By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we highlight our selections for the best value colleges and universities in Alabama.
Alabama has a well-known reputation in the United States; ask a resident of any part of the country and they are likely to tell you that Alabamians are religious, friendly, and full of history and Southern charm. Alabama’s colleges and universities reflect these values well, and you’ll find numerous Christian schools and popular Historically Black Colleges and Universities in our ranking below. Of course, don’t forget the University of Alabama, which stands proudly as the flagship campus of a growing public school system.
Combine these traits with the warm weather, proximity to the coast, and easy-going pace that is inherent to this southern state and you’ll quickly realize why Alabama colleges can be top choices for both in-state and out-of-state college applicants. Our ranking captures the very best in Alabama quality and cost by factoring in carefully chosen metrics like acceptance rate and graduation rate, along with average price, to produce a selection of the top schools for smart, fiscally responsible students.
Our Ranking Methodology:
Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.
Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, “net price” is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.
Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate – the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.
20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.
After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 94 to 151, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Alabama.
Ranking Alabama Colleges and Universities by Best Value
15. Heritage Christian University
This Alabama university doesn’t exactly offer a varied education, but it makes up for this lack of degree options with an inspiring mission statement. In fact, this mission statement – which states that HCU’s primary objective is “to equip God’s people for greater service in His church,” is precisely the reason you won’t find dozens of different majors on campus. All undergraduates receive the exact same degree – a B.S. in Biblical Studies – and follow a carefully planned curriculum. Religious coursework combines with general education, professional studies, and elective classes to round out your academic experience, along with practicums in mission work. In addition, be prepared to take the ABHE Bible Exam in both your freshman and senior years.
Net Price: $9,929/yr
14. University of Alabama at Birmingham
At this Alabama university, you won’t find any 100-year-old stories detailing the school’s humble beginnings in the 19th century. What you will find is a story of unstoppable growth and ambition. A mere 40 years ago affordable Alabama college was little more than an extension center for surrounding schools, but today it stands as a reputable doctoral research university and medical center that attracts some of the area’s brightest minds. It’s hard to believe how large UAB has become in such a short time; students today can choose from degree programs in 11 different colleges and schools, including divisions in Engineering, Nursing, Education, and Health Professions, as well as the Honors College.
Net Price: $13,270/yr
13. Oakwood University
As both a historically black and Seventh-day Adventist university, this Alabama university presents with a clear plan – to mold students into biblical scholars with a strong sense of duty, both to God and their fellow citizens. However, Oakwood doesn’t force its values on students with a series of restrictive regulations; in fact, it looks to minimize rules as a way to maximize learning, relying instead on students’ responsible citizenship as a way maintain a safe community. As a member of this affordable college in Alabama you’ll also have substantial flexibility in your choice of extracurriculars – and there are no bad options! Attend the campus church, apply for a job on campus, or join a student organization such as the “Entrepreneur Collective” or Improv Comedy Team.
Net Price: $26,979/yr
12. University of South Alabama
Some say that variety is the spice of life, and if that’s true, life at the University of South Alabama delivers plenty of zest! Please your palette by taking a taste of everything this top college in Alabama has to offer, including more than 100 degrees (as well as an undergraduate honors program), 17 NCAA sports (including a fledgling football team), and stunning facilities (the 116,000 sq. ft. recreation center and disc golf course are impressive, to say the least). And given that this is a ranking for “best value” schools, it’s worth mentioning that USA goes above and beyond to stay within the realm of affordability; the Mitchell-Moulton Scholarship Initiative plans to award $25 million in scholarships to deserving students.
Net Price: $12,066/yr
11. University of North Alabama
A university that mixes work and play, UNA offers a well-rounded education to students who seek balance and a lifetime of memories. At this Alabama university, you can choose from 140+ academic programs and an equal number of student organizations, combining your interests to study marine biology while writing for the Flor-Ala student newspaper, get your education degree while performing with the University Players theatre troupe, or major in economics while volunteering at the school-sponsored STEM Camp over the summer. Of course, there are also plenty of events that all students will enjoy – including a visit to the two African lion mascots who live on campus!
Net Price: $10,118/yr
10. Samford University
A Christian institution, Samford University not only professes a dedication to the life and teachings of Jesus, but also uses this commitment to fuel personal empowerment, spiritual growth, and a love of learning in its students. If you choose to attend Samford, you won’t experience a clear division between faith and academics. Rather, many of your activities at this Alabama university will integrate the two, from core courses that “reflect the Christian mission at the heart of the university” to the Preministerial Scholar Program that provides merit scholarships to aspiring church ministers. Samford also supports Scholar Programs for business students, biology and computational science majors, Latin American Studies program members, and high-achieving undergrads, making Samford one of the best colleges in Alabama for smart students of faith.
Net Price: $27,306/yr
9. Birmingham Southern College
The campus culture at Alabama college attracts a very specific type of student, making it ideal for young learners who know exactly what they want. The student body is small (only 1,185) and smart (the average high school GPA is 3.5) and given BSC’s affiliation with the United Methodist Church, many of the students are also religious. This top Alabama college also attracts those who are looking for a challenge. Experiential programs are abundant, and each will test your skills in a unique way. For example, as an Entrepreneurial Scholar you might write your own business plan or develop a non-profit, or you could become a Harrison Honors student and unlock special seminars and research opportunities.
Net Price: $22,250/yr
8. Spring Hill College
The average college tends to the basics – providing a decent education and conferring degrees, but why go average when you can choose this Alabama college, where you will be “transformed by your experiences?” Acquire high-quality instruction in leadership and service to others at this U.S. News-dubbed “A+ college for B students.” U.S. News also ranks SHC as one of “America’s Best Colleges” in the South, cementing the school’s status as one of the best universities in Alabama. Spring Hill is also moderately selective, with a 52% acceptance rate, and 90% of those admitted choose to live on campus – helping SHC maintain a tight-knit and friendly atmosphere.
Net Price: $21,890/yr
7. Alabama A&M University
Public research universities tend to focus their efforts on three distinct points of achievement: teaching, research, and public service/community engagement. This Alabama university excels in all categories, making it an easy contender on any list of the top universities in Alabama. An HBCU with support from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, AAMU has built an impressive reputation for graduating highly qualified African American scholars with bright futures. PayScale’s report, which calculates the school’s 20-year net ROI at $220,000, only supports this assertion further. And if you’re not an “agricultural and mechanical” type of student, fear not! You could be just as successful earning a major in business, public affairs, engineering, education, or the humanities.
Net Price: $14,746/yr
6. Alabama State University
This Alabama university claims an exciting and inspiring history, all of which started thanks to the gumption of nine freed slaves who wasted no time after the end of the Civil War. The “Marion Nine” purchased a tract of land for $500, and over the next 150 years their altruistic vision evolved into what is now ASU. An HBCU and member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the university has recently extended its mission to students living abroad; 50% of international students hail from Nigeria, while another 20% are visiting from either Ghana or Trinidad and Tobago.
Net Price: $10,905/yr
5. Auburn University
Even among the nation’s most prestigious public universities, Auburn holds its own as one of the best choices for a traditional collegiate experience. Its academic programs are many and varied, while its 15 athletic teams promote a lively school spirit and make students proud to call themselves Tigers. With a campus population of 27,000, this Alabama university is one of the largest schools in the South – and also one of the best Alabama colleges for social butterflies and extroverts. Additional marks of distinction include its 71% graduation rate and prestigious classification as a land, sea, and space grant university.
Net Price: $18,500/yr
4. University of Alabama in Huntsville
One of the best indicators of a top university is its track record of growth – not just how quickly it expands, but also in what direction it chooses to grow. This Alabama university has taken this idea to heart, and in 2015 it boasted the highest enrollment, largest freshman class, and best average ACT score in its entire history. In other words, UAH is spreading both outwards and upwards, scaling up in size without forgetting its commitments to quality and academic excellence as well. And apparently students at UAH have no trouble adopting this “shoot for the stars attitude” – even after graduation. PayScale reports that UAH alumni make excellent earners, raking in a $564k ROI over 20 years.
Net Price: $13,270/yr
3. Tuskegee University
This Alabama university has a “strong orientation toward disciplines that highlight the relationship between education and workforce preparation in the sciences, professions, and technical areas.” What does this mean, exactly? Practicality is the name of the game for this top Alabama college, which also happens to be a top choice for realists. Degrees in computer science, management, agriculture, engineering, healthcare, construction, and education provide a solid foundation for students dreaming of a secure future, and Tuskegee doesn’t disappoint. The statistics say it all: the school boasts a $230k 20-year net ROI, is the largest producer of African Americans with baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields, and graduates over 75% of the world’s African American veterinarians.
Net Price: $28,414/yr
2. The University of Alabama
Any article on the best cheap colleges in Alabama would be incomplete without mentioning this institution. As both the first public college in the state and the flagship campus of the public system, UA commands a lot of attention – not just locally, not just in the South, but also from prospective students nationwide. This Alabama university’s admission rate hovers around 51% – one of the lowest in the state – so work hard to gain access to all that “the Crimson Tide” has to offer: more than a dozen NCAA Division I athletic teams (many of which have won national championships), 200+ fields of study (plus international seminars and “learning communities” for freshmen), and vibrant Greek life (26% of men and 40% of women join a fraternity or sorority).
Net Price: $18,935/yr
1. Troy University
Rounding out this ranking of best value colleges is this Alabama university, a school that brings new meaning to the term “affordability.” Generous financial aid programs at Troy include scholarships, special assistance for veterans and international students, and a work-study program for industrious young learners. Troy also trumps the competition in measures of student support; from the comprehensive First-Year Studies program to targeted learning communities (bond with your classmates over a shared interest in sustainability, creative arts, or leadership, among others) and flexible online degrees for working students, this cheap Alabama college proves that below-average costs don’t rule out above-average experiences.
Net Price: $10,112/yr
This concludes our ranking of best value Alabama colleges and universities.
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.