By Iris Stone
Arizona might not be the first state that comes to mind when you think about great universities, and admittedly Arizona doesn’t have quite the same quantity of schools as a populous state like California or Texas. Nonetheless, there are plenty of universities in this state that deserve your attention, from large research institutions like the University of Arizona to quirky independent schools like Prescott College.
Arizona also comes out on top in measures of affordability – its ASU and UA state school systems are both known for their low tuition rates and financial inclusivity. But this ranking is about much more than cost. Using a careful methodology that considers multiple points of appeal, we’ve produced a list of the top Arizona colleges that will appeal to brainiacs and the budget-conscious alike. You might also want to check out our ranking of the Top Affordable Online Schools in Arizona.
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 84 to 130, 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 Arizona.
9. Prescott College
Prescott is not your average school, but it is the best college in Arizona for nature lovers. Labeled as the school for “the liberal arts, the environment, and social justice,” Prescott brings to meaning to the term “experiential education.” The school seeks to shift educational paradigms by focusing on environmental awareness and sustainable communities, peace studies, agriculture, outdoor leadership, and multiculturalism. As such, nearly all the degrees at Prescott support these values, from Adventure-based Environmental Education to Conservation Biology to Ecopsychology. And Prescott students don’t take their education sitting down, either. You can take a geology course by bike-packing through the San Francisco peaks and along Colorado River, or head out to Jenner Farm for classes in agroecology and green washing.
Net Price: $13,465/yr
8. Northern Arizona University
There are plenty of benefits to attending a school like Northern Arizona University. First of all, NAU is accessible. Thanks to a tuition rate within reach of even the most budget-conscious learners and multiple campuses throughout the state, this top Arizona college makes getting an education incredibly convenient. NAU also stands out for its devotion to research; students interested in healthcare, climate change, and other sustainable solutions will receive plenty of support here. This university also has a track record for producing successful graduates, and its 20-year net ROI is nearly $225,000.
Net Price: $12,946/yr
7. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
If you’re looking for a campus with scenery, Embry Riddle is one of the best universities in Arizona. The Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Las Vegas are all just a quick trip away, meaning you’ll have no excuse not to pack your weekends full of fun trips and picturesque views. But more importantly, Prescott’s dry climate and clear skies makes it perfect for flying, and ERAU is all about aeronautics. Degrees in topics like Aerospace Engineering, Applied Meteorology, Space Physics, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems make up the majority of course options. And if you’re looking for a sky-high career, Embry Riddle can offer the hands-on training you’ll need. The flight lane can hold up to 30 airplanes and 10 helicopters, while on-campus simulators prepare you for that first trip off the runway.
Net Price: $30,956/yr
6. Arizona State University Tempe
Although ASU campuses make up a significant portion of this list, Tempe stands out as the main hub of the Arizona State University system. For a school like this, the proof is in the numbers. The average GPA of incoming students is 3.41, and 42% of admitted in-state students are the first in their families to attend college. The imposing campus houses more than 500 classrooms, 1,000 student organizations, and 80,000 solar panels! And we could keep going – 130+ countries represented. 90+ online degrees and certificates. A 63% graduation rate (the highest in the ASU system). When you add it all up, it’s easy to see that ASU Tempe is an affordable Arizona college with more to offer than you could possibly experience in just four years.
Net Price: $12,191/yr
5. Arizona State University West
Not too far from ASU’s main campus, Arizona State University West stands as a premier liberal arts program that is continually growing in size and scope. 9,000 students each year opt for the West campus, many of whom are looking for a cozier experience than the traditional public school offers. In fact, ASU West is the smallest campus in the state school system, but its pristine courtyards and shady walkways gives the university a spacious feel. When it comes to academics, ASU West excels in “high demand” subjects like applied computing, nursing, business, and education, and its emerging research program has earned it a place among Phoenix’s “Points of Pride.”
Net Price: $9,505/yr
4. Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix
If shady trees and relaxing courtyards aren’t your scene, ASU’s campus in downtown Phoenix may provide a better alternative. Fueled by an upbeat urban lifestyle and oozing with culture, this top university in Arizona is constantly buzzing with activity. And although you may be tempted to spend all your time in the city, the campus has plenty of appeal as well. Classrooms feature state-of-the-art laboratories, plus high-tech kitchens and a student-run café for nutrition majors. Communication majors are also at a decided advantage at this top Arizona college; after all, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is more than a fancy name. Plus, nearby newspapers and TV stations (including an NBC affiliate) make interning practically a no-brainer.
Net Price: $12,558/yr
3. Arizona State University Polytechnic
Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus is exactly what it sounds like – a tech-heavy, gadget-filled school for students who are ready to get down to business. Thousands of square feet of laboratory space pave the way for experiential learning opportunities and plenty of hands-on projects, while flight simulators (and golf simulators!) make virtual reality a part of everyday life. But just because the Polytechnic campus focuses on STEM topics doesn’t mean its students are always buried in books. In fact, one of the most popular initiatives at this cheap Arizona college is GlobalResolve, which helps entrepreneurs channel their energy into social justice projects – particularly those that support sustainable solutions in developing economies.
Net Price: $12,125/yr
2. Arizona Christian University
Not only is ACU one of the absolute best Arizona colleges, it’s also the top-rated private school in the state. Its 57% acceptance rate makes it the most selective institution in Arizona, so high-achieving students should pay close attention. A 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an incredibly small enrollment number (fewer than 700!) distinguish Arizona Christian from traditional universities – ASU and UA included. And since it is a religious school, you should be prepared to examine your faith from day one. All students graduate with a minor in Biblical Studies and student events tend to revolve around religion, from on-campus worship bands to mission trips abroad.
Net Price: $26,995/yr
1. University of Arizona
If you live in Arizona, you probably aren’t surprised that UA lands squarely at the top of this ranking. The university’s low net price and solid graduation rate set students up for long-term success, and in fact its 20-year net ROI of $388,000 is one of the highest in the state. The University of Arizona also has a habit for collecting top rankings, some of them surprising! For example, it was the first school in the world to open a laboratory just for tree ring research, and it claims more than half of all near-earth asteroid and comet discoveries (all thanks to the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory). But what really makes UA #1 is that despite its breadth of resources and reputation for excellence, the school still manages to maintain its status as one of the most affordable colleges in Arizona.
Net Price: $15,681/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.