By Iris Stone
As one of the largest states in the union, Texas has more to offer in almost every respect – more people, more big cities, more wildlife, and yes – more colleges! The state supports multiple public school systems, namely the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, as well as myriad private schools. Texas’ top-notch education system includes numerous national research universities and plenty of “emerging” institutions that are likely to climb in the national rankings in the coming years.
Interested in more flexible programs? See our ranking of Best Value Online Colleges and Universities in Texas.
The Texan government has enacted a policy that guarantees admission to state universities for any in-state resident who graduates in the top 10% of her graduating class. Although admission can be more challenging for out-of-state students, it’s worth the hard work – Texas schools pack a serious punch when it comes to value. The ranking below indicates that clearly; when using a methodology that considers measures of student engagement, selectivity, alumni success, and of course cost, Texas schools perform remarkably well.
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 95 to 165, 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 Texas.
30. Texas A&M University Texarcana
Texas A&M University at Texarcana is just one of several public schools that are joined within the Texas A&M system statewide. And yet, Texarcana is within close proximity to residents not just of Texas, but of Louisiana and Arkansas as well. Although the school’s stature is characteristic of a large research university, it seeks to emulate the close-knit communities more often found at smaller schools. First Year students in particular receive special attention through initiatives like the FYE Monthly Social and the Eagle Passport – a fun way to keep track of your “travels” around campus and participation in school-sponsored events and organizations.
Net Price: $8,221/yr
29. Stephen F. Austin State University
At Stephen F. Austin State University, “you have a name, not a number.” This sentiment expresses a value that is on a growing number of “must-have” lists for college applicants – namely, the feeling that they belong to the school community and have a personal relationship with their peers. You won’t sit in many large lecture classes here. Instead, you’ll get one-on-one time with faculty both in and out of the classroom. This could even mean the opportunity to conduct research with your favorite professors – and if you’re really lucky, you might even get to travel to the state capital to present your results! Such an approach to education bodes well for many “Lumberjacks,” but you’ll have to get accepted first, and SFA’s acceptance rate is a respectable 59%.
Net Price: $13,758/yr
28. University of Texas Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is an impressive institution, even by Texas standards – because as they say, “everything is bigger in Texas.” With more than 50,000 students 180 academic programs, life at UT Arlington is anything you want it to be. Of course study time is important, but this top Texas college also encourages students to “think outside the books.” The resident population is huge – 10,000 students either live on campus or within five miles of it – so finding friends and joining activities is as easy as walking out the door. UT Arlington has also pioneered the “Freshmen Interest Group” concept, which brings 15-30 like-minded students together into a unit – they share classes, professors, and often become fast friends.
Net Price: $11,662/yr
27. Texas Woman’s University
Right away, it’s easy to see how Texas Woman’s University is a one-of-a-kind place to study. Not only is it a woman’s college, but it is also the largest school in the nation that is just for women. 15,000 students all come to TWU for the same basic reasons – to grow into capable leaders and critical thinkers in a nurturing, supportive environment. An additional benefit of attending TWU is the quality of its athletic teams. Because there are no men’s teams, women’s sports on campus get all the attention. Volleyball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and soccer teams form the basis of TWU’s competitive spirit and give women just one more reason to cheer on their classmates and life each other up, in and out of the classroom.
Net Price: $8,596/yr
26. St. Mary’s University
San Antonio, TX
St. Mary’s University is one of just three Catholic Marianist schools – schools that take a unique approach to religious education. The Marianist perspective values service, peace, justice, and the family spirit, and it supports an academic environment that promotes not just learning, but also a solid foundation in faith and an ability to adapt in new situations. Undergraduate programs emphasize problem solving and collaboration – equally important skills whether you’re studying Anthropology, International Relations, Electrical Engineering, or Forensic Science. STEM majors enjoy some particularly exciting outreach opportunities; you can help host elementary school students during the annual “Fiesta of Physics” or volunteer at the exciting MATHCOUNTS competition every winter.
Net Price: $17,229/yr
25. Baylor University
It’s pretty common to find religious schools in the form of small, liberal arts colleges. But Baylor is different – it’s a private, Christian school that is also nationally ranked when it comes to research and academic engagement. And although it’s a little on the expensive side, Baylor excels in just about every other metric we measured. It boasts a 55% acceptance rate and a 72% graduation rate, plus a 20-year net ROI that tops $250,000. Campus life is vibrant and constantly bustling with things to do. It’s scenic location near the Brazos River, stately brick buildings, and European-inspired architecture provides the perfect backdrop upon which you can frame your collegiate journey. You might even get the chance to meet Joy and Lady – the brown bears who serve as Baylor’s loyal mascots.
Net Price: $34,900/yr
24. Dallas Christian College
Dallas Christian College goes a step beyond just being a religious school. It is actually accredited by the Commission on Accreditation or Biblical Higher Education and provides numerous degree programs that are grounded in spiritual principles – including Bible Studies, Practical Ministry, and Worship Arts. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of a more secular career DCC has plenty for you, too. With traditional arts and science degrees plus specialized coursework in business, education, and psychology, Dallas Christian offers something for everyone. DCC is also one of the more competitive schools in the area; its 38% acceptance rate means you’ll have to really buckle down if you want the chance to call yourself a Crusader.
Net Price: $15,496/yr
23. Austin College
Active learning is the name of the game at Austin College, an affordable Texas College with the resources to both support and challenge you. The school is perfectly set up to encourage your inclusion in all campus activities, as 85% of its student body is residential (lives on campus). In fact, nearly 80% of students get involved in at least one campus organization, so you don’t have to worry about being left on the sidelines. And yet plenty of students venture off campus to expand their horizons as well. 4 out of 5 learners acquire some sort of internship experience, whether in the town of Sherman or down in Dallas (about an hour away, depending on traffic).
Net Price: $21,875/yr
22. Texas State University
San Marcos, TX
Now is the perfect time to apply to Texas State University. It’s an emerging leader in academia and research, and students who attend during this period of growth will be along for the ride. Despite being a relatively cheap college in Texas, there is nothing cheap about the quality of its academics. The substantial campus hosts 36,000 students at a time and sits squarely in the city of San Marcos – part of the greater Austin metropolitan area and home to nearly 60,000 residents. You can enjoy a charming view of the sparkling San Marcos River while you study and then travel into the city on the weekends to unwind to live music. What’s more, because of the springs that feed the river and support numerous endangered species, Texas State is one of the best places to study aquatic ecosystems and wildlife.
Net Price: $11,871/yr
21. University of Texas Pan American
From the Editor: Please note that this institution merged to become The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and no longer operates as University of Texas Pan American.
The biggest “point of pride” for the University of Texas Pan American is its support of Hispanic students. It is one of the top universities in the nation for enrollment of Hispanics – both undergrads and graduate students – and is by far one of the best Texas colleges for those of Hispanic descent. But not to worry; all races and creeds are welcome at UT Pan American. Although the school is relatively selective with an acceptance rate of 63%, the almost unbelievable low net price ensures that a Pan American education is within reach of all applicants.
Net Price: $3,006/yr
20. Southwestern University
Many people have heard of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., but fewer are aware of another great university located in none other than Georgetown, Texas. Southwestern may be small, but its distinguished history of 175 years of educating students has lead it down a path to greatness. The selective school has 20 NCAA Division II teams, more than 90 student organizations, and a wealth of academic programs. And since there are only about 1,500 people enrolled at any given time, there are more than enough activities to go around. This top university in Texas also excels when it comes to measures of student success: with a 91% job placement rate, it’s no surprise that even after several years, SU grads are still doing well. The 20-year ROI is nearly $220,000!
Net Price: $25,635/yr
19. Sam Houston State University
For Sam Houston State students, achievement is about more than the size of your bank account. It’s no doubt that alumni do very well for themselves, as indicated by a net ROI that nearly reaches $300k. But regardless of financial gain, SHSU encourages students to seek “meaningful lives of achievement.” In particular, the school pushes service learning, volunteerism, and acts of creativity as the best way to give back to the community. You might help preserve wildlife habitats on an Alternative Spring Break trip, sign up for the Emerging Leaders Program, or attend the annual Volunteer Opportunities Fair and connect with local agencies in need of help.
Net Price: $11,260/yr
18. Houston Baptist University
You’d think the enormous size of southwest Houston would overwhelm this small college, but Houston Baptist University nonetheless manages to stand out. A quaint, 160-acre campus with a faith-based mission, Houston Baptist provides much-needed contrast to the ceaseless hustle and bustle of the surrounding metropolitan area. Spiritual life is an important part of many students’ daily routine, and you’ll have the opportunity to become involved in Bible studies and community outreach programs to strengthen your faith. Campus organizations largely consist of honors societies, professional clubs, and Greek organizations, but you’ll also find some “special interest” groups that will pique, well, your interest. These include a math club, drama group (the Rex Fleming Players), and the ELITE dance team.
17. Texas A&M University College Station
College Station, TX
College Station is the central campus of the entire Texas A&M University system, hosting 55,000+ students in an ideal location that is within easy driving distance of both Dallas and Austin. Because of its gargantuan size and impressive reach, TAMU has the means to support nearly any academic interest you could possibly have, from Aerospace Engineering to Dance Science to Geophysics to “Visualization” (an art degree, we presume, but you’ll have to find out for yourself!). And although it’s one of the best universities in Texas, TAMU doesn’t use its status as an excuse to leave you with a mound of student debt; an annual net price around $12,000 means you can afford to go to school and stay in school – and be one of nearly 80% of students who graduate within six years!
Net Price: $11,725/yr
16. Dallas Baptist University
Yes, Dallas Baptist University is another religious college on this ranking, but that doesn’t mean DBU is cut from the same cloth as all its counterparts. This university uses its Christ-centered principles as a way to motivate students into transformative, service-based careers. This means that programs like Environmental Science, Psychology, and of course Christian Ministries all focus on ways you can contribute to the greater good. Co-curricular activities mirror this commitment. And the vast majority of student clubs, including the skeet-shooting club and the Mountain Top Productions music group, make developing spiritual camaraderie a central part of their goals.
Net Price: $23,796/yr
15. Tarleton State University
Why bother considering TSU in a state already saturated with great schools? Because although Tarleton State only joined the A&M system fewer than 100 years ago, it has wasted no time rising through the ranks to become one of the top affordable universities in Texas. Every single college within the school touts some unique claim to fame. If you attend the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, try volunteering your time with the TREAT equine-assisted therapy program. If you’re an education student, enjoy the feeling that comes with knowing the school has a 98% pass rate on the certification exam! For science students, the Tarleton Observatory (the largest undergraduate observatory in the nation) is available to help you reach the stars.
14. Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, TX
Too many students nowadays attend college with the simple goal to obtain a credential. But Texas Christian University offers “academics for the rest of your life,” and encourages you to see your four years as an intellectual investment that will serve you for years to come. TCU’s eight schools and colleges collectively serve students across the spectrum through career-oriented degrees in business, communications, education, the arts, health sciences, and more. The Honors College is home to the highest achieving students, who trade their high GPAs for access to tougher courses, special seminars, and “visionary faculty.”
Net Price: $31,087/yr
13. LeTourneau University
LeTourneau University was founded by a businessman who was an inventor, innovator, and devout Christian with a noble vision for educating veterans. Today, LeTourneau continues to promote the ideals of spirituality, innovation, and career readiness – but now with a much larger audience! The school has just over 2,000 students and an impressive 49% acceptance rate. LeTourneau has clearly come a long way since its beginnings as an all-male technical institute. In fact, this top college in Texas has begun to develop a global reach. Its study abroad programs include once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel to South Korea, Australia, Scotland, and Germany, as well as a TESOL internship in Mongolia!
Net Price: $21,434/yr
12. University of North Texas
While the University of North Texas doesn’t necessarily get the same attention for its academics as the esteemed Ivy Leagues, there are some specific areas where UNT blows past the competition. In fact, some of its top programs are some of the most unique in the region. It is hands down the best university in Texas for a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling, urban policy, or medical librarianship, and its program in environmental philosophy is actually the best in the world! But no matter what degree you choose, UNT can launch your career in a way that will get you far in the real world; the 20-year net ROI for this university is nearly $300,000.
Net Price: $10,827/yr
11. Texas Tech University
There is no end to the ways to get involved at Texas Tech University. Whether you have a penchant for skydiving, love riding horses, or want to spend all your free time building robots, TTU offers exactly what you need. The university also invests a great deal of time and energy supporting students’ creative endeavors. For example, the Texas Tech Innovation Mentorship and Entrepreneurship program (TTIME) makes it sole purpose to support innovative ideas and fund research for promising students. And nearby Lubbock, as an epicenter for jobs in healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing, is an ideal place for graduates to start their budding careers.
Net Price: $13,901/yr
10. University of Houston
Students come from all corners of the world to study at the University of Houston. So what makes this school worth all the travel? It might be the gorgeous, 670-acre campus that sports millions of dollars in high-tech amenities. It might be the fact that Houston is the “energy capital of the world,” and that a degree in Geology or Industrial Engineering can set you up for highly coveted internships. Or maybe it’s the incredible research the faculty is conducting, especially in areas that meld technology and medicine. Regardless of the reason, Houston students do remarkably well; graduates can enjoy more than $485k in net earnings over 20 years.
Net Price: $12,618/yr
9. Midwestern State University
Wichita Falls, TX
Located midway between Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth, Midwestern State University is an affordable Texas college with a priceless location. Obviously MSU’s proximity to major metropolitan areas makes it perfect for those trying to secure internships, but that’s not all you’ll get. Start with more than 65 majors and minors, add to it special initiatives like the Intensive English Language Institute and the Air Force ROTC program, and throw in nearly 100 student organizations, and you’ve got yourself a clear recipe for success. And with a modest 62% acceptance rate and an average 20-year ROI of $300k+, MSU is a place where a large group of students can earn equally large benefits.
Net Price: $10,172/yr
8. Southern Methodist University
After celebrating its 100th anniversary as an institution of higher education, Southern Methodist University can confidently say that is has come into its own as one of the best Texas colleges. And even in its first 100 years, SMU has graduated some of America’s most successful businessmen and women. Notable alumni include Aaron Spelling (television producer), Laura Bush (former first lady), and William Joyce (author and illustrator). But don’t be intimidated by the big shoes you’ll have to fill. Thanks to programs like the Engaged Learning initiative – which includes such ventures as the Clinton Global Initiative University and “Big Ideas” entrepreneurial project – there’s no doubt you’ll find a way to be successful here.
Net Price: $34,189/yr
7. Trinity University
San Antonio, TX
Trinity University is for a specific kind of student – the student who values small class sizes, individualized attention, and one-on-one research opportunities. And really, who isn’t that kind of student! But of course, it takes a lot to even gain access to the serene, academically conscious community of learners at Trinity. The acceptance rate is only 48%, and more than 60% of those admitted were in the top 20% of their high school graduating class (the average GPA of admitted applicants I 3.5!). And it’s easy to see this commitment to intellectual pursuits just by looking at the university’s selection of majors; Biochemistry, Mathematical Finance, Philosophy, and other demanding degree programs will all push you to your limits as you seek your best self.
Net Price: $27,851/yr
6. Texas A&M International University
As we approach the top of this ranking of affordable top colleges in Texas, it’s worth mentioning a few more schools in the A&M system. Texas A&M International is one that deserves a solid mention; with its moderately selective 47% acceptance rate and almost impossible to beat net price, TAMIU is one of the go-to colleges for smart students on a budget. Central to its mission is the desire to educate students for an “increasingly complex, culturally diverse state, nation, and global society.” And TAMIU doesn’t just talk the talk. Study abroad programs, overseas language courses, cultural student organizations, and academic programs like Spanish-English linguistics really put the “international” in TAMIU.
Net Price: $4,639/yr
5. Texas A&M University Commerce
If you can’t make up your mind between a rural or metropolitan campus, attending Texas A&M Commerce could mean you don’t have to choose! It’s just an hour outside the Dallas metropolitan area, bringing with it all the internships and nightlife associated with the big city. But in Commerce – town of just 8,000 residents – agricultural life dominates, along with other farmer-friendly activities like festivals and local music. Texas A&M Commerce offers a similar “best of both worlds” atmosphere on campus, combining small class sizes and a modest student body with the diversity, resources in research, and global reach of a much larger institution.
Net Price: $8,625/yr
4. Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View, TX
As the second oldest public university in the entire state, Prairie View A&M has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best cheap Texas colleges. A career focused institution, Prairie View is particularly adept at graduating nurses, engineers, and educators who proudly serve their fellow Texans – and make plenty of money in the process! The average 20-year ROI at PVAMU is a full $485,000, but don’t think it’s easy to get your hands on this kind of cash. The acceptance rate here is less than 40%, and students who do earn admission will have their work cut out for them. Coursework is challenging across the board, whether students choose to major in Agriculture, Spanish, Electrical Engineering, or Soil Science.
Net Price: $8,628/yr
3. University of Texas Dallas
We’re not the only ones to recognize UT Dallas for its superior value in higher education. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance also gives a shout out to this premier university, citing its premium quality and cost not just as an affordable college in Texas, but in the entire United States. Your tuition dollars will buy access to esteemed faculty – including a Nobel laureate and six members of the National Academies – plus 130+ academic programs. Plus, UT Dallas’ 71% graduation rate puts it well above most other Texas universities. The school is also a serious research hub that encourages undergraduates to get involved. The Anson L. Clark Summer Research Program connects students with faculty mentors who sponsor them as they explore everything from virtual reality to interactive systems.
Net Price: $27,540/yr
2. Rice University
Rice University is an obvious choice for any student who is serious about her studies. With a 15% acceptance rate and a 91% graduation rate, Rice is at the top of the list when it comes to both selectivity and retention. Steeped in tradition and focused on the future, Rice’s campus is a beautiful place for you to make lifelong friends (and of course learn some stuff, too). From Classical Studies to Evolutionary Biology, Mathematical Economic Analysis to Visual and Dramatic Arts, Rice’s diversity of academic programs means you have no excuse not to find your passion.
Net Price: $20,512/yr
1. University of Texas Austin
At the end of the day, a “best value” university is one that brings its students a happy mix of affordability and quality. In those terms, UT Austin may very well be the definition of value. Its low net-price makes it a steal for in-state and out-of-state students alike, while its 40% acceptance rate reminds applicants that the university still demands the very best. Those who earn admission to UT Austin continue to prove themselves – you can search the EUREKA database for research positions, get research published in one of numerous on-campus journals, and find your niche through so many student organizations (1,300 in total) that boredom is quite literally impossible. It’s no wonder those who come to this top university in Texas tend to stay, and the school boasts a graduation rate of 81%.
Net Price: $16,832/yr
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.