By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we examine the top values in Minnesota colleges and universities.
If you’re willing to brave the cold weather and cozy up to the Canadian border, there’s no reason not to consider Minnesota as a potential home-away-from-home for your college years. The University of Minnesota’s public school system is both expansive and affordable, and each satellite campus offers something unique. Beyond that, small religious colleges and focused liberal arts universities fill in the cracks, and Minnesota residents enjoy superb educational choices in every direction they look.
Minnesota’s relatively low cost of living – even in metropolitan areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul – help many of the state’s top colleges maintain tuition rates that fall far below the national average. And while affordability is important, we also wanted to make sure we identified the best universities in Minnesota based on several other factors as well, such as student success, engagement, and selectivity. The result is the ranking below, where the boundaries between affordability and excellent academics nearly disappear.
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 88 to 168, 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 Minnesota.
Ranking the Top Values in Minnesota Colleges and Universities
20. St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
As part of the Lasallian education network, this Minnesota university is connected to more than 1,000 other Catholic educational institutions worldwide through its religious and academic mission. Just six other colleges in the United States share this distinction, which compels these schools to pursue knowledge, respect for all people, and solidarity with disadvantaged populations. The pursuit of this mission may be why St. Mary’s University is recognized as one of the best universities in Minnesota for student engagement, with more than 80% of seniors saying that they would go back to St. Mary’s University if they had to start their education over again.
Net Price: $21,123/yr
19. The College of St. Scholastica
This Minnesota college has campuses across Minnesota, making it easy for students throughout the state to earn a quality education. Most of its satellite campuses offer accelerated undergraduate and graduate programs to suit students trying to fit higher education into their busy schedules. Its main campus in Duluth was founded by a group of Benedictine Sisters who took on just six students and has grown into one of the best colleges in Minnesota with over 4,000 enrolled students. The campus is situated in a beautiful location overlooking Lake Superior, and Duluth itself has been called one of the best small cities for college students.
Net Price: $22,124/yr
18. Hamline University
St. Paul, MN
One of the best universities in Minnesota is also the state’s first. In fact, Hamline University’s first classes in 1854 were conducted above a general store in the town of Red Wing! Then in 1880, the school moved into a single building on its current campus in St. Paul, but just a few years later the building burned down. Within a year the hall was rebuilt, and the campus has been growing ever since. Today, the campus is known for both its beauty and its environmentally friendly design. The newest addition to the school, the Anderson Center, uses features such as solar panels and a green roof to reduce its environmental impact, earning it a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver designation.
Net Price: $21,849/yr
17. Concordia University St. Paul
St. Paul, MN
As a member of the Concordia University System overseen by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, this Minnesota university gives students the chance to pursue higher education while exploring their faith. Its 4,000 students have opportunities to join in for a weekly worship service and participate in plenty of other student-led activities, from NCAA Division II athletics to writing clubs and stage productions. Its location in St. Paul also puts students within reach of everything they need to make their time at school enriching and enjoyable both on and off campus.
Net Price: $18,677/yr
16. University of Minnesota Crookston
With 31 bachelors degrees and a small community of around 900 on-campus students, this affordable Minnesota college offers students a chance to live and work closely with their peers. What really sets the University of Minnesota Crookston’s students apart is its commitment to community service. In the past six years, the university has appeared on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll five times. This distinction recognizes schools that show exemplary dedication to improving the lives of community members off campus. U of M students completed nearly 35,000 hours of service last year to earn the award.
Net Price: $13,055/yr
15. Southwest Minnesota State University
St. Marshall, MN
This Minnesota university offers a diverse selection of more than 45 undergraduate majors that prepare students for post-graduation life. In fact, SMSU has been called one of the top universities in Minnesota for students’ lifetime return on investment, and both its online and on-campus programs are known for their affordability. The campus itself stands out from the crowd, as well. Academic buildings are connected by tunnels and covered walkways that make it easy to get around even in the winter, and the campus is also noted for its wheelchair accessibility.
Net Price: $14,551/yr
14. Concordia College at Moorhead
This Minnesota college offers numerous degrees and holds many public events throughout the year, but its music program is where it really shines. Concordia could easily be considered the best college in Minnesota for musically inclined students. The college hosts 19 music ensembles – some of which have earned international acclaim, including Grammy and Emmy awards! It’s not just music students who benefit, either — one-third of the student body participates in Concordia’s ensembles, whether they’re studying music or not. In recent years, students have traveled to Italy, China, and South Korea for performances with the college.
Net Price: $22,827/yr
13. Saint Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN
As one of the top universities in Minnesota, St. Cloud State of course offers top-notch academics, but the school recognizes that there’s more to college than classes. A nurturing community is key to getting the most out of higher education, which is why St. Cloud State has 10 distinct residential communities each designed to meet students’ diverse needs. For example, residents can choose between communities that offer independent living and those governed collectively by students. Wherever they choose to live, students can enjoy a 100-acre campus on the banks of the Mississippi river in a city that has plenty to offer. In fact, St. Cloud has been called one of the best places to start a career or a new business!
Net Price: $13,426/yr
12. Crown College
St. Bonifacius, MN
Minnesota is home to a number of great colleges, but Crown College may be the top college in Minnesota for students who want a traditional Biblical education. From the beginning – with just four students interested in studying the Bible – Crown College has helped pioneer the idea of the Bible school in the Midwest and is still a leader in the field. In addition to the theological and ministry programs offered by traditional Bible schools, students at Crown College can choose from humanities, business, science, and nursing courses, all of which include a strong Christian basis in the curriculum. In addition to being one of the best Minnesota colleges, Crown has been named one of the top 10 Christian colleges in the country.
Net Price: $21,840/yr
11. Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, MN
This Minnesota college has a history of academic excellence stretching back to its founding in 1862. Students from this top Minnesota college have received highly competitive Fulbright, Rhodes, and National Science Foundation scholarships, among many others. Its intellectual rigor also enables it to attract Nobel Prize winners and other leading academics every year for its Nobel Conference. It’s no surprise, then, that 90% of freshmen choose to return to the school the following year. Plus, the school boasts an 81% six-year graduation rate, although most students manage to finish within just four years!
Net Price: $25,064/yr
10. Saint Johns University
This Minnesota university, an all-male institution, shares an academic program with the all-female College of Saint Benedict, but the two maintain separate campuses and identities. Students from the two schools attend classes together while living on separate campuses, giving them a unique mix of coeducational and single-gender education. Both campuses are housed in a scenic pine forest outside of St. Cloud. The Benedictine beliefs that Saint John’s upholds stresses the importance of environmental stewardship, and both students and the administration work to preserve their immediate surroundings and the community at large through service and the use of environmentally friendly building practices.
Net Price: $24,333/yr
9. St. Olaf College
This Minnesota college prides itself on its ability to combine academic rigor, an engaged student body, and a deep respect for spiritual life. It’s also highly effective and beloved by students, as evidenced by its 89% graduation rate. Providing all this on a campus full of both natural and architectural beauty, St. Olaf is among the most well-rounded of the top Minnesota colleges. St. Olaf has been described as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, and two of its buildings are listed on the national Register of Historic Places. But what makes the campus perhaps more interesting is the fact that one of the school’s own professors, respected architect Edward Sovik, was involved in the design of 20 of its buildings.
Net Price: $28,019/yr
8. Macalester College
St. Paul, MN
Located near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, this Minnesota college gives students access to all the opportunities for internships and recreation that two major cities have to offer. However, the features that really make Macalester one of the best Minnesota colleges aren’t on the surface. A ten to one student to faculty ratio and an average class size of 17 make connecting with teachers easy, which certainly contributes to the school’s astonishing 90% graduation rate. Macalester is also highly selective – admitting just 36% of applicants –but once admitted, students enter a supportive environment that’s regarded as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the country.
Net Price: $27,999/yr
7. University of Minnesota Duluth
The Minnesota university combines the quality education of the U of M system with a beautiful and inspiring campus. The school houses many buildings open to the campus community and the public for performing arts and educational programs. From the Tweed Museum of Art to the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, the campus offers students plenty of ways to expand their education of the sciences and culture while meeting members of the Duluth community. U of M Duluth is also home to a number of research centers where students can work on projects in fields that include digital imaging, environmental research, human rights, and economics.
Net Price: $15,681/yr
6. Augsburg College
Founded on Lutheran principles, this Minnesota college uses its 50 undergraduate majors to place students’ academic work in the context of faith and global citizenship. The school’s particular vision of higher education might best be expressed through the four unique facilities that it supports: the Christensen Center for Vocation, the Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning, the Strommen Center for Meaningful Work, and the Center for Global Education. Augsburg aims to give each of its students the chance to explore their true calling both professionally and spiritually and to use their skills in a way that benefits the world.
Net Price: $18,460/yr
5. University of Minnesota Morris
Rather than stretch itself too thin, the this Minnesota university keeps enrollment intentionally low, embracing its close-knit residential community. By enrolling fewer than 2,000 students, U of M Morris keeps its average class size under 16 students so everyone can get personal attention from their professors – 99% of whom hold terminal degrees. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean that this cheap Minnesota college doesn’t have as much to offer as bigger schools, though. The resources of the University of Minnesota system allow Morris to host more than 90 student organizations and a robust intramural program.
Net Price: $14,397/yr
4. Winona State University
This Minnesota university has two campuses in Winona and one in Rochester, which together offer a total of 65 undergraduate programs. This affordable Minnesota college is the oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, originally created as a college for elementary school teachers. From its initial vision of improving the quality of education throughout Minnesota, Winona State has maintained a commitment to service and bettering the community. Nearly two-thirds of the student body volunteers each year, contributing up to 180,000 hours of community service throughout the area. In that same spirit, Winona State is dedicated to environmental responsibility, offering a minor in sustainability and working to reduce the campus’s ecological footprint.
Net Price: $16,773/yr
3. Minnesota State University Mankato
Founded as a teaching college in 1868, this Minnesota university underwent a number of changes of name and mission before becoming the main campus of the Minnesota State system. The cheap Minnesota college is the second-largest public school in the state, enabling it to draw a large and varied group of students each year. And thanks to the great diversity of the student body, the school is also home to many cultural clubs and has been named one of the best campuses for LGBT students. Students can choose from more than 130 undergraduate programs, many of which offer the chance to conduct research alongside professors.
Net Price: $12,464/yr
2. Carleton College
Built on a foundation of academic rigor and collaboration, Carleton College strives to bring out the best in every student. Just gaining entry is a difficult task, given the school’s highly selective 23% acceptance rate, but most students find Carleton worth the effort, and 93% graduate within six years. Students who are admitted can expect personal attention from the school’s engaging instructors (92% of whom hold terminal degrees) thanks to an extremely low nine to one student to faculty ratio. Carleton is also committed to providing a quality education to as many students as possible, and although its annual net price is somewhat high, its robust financial aid packages make it one of the most affordable colleges in Minnesota.
Net Price: $32,017/yr
1. University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
As the flagship campus of the University of Minnesota system, this Minnesota university combines a prime location with all the resources of a leading research institution. Its sprawling campus and location in the Twin Cities mean that students will never be at a loss for new experiences, places to study, or people to meet. And because of the stellar faculty, U of M students have the chance to work on research projects with some of the best educators around – even as undergraduates. Sociable students who see size as a primary selling point will be drawn to the University of Minnesota as well; this cheap college in Minnesota is the second-largest university in the Midwest and the fifth largest in the country.
Net Price: $15,589/yr
This concludes our ranking of the best values in Minnesota 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.