1870 now has thousands of alumni who contribute to the global economy and develop products that improve life in a vast variety of avenues. William Woods University is a private, coeducational school in Fulton, Missouri. The School sits on 225 acres and enrolls about 1000 undergraduates as well as approximately 1300 graduates. WWU is known for excellent education programs. It also has a few unique programs: Equestrian Studies, American Sign Language, and an outstanding online MBA. There are many other academic options at WWU, but the small school personalized education is a marked advantage (student to faculty ratio of 11:1). Impressively, 94 percent of recent WWU MBA graduates are working full-time or continuing their education, and 75 percent of first-year students return. Lastly, the School has gained attention for the innovative LEAD program, which is a leadership and service training program for qualified students.
28. Columbia College
Columbia College in South Carolina is one of the nation’s oldest women’s colleges. Founded in 1854 by the United Methodists as Columbia Females College, the School is steeped in tradition and history. Located in Columbia, South Carolina, CC has a particular focus on leadership development and career preparation and a nationally renowned honors program. Ranked among the best in the nation by the National Survey of Student Engagement, the Kellogg Foundation and the Women’s College Coalition, the academics and overall education is venerable. The Institute for Leadership and Professional Excellence is unique to Columbia. It offers one-on-one coaching, professional development, leadership training and internship experiences starting from year one. The intense focus on leadership is woven throughout all programs, which are taught only by exceptional faculty (no teaching assistants) with a 13:1 student to faculty ratio. The School has produced nationally recognized students through the Honors Program, as well as boasting faculty who are recognized as the best in the nation.
27. Asbury University
Located in Wilmore, Kentucky, Asbury University is a small college that packs a punch. Enrolling 1358 undergraduates and about 500 adult and graduate students, the School offers a Christian liberal-arts education. Set on a beautiful campus with a great mix of old and new, students enjoy a personalized education. Amazing academics and a student to faculty ratio of 11:1 is surely a reason for Asbury’s 81 percent retention rate. The top five most popular majors at Asbury are Media Communications Elementary Education, Equine Studies, Psychology, and Exercise Science. In addition to these, the University has 14 academic departments that offer 54 majors, along with an adult degree completion program. The University also offers several master’s degrees in education, including alternative certification programs. With a tuition of $21,622, the education at Asbury is affordable without sacrificing a quality education, a diverse student body, and a Christian campus culture.
26. Carlow University
When sisters get together, good things happen. In 1843, when the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Pittsburgh from Carlow, Ireland with a mission to serve the neediest, they began founding orphanages, helping the poor, and starting schools. In 1929 Mount Mercy College was founded; today Carlow enrolls 1400 undergraduates (800 graduates), of which 86 percent are female. “The difference between other universities and us is clear. At Carlow, we aren’t satisfied to simply do well. We must also do good.” This social justice focus drives everything at CU. With more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs and an 11:1 student to faculty ratio the education is personal. The 77 percent retention rate and 50 percent graduation rate show CU expects students to achieve and those that stay do. In step with the vision of mercy, CU has many programs of service, and with its Irish heritage, students enjoy study abroad opportunities in Ireland (among others). With a focused mission and an excellent education, tuition is affordable at $18,817.
25. Clarke University
Back in pioneer days, when Iowa was not a state, there were nuns on a mission in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1843 they founded St. Mary’s Academy. Today Clarke University, named after Mother Mary Frances Clarke, the foundress of the order, offers a liberal-arts education to 868 undergraduates. Noted for challenging academics and personalized instruction, Clarke offers 31 majors. The most popular five are nursing, psychology, accounting & business, education, and athletic training. The School also offers the Scholars Program and the Study Abroad Program. The student body and culture is Catholic, and there are roughly twice as many females as males. The retention rate is respectable at 76 percent, and tuition is affordable at $23,968. Being a small school is not a sign of a lack of growth for Clarke, it is intentional: “We believe personalized instruction is the key to academic success. We understand that without proper connections, a quality education is moot. We recognize that easy access to our educators is what sets us apart.”
24. Fontbonne University
Fontbonne University is a Catholic liberal arts institution sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and committed to the common good. It takes its name from Mother St. John Fontbonne, who re-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ) in 1808 after the French Revolution. A Catholic identity permeates the culture of Fontbonne with “educational excellence, historical remembrance, critical reflection and moral resolve.” The School offers 42 majors, 35 minors and 17 graduate programs taught by faculty who know students personally and offers an 11:1 student to faculty ratio. Tuition is $18,514 with a variety of financial aid available. Campus life is active for the 1500 total students and 1100 undergraduates. There are dozens of academic, social, and honors organizations on the close-knit campus. Another note of distinction is the commitment to service, part of the Catholic heritage. Students volunteer in the community at farms, schools, with families, and other charitable organizations to help those in need.
23. Hilbert College
The history of Hilbert goes back to Mother Colette Hilbert who established the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph in 1857. Initially a teacher training school, the Institution began offering four-year degrees in 1992 and in 2011 added its first master’s degree. Today, Hilbert continues their Catholic Franciscan tradition and offers 18 four-year degree programs, including one of only a few Computer Security and Information Assurance and Cybersecurity programs in the entire country as well as the first undergraduate Rehabilitation Services Program in Western New York. Tuition is affordable at $16,019, and 87 percent of students qualify for financial aid. Enrollment is a little over 900, with 880 undergraduates, giving a personal family-like culture on campus. The 11:1 student to faculty ratio allows teaching to every individual and personal relationships to be fostered among faculty and students. These strong bonds have led to a 78 percent retention rate. If looking for a small college town like Hamburg, yet close to a major city like Buffalo (20 minutes away), and a close-knit Catholic community, Hilbert College may be a perfect fit.
22. Milligan College
Milligan College’s motto reveals their core beliefs and aspirations, “Christian Education – The Hope of the World.” Built up from a secondary school in the late 19th century into a nationally recognized college today is commendable. Milligan is located on a 235-acre picturesque campus in Tennessee, minutes from Elizabethton and Johnson City. Milligan’s Christian liberal arts education “molds mind and spirit.” The 1200 students (900 undergraduates) come from 35 states and 15 nations. They choose from more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees, and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. A Christ-centered approach infuses everything, and every student goes through the Spiritual Formation Program, which features attending chapel, mission trips, community service, and Bible studies. Campus life is vibrant with more than 40 student organizations on campus. Milligan makes our list because the tuition is low, at $19,460, student to faculty ratio is 9:1 and retention are at 78 percent.
21. Corban University
The mission of Corban University is simple, “To educate Christians who will make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ.” This mission has remained constant since its founding in 1935 as Phoenix Bible School in Arizona. Now located in Salem, Oregon, the small liberal-arts Christian education enrolls 1200 total students, of which 1062 are undergraduates. The School offers over 50 majors, where every student is required to almost minor in Bible with 24 credit hours. The intentional Christian identity is strengthened by chapel services three times a week. Whatever the major, professors foster mentorship roles with a 15:1 student to faculty ratio. Another highlight is the Reach program, in which students work in community service projects focusing on hunger and housing, education and literacy, justice and dignity, or creation care with organizations such as Union Gospel Mission, Habitat for Humanity, SMART, Oregon Right to Life, and Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center.
20. Trinity Christian College
Located on what was once a golf course is now a beautiful 130 wooded-acre campus where Trinity Christian College educates young men and women to practice their faith boldly. Trinity is serious about teaching an integrated Christian worldview in all subjects. Still retaining a liberal-arts core, the School offers over 70 programs of study from bachelor’s to master’s degrees, and 100 percent of students engage in fieldwork or an internship. Trinity makes it a point that prospective students know how much financial aid is possible. With tuition at $21,772, for students who fill out the FAFSA, 67 percent is covered, and overall 98 percent of incoming students receive some financial aid. TCC offers active ministry programs, traditional programs such as biology and English, but also pre-professional programs in law and medicine. The College also has a robust and rapidly growing adult and online education called SALT. Off-campus activities from hiking to excursions to Chicago (20 miles away) are common, and the School’s sports teams participate in the NAIA.
19. University of St Francis
The motto of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois is “Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.” This catchphrase captures much of the spirit of the USF. A Catholic institution founded in 1920, guided by the charism of the Franciscans, the School is committed to “reverence for creation, compassion, and peacemaking.” USF offers 48 undergraduate majors, 19 graduate programs, and two doctoral programs. With a total enrollment (on and off campus) of 3900, with 1700 undergraduates, USF has an active student life and quality academics. With a liberal-arts focus through the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Business & Health Administration, College of Education and the Leach College of Nursing, students take general education requirements with a particular focus and community service or internships. The Motherhouse is iconic and picturesque. It was originally home to the University’s founders, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, but is now home to the student center and the College of Nursing, including a state-of-the-art Simlab.
18. Mount Vernon Nazarene University
“To Seek to Learn Is to Seek to Serve.” The Mount Vernon Nazarene University motto captures the ethos of the School. Founded in 1968, sponsored by and affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene, MVNU is a private, comprehensive teaching university offering associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in over 80 areas of study. Located in Mount Vernon, Ohio, about 45 minutes from Columbus, the School enrolls 2600 total students, of which are 1800 undergraduates. MVNU offers an intentionally Christian education and campus culture, where chapels, Bible studies, and community service are the norm. As for academics, students enjoy a student to faculty ratio of 13:1, and more than 90 percent of classes are taught by full-time faculty. Tuition is $19,442, and 94 percent of undergraduates receive financial assistance through scholarships, grants, work-study and/or loans. If visiting, be sure to stay at the Mount Vernon Grand Hotel (owned and operated by MNVU), a 46-room hotel with Victorian décor, a beautiful parlor, and Grand staircase.
17. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is unique in many ways. It offers strong academics in the liberal arts tradition, Catholic spirituality, and a small school culture with a 6:1 student to faculty ratio. SMWC is distinctive in many ways. The Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies houses 50 horses on campus. There are excellent pre-professional programs and special degrees in art therapy, music therapy, and equine therapy. Additionally, the SMWC is known for their outstanding Nursing program. Founded by Indiana’s first saint, Mother Theodore Guerin, Catholic spirituality is felt with an active campus ministry where “Virtue and Knowledge are United.” There are 675 undergraduates, and SMWC athletes make up nearly 30 percent of all on-campus students. The College currently offers basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, volleyball, and hunt seat and western equestrian teams. Lastly, the location is gorgeous in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. It is a quiet, secluded yet spacious place, about five miles from Terre Haute.
16. Fisk University
Reading the history of Fisk University is like reading the story of America. It is a story of the struggle to achieve dreams, overcome poverty, slavery, and debt to create more freedom for all. Fisk University is a private historically black university located in Nashville, Tennessee and founded in 1866 at the close of the Civil War. Now enrolling 806 undergraduates and about 50 graduates, the School offers a dynamic liberal arts education with a focus on STEM programs and business. Some of the most popular degree choices among over 20 majors are Biology, Business Administration, Political Science, Psychology, and Chemistry. The Fisk campus is also worth noting. Designated a National Historic District in recognition of its architectural, historical, and cultural significance in 1978, the campus is charming. Jubilee Hall, for example, shows off the incredible history of the Jubilee Singers. The excellent academics and a family-like culture lead to a modest retention rate at 81 percent. Alumni W.E.B. Du Bois and Rep. John Lewis substantiate Fisk’s slogan, “Cultivating Scholars and Leaders One by One.”
15. Viterbo University
Viterbo University is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a great city for health, well-being, quality of life, and education. Situated on the banks of the grand Mississippi River, Viterbo is a Catholic liberal arts school founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1890. Initially set up to train sisters to teach elementary students, VU is now 2700 students strong (1800 undergraduates) and offers more than 70 academic options “complete with internships, study abroad, and research opportunities.” Nursing is a point of pride at VU, both the program and facility. The School of Nursing building opened in 2011 and now has a simulation, nutrition, and dietetics labs all dedicated to training compassionate and skilled nurses for the next generation. Tuition of $18,829 is offset by 98 percent of students receiving some aid, and on average 85 percent of financial need is met. With individualized attention and an 11:1 student to faculty ratio, VU offers the best of small colleges.
14. Dordt College
“Solo Dei Gloria – Glory to God Alone” is the motto of Dordt College. Dedicated to the Reformed Tradition and the Bible, and named after the famous Synod of Dordt, the School is a strong Christian liberal arts school. It is located in Sioux Center, Iowa on 150 acres of “well-maintained Great Plains prairie.” The college offers 90 programs of study from bachelor’s to doctoral degrees. Through personalized instruction with a student to faculty ratio of 15:1, students receive the necessary attention to excel. The most popular majors are education, business, engineering, agriculture, and nursing. Ninety-nine percent of students are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation demonstrating a high regard for quality. Of the 1385 undergraduates, 86 percent live on campus, and the freshmen retention rate is 81 percent. All in all, with tuition at $25,189, and the excellent and nationally recognized education, Dordt is a great value indeed.
13. Salem College
Four years before the Declaration of Independence, what would become Salem College was established. The Moravians, with their tradition of love and respect for all, were not beholden to the conventions of the day. They believed in equal education for all. Salem College is the oldest continuously operated women’s school in the nation (Men over 23 are accepted into the Adult and Graduate Programs). SC is also very diverse; the first African American enrolled in 1785. Now enrolling 1100 students, the College continues rigorous academics in a rich tradition. The School offers four undergraduate and two graduate degrees in the liberal arts. All the women undergrads (about 500) are required through the Salem Signature Program to complete an internship and community service. Salem College’s pre-professional majors are successful with the law school admission rate at 100 percent, and the medical school admission rate at 85 percent. Salem’s Women in Science Program and Salem College Center for Women Writers are unique and laudable.
12. The Sage Colleges
The Sage Colleges is a private educational institution comprising three colleges in New York: Russell Sage College which is a women’s college in Troy, Sage College of Albany in Albany, and the Sage Graduate School, which operates both in Troy and in Albany. Sage is “in essence a small university with multiple campuses, varied undergraduate programs, and specialized graduate schools.” It was founded in 1916 by Margaret Sage, who was active in the women’s suffrage movement and dedicated to providing a way for women to become independent. The School then added a Junior College and Graduate School to become the Sage of today. Combined, the Colleges offer more than 70 bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. There are 1600 undergraduates at Sage Colleges (2,897 total). With a 12:1 student to faculty ratio, the small school advantage is maintained, yet the academic, social, and cultural opportunities, being located in historic Troy and Albany, rival big schools. Sage is a tobacco free campus and is also dedicated to being a green campus.
11. Lesley University
Lesley Normal School was founded by Edith Lesley in 1909, who trained women kindergarten teachers from her home. The School grew into Lesley College, and then in 1998 merged with the Art Institute of Boston to become a university. In 2005 Lesley became coeducational and in 2008 partnered with the Episcopal Divinity School. Lesley University is in Cambridge, Massachusetts within walking distance of Harvard Square. Now offering over 20 undergraduate degrees and over 80 advanced degrees, the School is unique. It is primarily known for excellent graduate programs in education, the arts, counseling, and expressive therapies. In fact, LU pioneered programs in Expressive Arts Therapies, Integrated Teaching through the Arts, and an Urban Environmental Leadership program to foster sustainability. Among the top small schools, Lesley is more expensive at $30,940; however, the student to faculty ratio is among the lowest at 10:1. LU also has study abroad options, effective career preparation, and active community service.
10. Edgewood College
Edgewood College makes a promise to connect learning, beliefs, and actions. This commitment is taken seriously, and as Edgewood is sponsored by the Dominicans, one can bet keeping their word is a duty and obligation. Located in Madison, Wisconsin overlooking the shores of Lake Wingra, the main campus occupies 55 acres with beautiful trees, green spaces and outstanding green buildings like the LEED-Silver Dominican Hall. The College enrolls 2800 total students and has 1800 undergraduates. Arriving and staying at EC, the School boasts a commendable 81 percent retention rate; students are educated in the Dominican tradition. This means being educated for “ethical leadership, service, and a lifelong search for truth.” With more than 60 majors and 40 minors, 27 graduate degrees, international study options, great internships, and a relationship with the University of Wisconsin, students have fantastic choices for a small school. Whatever students decide, the 10:1 student to faculty ratio allows for personalized learning that maximizes each person’s potential.
9. Freed-Hardeman University
Freed-Hardeman University seeks to “help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship, and service.” Founded in 1869 and opening in a small house, Freed-Hardeman is now a private Christian university located in Henderson, Tennessee enrolling 1900 students (1362 undergraduates). Students hail from 33 states and 20 foreign countries and study in 40 undergraduate, 16 master’s and two doctoral programs. Tuition is low at $16,754, and financial aid is available. The learning environment is advantageous due to a 13:1 student to faculty ratio. This personalized attention is partly responsible for the high 81 percent retention rate. Since Henderson is a short drive from Memphis and Nashville, students have ample opportunity for city life. Student life is active with intramurals, Greek life, Makin’ Music, and INTERFACE. Lastly, FHU takes spirituality seriously as every student has a Bible class each semester and worships with staff at Chapel daily.
8. Houghton College
The Purple and Gold go back to 1883 at Houghton College in Houghton, New York. Providing a Christian education in the liberal arts to “equip students to lead and labor as scholar-servants in a changing world” is the mission of HC. The 1000 undergraduates (30 graduate students) receive a “deeply Christian” education in over 70 programs. There are five graduate music degrees. Notably, there is a distinctive First Year Honors Program for qualified first-year students. There are three options: London Honors; East Meets West and Science Honors. The student to faculty ratio is 12:1 and the retention rate is well above the national average for private schools at 84 percent. The campus is known for beauty; it spans 1,300 acres on the Allegheny Plateau at roughly 1,300 feet. Lastly, founded and affiliated with the Wesleyan tradition guides the spiritual life on campus. Students participate in corporate worship at chapels three days a week and are engaged in service to the community regularly.
7. Northwest University
Why do 82 percent of first-year students return to Northwestern University? Perhaps it is the low $20,000 tuition, the student to faculty ratio of 10:1, or the vibrant Christian environment. Perhaps the Northwest beauty near campus that overlooks Lake Washington draws students or being minutes from the world-class city of Seattle with all its amenities. Most likely, it isn’t these factors, though they undoubtedly play a role, it is the combination of being a Christ-centered, academically serious, and personal, family-like culture that does it. The University offers associate through doctorate degrees through its College of Arts & Sciences, School of Business and Management, School of Education, Mark and Huldah Buntain School of Nursing, College of Ministry, and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. There are 930 undergraduates and a growing number of graduates with multiple new programs in recent years. Connected to the Assemblies of God, faith is taken seriously with Bible classes, required chapel three times a week, mission’s trips, and service projects.
6. Waynesburg University
Upon entering Waynesburg University, visitors are struck by the two iconic buildings, Hanna and Miller Halls. Hanna is a Federal-style building featuring a wooden bell tower, and Miller is a three-story, brick and sandstone building in the Second Empire-style. The 70-acre campus is mostly contemporary but attractive and well-maintained. Located one hour from Pittsburg, WU offers a Christian education to 1500 undergraduates and about 2500 total students. A member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, WU is dedicated to faith, learning, and service. WU is one of only 21 institutions to offer the Bonner Scholar Program, which provides community service scholarships, and offers 15 mission trips, domestic and international, every year. Academically, WU is rooted in the liberal arts and offers more than 70 undergraduate concentrations and graduate programs in business, counseling, education, criminal investigation, and nursing. The top areas of study are business, communication, criminal justice, education, forensic science, and nursing.
5. Northwestern College
At Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, education is a way of life. “Education doesn’t stop after class is dismissed; it’s a 24/7 experience as students learn, live and worship with friends and mentors.” Firmly rooted and guided by Dutch Reformed Christianity, the constitution called for establishing an institution of learning “for the promotion of science and literature in harmony with, and religion as expressed in, the doctrinal standards of the Reformed Church in America.” The campus of NWC is a beautiful 100 acres with some historic architecture and award-winning facilities, including seven new or renovated buildings in the early 2000’s. Academics are personal and faith-filled with a 13:1 student to faculty ratio, something that brings 82 percent of first-year students back for more. In addition to more than 80 academic program options for 1120 undergraduates, Northwestern also offers graduate degrees to about 100 students. Also available is the Franken Leadership Center, Honors Program, Study Abroad, and many service programs.
4. Andrews University
Mr. Goodloe Bell, a teacher, started a tiny school with only 12 students in Battle Creek, Michigan. The School has since grown into the biggest and most influential institution in the Seventh-Day Adventist System, Andrews University. Named after John Nevins Andrews (1829–1883), the famed Seventh-Day Adventist thinker, the University enrolls 3400 students, of which 1750 are undergraduates. Andrews’ example of “careful thought and compassionate action in Christian life” powers the mission of AU. Nestled in the town of Berrien Springs, 12 miles from Lake Michigan, and 25 miles from Notre Dame, is perfect for studying; and the 1600-acre campus is designated an arboretum. Academics follow the Adventist philosophy of a holistic education. Students choose from 130 bachelor’s and 70 master’s programs, a study abroad program, wellness and fitness opportunities, and intentional career counseling. With an 80 percent retention and a 10:1 student to faculty ratio, students at Andrews are given personal attention paving the road to future success.
3. Martin Luther College
Martin Luther College has a very distinctive niche. Owned and operated by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), MLC is truly a college of ministry. There aren’t all the bells and whistles of hundreds of educational options and thousands of students at MLC. The College trains future pastors, teachers, and staff ministers for the public ministry in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod through a B.S. in Education and a B.S. in Ministry (Music, Education, or Theology). The 50-acre campus is located on a beautiful wooded hill overlooking the city of New Ulm, Minnesota about 90 miles from Minneapolis. The iconic Old Main, a National Historical Place and leading example of Gothic Revival was built in 1884. Students who choose this distinctive niche (there are 827 undergraduates) experience daily chapel, religion classes, Bible studies, and service projects in preparation to serve the world. There are international opportunities through Daylight International which include teaching overseas, as well as domestic opportunities through Daylight USA which include humanitarian aid, canvassing, Vacation Bible School, and member ministry assistance.
2. The College of Idaho
The College of Idaho has been educating students in the liberal arts for 126 years. Founded in 1891 and the oldest liberal-arts school in Idaho, The C of I, formerly known as Albertson College until 2007, is steeped in excellent academics and athletics. The School enrolls a total of 1100 students and has an excellent track record: seven Rhodes Scholars, 14 Marshall, Truman, and Goldwater Scholars, three governors, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, an Academy Award-winning composer, and four NFL players. The C of I offers 26 majors and 58 minors and is known for its PEAK Curriculum, where students earn a major and three minors across the four academic peaks: the fine arts and humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences and history, and professional fields. With an 11:1 student to faculty ratio, the School has the best graduation rate, retention, and alumni giving of Idaho institutions. In addition to excellent academics, the beautiful setting in the mountains of Idaho provides off-campus recreation like skiing and hiking, placing it as one of best in the nation.
1. Hillsdale College
Fiercely independent, conservative, and intellectually dedicated is Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan. The history of Hillsdale is a source of great pride. Founded in 1844, HC was the first American college to prohibit in its charter any discrimination based on race, religion, or sex, and became an early force for the abolition of slavery. It was also the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women. HC is also now one of the few private schools which receive no federal money, which fosters their identity of independence. The School has a core curriculum emphasizing Western Civilization and requires all students to agree to an honor code. There are approximately 1500 undergraduates who receive a traditional liberal-arts degree: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, MA in Politics, or a Ph.D. in Politics. Retention is an incredible 96 percent, and graduates are known to be articulate and successful people. The Hillsdale College motto, “Strength rejoices in the challenge,” is fitting indeed. There is no doubt that the excellence of a Hillsdale education places it at the top of the list as the best small college in the nation.