By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we examine top value universities and colleges in Arkansas. Also see our ranking of best value online colleges in Arkansas.
Whether you’re looking for a spiritual campus or a campus with lots of school spirit, Arkansas has a college that will fit the bill. Universities in this state typically fall into one of two categories: small Christian schools (mostly Baptist) and large state universities, with a smattering of secular liberal arts colleges to boot. Dominating the upper echelons of this ranking are universities within the Arkansas public system, particularly the various campuses of the University of Arkansas. Why? Because these schools exemplify the meaning of “best value” as we see it – an almost magical combination of low cost and high quality that will leave you wondering how they could possibly stretch your tuition dollars so far.
As the following explanation of our ranking methodology suggests, we attempted to capture this elusive balance (and identify the universities that truly “fit the bill” in more than one way) by scoring Arkansas colleges on four core metrics related to both affordability and student success.
Methodology: Ranking Best Arkansas Colleges and Universities on Value
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 82 to 143, 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 Arkansas.
15. Ouachita Baptist University
Affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), this cheap college in Arkansas offers top-shelf education in an intimate, spiritually nurturing environment. Students at Ouachita Baptist University can choose from a comprehensive range of 64 undergraduate degree programs, which are fortified with a faith-based core featuring religious coursework and regular chapel services. While a 13:1 student-faculty ratio guarantees personalized guidance, OBU also offers a Finish In 4 Guarantee and Loan Affordability Pledge. These programs help to finance student success both within and without the classroom, no doubt playing a role in OBU’s frequent #1 ranking among regional colleges in the South by U.S. News.
Net Price: $18,379/yr
14. Williams Baptist College
Walnut Ridge, AR
Williams Baptist College is another great resource for students of faith looking for a Christ-centric education. The small town of Walnut Ridge (pop. est. 5,000) provides a homey, Christ-centric atmosphere where students feel comfortable to explore their interests and spirituality wholeheartedly. Not just “affiliated” but actually owned and operated by the ABSC, WBC is also one of the most affordable colleges in Arkansas, offering 25 majors to just 600 students on a 200-acre campus. WBC helps students finance this already competitive tuition with dozens of academic, performance-based, regional, religious and need-based scholarships ranging from a few thousand dollars per semester to full tuition, room, and board.
Net Price: $13,225/yr
13. University of Central Arkansas
What makes University of Central Arkansas one of the best colleges in Arkansas for the price? With a student body of nearly 12,000, UCA offers 83 majors to suit every interest and career trajectory. And for top performing students (3.5+ GPA and 28+ ACT) UCA features an honors college that has received national recognition from the Carnegie Foundation as well as former US Secretary of Education Terrell Bell. UCA has also received widespread attention for its Education, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Dramatic Arts programs. In fact, UCA’s drama program is the premiere in the state, regularly earning awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Net Price: $11,051/yr
12. Harding University
Harding University in Searcy is the flagship school of a number of faith-driven universities scattered across the globe. Ranked 22nd by U.S. News among regional universities in the South, Harding combines stringent education and spiritual standards that produce thought- and faith-leaders every year. A formal dress code, mandatory chapel and bible courses, and zero-tolerance drug (including tobacco and alcohol) policies support an exploratory educational paradigm where students can pursue interests as diverse as Interior Design, Nutrition and Dietetics, Pharmacology, and Broadcast Journalism. With so much integrity in one place, it’s no surprise that Harding is also the headquarters of the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society, which supports and unites top performing students in the south.
Net Price: $16,516/yr
11. John Brown University
Siloam Springs, AR
Featuring one of the highest graduation rates in the state of Arkansas—and well above the national average—John Brown University is a model for success among private Christian liberal arts colleges and other top colleges in Arkansas. JBU embraces the fundamentals of academic and religious education with a comprehensive core curriculum that spans Bible studies, literature, history, government, mathematics, foreign language, and more. But regardless of which of JBU’s 47 degree programs a student chooses to pursue, this Arkansas university ensures that every graduate’s diploma is accompanied by a strong intellectual foundation that they will carry for life.
Net Price: $18,924/yr
10. Arkansas Tech University
Offering the competitive tuition rate typically only found at public universities, Arkansas Tech University is a cheap Arkansas college with a focus on applied sciences. Local students looking for a career in agriculture, computer science and IT, electrical or mechanical engineering, or another similar technical field would do well to consider ATU. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, ATU is a great resource for students interested in other learning opportunities as well. Featuring strong international and accelerated degree programs, students can start their careers in business, fine arts, natural and health sciences, education, and more at ATU.
Net Price: $9,630/yr
9. Henderson State University
The only Arkansas school with membership in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, Henderson State University is a unique resource for students who are looking for a comprehensive education in a small college setting. In addition to the 40 bachelors degree offerings spanning the arts, sciences, and business, Henderson also mandates a core curriculum that features a diverse range of classic courses outside the purview of students’ specific specialization. Outside of the classroom, Henderson is best known for the Showband of Arkansas, its 150+ piece student marching band and one of the top-ranked college music ensembles in the country.
Net Price: $10,249/yr
8. Lyon College
Lyon is another prestigious liberal arts institution that ranks among the top Arkansas colleges. It is the oldest independent college in the state and takes great pride in preserving and celebrating its rich collegiate heritage. With over 40 majors and minors, a 90% acceptance rate to medical and law school, and a top-30 ranking on Washington Monthly’s list of Best Liberal Arts Colleges, you can bet the education here is top-notch. And between Lyon’s tight-knit Greek system and its Scottish Heritage Program (featuring scholarships, festivals, a pipe band, and more), this college in Arkansas makes life on its small campus (a mere 700 students attend) educational and rewarding – inside and outside of the classroom.
Net Price: $14,510/yr
7. University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Little Rock, AR
University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a self-described “metropolitan research university.” In fact, it’s Arkansas’ only metropolitan research university! This fact, along with its location in the capital city of Arkansas, makes Little Rock one of the best universities in Arkansas and an indispensable resource for students looking for real-world experience; valuable connections to the government, business, medicine, and information technology industries; artistic venues; and cultural events. Add to this the many internships and research opportunities available at state-of-the-art facilities like the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, and it’s easy to see how UA Little Rock keeps students in a constant state of growth and intellectual challenge.
Net Price: $12,780/yr
6. Southern Arkansas University
With top national rankings for both its affordability and quality, no one can doubt Southern Arkansas University’s reputation as a great deal in higher education. And SAU is “great” in more ways than one; just over 3,000 students, an impressive 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and unique interdisciplinary offerings like Game and Animation Design make SAU a standout among the best Arkansas colleges at any price. In total, this university in Arkansas features 70 undergraduate programs, including pre-professional programs in medicine, nursing, and business, 2+2 degree completion programs for transfer students, and the only engineering program in the southern half of the state!
Net Price: $10,087/yr
5. Central Baptist College
At Central Baptist College, students receive a holistic education that aims for comprehensive development of the mind, the spirit, and the wallet. This cheap Arkansas college, which is affiliated with the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas, accomplishes the first two goals through a comprehensive range of bachelors degrees; regular mandatory chapel services; and hands-on student events. In the latter case, this means that CBC actively invests in students so that their future wallets are heavy and happy. Regardless of their field of study, CBC students can count on a job after graduation thanks to complimentary career support like mock interviews, career readiness coaching, career development seminars, resume assistance, and more.
Net Price: $12,043/yr
4. Arkansas State University
As the flagship campus of the Arkansas State University System, it’s certainly not difficult to imagine the quintessential college experience that Arkansas State has to offer. Perhaps it goes without saying that 15% of A-State students participate in Greek Life, or that the Red Wolves, their NCAA Div I football team, are three-time consecutive Sun Belt Champions. It’s also probably not surprising that this affordable Arkansas university houses 14,000 students and offers an impressive list of 100+ degree programs. But A-State has also developed several unique programs that go above and beyond the traditional collegiate experience. For example, their prestigious Honors College offers smaller class sizes, advanced coursework, and $2,000 grant offerings for research funding and independent projects.
Net Price: $11,499/yr
3. University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
Fort Smith, AR
As the second-largest city in Arkansas, Fort Smith features a dazzling array of cultural offerings from dance, theater, and music venues to shopping centers, museums, and historical destinations. But that’s not the only reason students choose to attend the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, an expansive campus spotted with art galleries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and even an award-winning, high-tech arboretum. This Arkansas college draws students from throughout the South with its world-class amenities, competitive academic departments, and incredibly affordable “in-state” tuition that extends to residents of Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Net Price: $7,679/yr
2. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Pine Bluff, AR
Founded in 1873 as an agricultural, mechanical and “normal” (teaching) college, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has been transforming Arkansonians into leaders of and contributors to their communities for nearly and hundred and fifty years. This historically black college has since expanded its curriculum to include business management, natural sciences, and liberal arts programs, all while maintaining an experiential approach to learning and a comfortable 15:1 student to faculty ratio. As a member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, eligible students can apply to finance their education at this affordable Arkansas college without neglecting it – and at this price, it’s pretty clear why Pine Bluff has become so popular (the acceptance rate is only 39%!).
Net Price: $7,452/yr
1. University of Arkansas
University of Arkansas is the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas System (not to be confused with the Arkansas State University System, of course), making it the largest school in the state by enrollment, endowment, square-footage, and ROI ($309K from PayScale.com!). But in what category is it not the largest? Carbon footprint! In just the last decade, U of A has revealed itself as a leader in sustainability, pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. With 22,000 students, 4,000 staff members, and dozens of academic, residential, and administrative buildings, that’s no small feat. But it’s a testament to the tenacity and moral fiber of this institution, as well a message to all the top universities in Arkansas to keep up with the big dogs.
Net Price: $14,466
This concludes our ranking of best value Arkansas 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.