By Iris Stone
Whether you're a born Midwesterner or are looking for a change in pace from coastal life, Indiana has a lot to offer potential college students. Universities like Purdue, Notre Dame, and IU Bloomington take center stage thanks to their prestigious reputations, and in fact many Indiana colleges enjoy top positions on national rankings. But this state is also full of smaller schools – both public and private – that offer exciting alternatives for students of all tastes. Religious colleges, engineering specialty schools, close-knit campuses – Indiana has it all.
Of course, when it comes to "having it all," it's important to consider the one factor that can trump all else: cost. Even the best schools in the world can't offer much if their tuition makes them inaccessible to the average student. That was the motivation for this ranking: to combine traditional measures of college quality (like selectivity and graduation rate, for example) with an honest assessment of affordability.
For flexible online programs, see our ranking of best value online colleges in Indiana.
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 81 to 157, 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 Indiana.
30. Indiana University Northwest
Indiana University Northwest makes it easy for students to join the respected IU system. Its location in Northwest Indiana makes it accessible to residents of both Indiana and Illinois, while its flexible schedule opens the door for students who are also working or raising families. Already one of the most affordable colleges in Indiana, IU Northwest offers a number of payment plans and financial aid opportunities to make paying for school even easier. Clubs and organizations abound on the university's campus, and students can also sign up for the affordable and well-equipped Savannah Fitness Center.
Net Price: $7,563/yr
29. Indiana University South Bend
South Bend, IN
Indiana University South Bend's 80-acre campus is the third-largest of the Indiana University system and is situated on the Saint Joseph River. The campus is home to 46 laboratories, a cutting-edge library, and athletic fields across the river connected by a pedestrian bridge. Students regularly join their professors on research projects, and all classes are taught by faculty rather than graduate assistants. This cheap Indiana college nonetheless offers a close-knit community, the support of the renowned – and expansive – IU system, and more than 100 degree options, including the new Bachelor of Applied Sciences.
Net Price: $9,889/yr
28. Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN
Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Saint Mary's College has a reputation as one of the best Indiana colleges for women. A women's school since its inception, Saint Mary's has stayed true to its principles of supporting the community and seeking social justice. The college ensures that housing is available for all four years for students who want it, and 90% choose to live on campus. Located next to the Saint Joseph River and just across the street from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's beautiful campus is dotted with trees, gardens, and historic architecture. The school is beloved by students and has an exceptional 81% graduation rate.
Net Price: $26,529/yr
27. Indiana State University
Terre Haute, IN
In the heart of downtown Terre Haute, Indiana State University sits on a large but easily navigable 435-acre campus. Students can walk across the campus in 10 minutes, but it still offers plenty of space for activities, not to mention everything there is to do in the city. ISU makes an effort to give every student ample opportunity to socialize, offering living space in 12 residence halls and generous support for student groups. Commuters aren't left out either; with access to lounges, a laptop lending program, and even special scholarships, off-campus students will feel just as welcome as their dorm dwelling classmates.
Net Price: $11,525/yr
26. Franklin College
Franklin College was the first college in Indiana to admit women in 1842, becoming only the sixth co-educational school in the country to do so. Franklin's administrators have carried on that spirit, building an inclusive community dedicated to ethical leadership. The school's traditional liberal arts curriculum incorporates this focus on both leadership and moral principles, and it includes 55 majors and 41 minors from which to choose. With a picturesque 207-acre campus 20 minutes from Indianapolis, Franklin is positioned as a peaceful home for its 1,000 students while still enabling them to experience the excitement of the city. Even in Franklin, a town of 20,000, students can find plenty to do. For those who prefer a more natural setting, 31 acres of Franklin's campus are devoted to woodlands.
Net Price: $22,307/yr
25. University of Evansville
The University of Evansville is a small school of just over 2,000 students that offers opportunities unmatched by larger universities. Its study abroad program has been called the best in the nation, allowing students to study at UE's British campus, Harlaxton College, where students can take classes in a 100-room Victorian manor. The school also recently announced The UE Guarantee, which asserts that all students can graduate in four years or their fifth year will be free. What's more, this guarantee promises that all students will have the chance to study abroad. Those who have not ventured beyond the U.S. by their senior year will get a $1,000 travel grant to support their trip. UE also offers the GAP program, a hands-on interdisciplinary program based on research and real-world applications.
Net Price: $21,164/yr
24. University of Southern Indiana
The University of Southern Indiana is firmly committed to social engagement, and its programs are designed to enrich the local community through economic, cultural, and educational means. Nearby New Harmony, Indiana, was once the site of two utopian experiments in the 1800s, and today serves as a magnet for culturally minded tourists. The university works closely with the town to support its civic goals and takes pride in its central role in the Evansville community. USI sits on a sprawling 1,400-acre campus in town, which provides a beautiful backdrop to the quality education students receive there. Despite its average enrollment of just over 9,000, USI uses its large campus to host more than 130 active campus organizations and nationally competitive sports teams, making it inarguably above average when it comes to student engagement.
Net Price: $12,925/yr
23. Saint Joseph's College
Nestled in a 180-acre wooded campus in the small town of Rensselaer, Saint Joseph's College gives students the chance to fully immerse themselves in a supportive academic community. Rensselaer itself offers all the amenities that students need while still providing a protective buffer from the sometimes overwhelming bustle of big cities. And yet students who yearn for the hubbub of a sprawling metropolis won't be disappointed; Indianapolis and Chicago are just 90 minutes away. While on campus, students can enjoy a selection of intramural sports as well as academic, creative, and social clubs. Saint Joseph's is one of the best cheap Indiana colleges, earning points for both quality and affordability. 99% of freshmen receive financial aid and past graduates gone on to great things – including serving as clerk in the Indiana Supreme Court and attending graduate school at Harvard University!
Net Price: $15,836/yr
22. Indiana University Kokomo
Indiana University Kokomo is a small school with a lot to offer. With a student body of around 4,000, IUK gives students a small-town feel while still making all the resources of the Indiana University system readily available. The school boasts myriad facilities that students might not expect from a cheap college in Indiana, such as a $2.5 million high-tech nursing lab equipped with the latest in medical education technology. Its compact campus is easy to get around while still housing a top-notch, library, an art gallery, and an observatory. Students can also rent apartments just across the street, making the commute to class practically nonexistent (a favorite feature among those who aren't "morning people!).
Net Price: $8,633/yr
21. Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is unusual in that it's actually a member of two of the best Indiana college systems. In 1969, the Purdue and Indiana universities merged the campuses of two of their satellite schools to form IUPUI. The school enrolls more than 20,000 undergraduates, most of whom attend full-time and all of whom benefit from the resources and attention of two leading university systems. IUPUI is noted for its commitment to diversity and has long been lauded as one of the best schools in the nation for minority students. Women also account for more than 40% of the faculty, while 27% of faculty identify as people of color. But that's not all: its legal writing and primary care programs are among the best in the country.
Net Price: $10,979/yr
20. Indiana University East
Students at Indiana University East get the best of both worlds, thanks to a school that combines the amenities and services of a large university with the feel of a regional college. On campus, students have more than 50 academic programs to choose from while participating in more than 30 clubs and organizations and 11 sports teams, all at one of the most affordable Indiana colleges. They'll also have access to a broad range of internships both nationally and in the state of Indiana and can participate in the university's renowned service learning program. Students wanting to explore even further afield can enroll in a study abroad program either through their own school or through Indiana University's Bloomington campus.
Net Price: $7,975/yr
19. Valparaiso University
Valparaiso University offers a unique blend of some of the most important attributes for a college. With 70 distinct undergraduate majors with an enrollment of more than 3,000, VU can feel every bit like a large research university. And yet caring professors – not graduate students – take the helm in the classroom, ensuring that students still enjoy the intimate atmosphere that no doubt attracted them to Valparaiso. Its green campus houses more than 60 buildings, along with state-of-the-art technological features such as a powerful research microscope and video labs. And perhaps most important, graduates are highly successful; 92.5% enter graduate school or joining the workforce within six months of receiving their degrees. In fact, the university has been recognized for its excellent record of educating professionals in STEM fields and producing Fulbright Scholars.
Net Price: $22,058/yr
18. University of Indianapolis
Indianapolis is home to several of top Indiana colleges, and the University of Indianapolis is a popular choice among them due to its ideal location right in the heart of the city. Undergraduates have 100 programs of study to choose from, where they will enjoy small classes with an average of 17 students. The school also offers a substantial financial aid package that supports 90% of students with some form of assistance. UIndy, as it's commonly known, is the best Indiana college for producing clinical psychologists and physical and occupational therapists, and it also houses the only neonatal nurse practitioner program in the state! But non-health science majors need not worry; the school's business, education, and communication programs are also popular.
Net Price: $22,639/yr
17. Calumet College of St. Joseph
Calumet College of St. Joseph is a small college that caters especially to students who work or have families by offering plentiful part-time options and evening classes. Serving many students from Illinois as well as Indiana, Calumet doesn't charge extra fees for out-of-state tuition. Add to this its convenient location – just 30 minutes from Chicago and easy to reach by highway – and Calumet may be the best affordable Indiana college for commuters. Its focus on convenience doesn't mean that Calumet skimps in other areas, though. The school is highly selective, with a 34% acceptance rate, and is home to numerous athletic teams.
Net Price: $11,790/yr
16. Butler University
Founded in 1855 by abolitionist Ovid Butler, Butler University supports hands-on learning, community engagement, and equal access to education for all. Butler is held in high regard throughout the country and has earned special recognition as a top school for veterans and undergraduate business students. Its Holcomb Observatory is home to Indiana's largest telescope and is actually one of the world's largest public observatories! Being one of Indiana's best colleges doesn't mean that Butler takes itself too seriously, as evidenced by its adoration for its famous mascot, Blue the Bulldog, and its numerous opportunities for students to get involved in campus organizations and Greek life.
Net Price: $32,742/yr
15. Bethel College
Located less than an hour from Lake Michigan, 90 minutes from Chicago, and near a number of other top colleges in Indiana, Bethel's ideal placement ensures that students can always find a fun way to spend their free time. When it's time to go to class, students benefit from a 12 to 1 student to faculty ratio, and the personal attention they'll receive really pays off! Bethel graduates have twice the national average acceptance rate to medical school, and both its nursing and music education programs enjoy a nearly perfect job placement rate.
Net Price: $18,216/yr
14. Marian University
Despite being just 10 minutes from busy downtown Indianapolis, Marian University occupies a quiet, scenic campus. That means that students at one of the top universities in Indiana can explore the city and take advantage of everything the wooded campus has to offer all in the same day. Marian University oversees a unique cycling arena known as the Indy Cycloplex, where students and community members can bike and attend races. The campus also houses the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab, a 55-acre environmental restoration area that serves as outdoor laboratory, classroom, and nature reserve. These facilities make Marian University's campus exciting for anyone, but they'll especially benefit students in the school's respected exercise science and ecology programs.
Net Price: $19,930/yr
13. Anderson University
Founded as the Anderson Bible Training School in 1917, Anderson University quickly opened up to offer a plethora of educational paths while maintaining its affiliation to the Anderson Church of God. In addition to offering a theology degree, Anderson University participates in the Tri-S: Study, Serve, Share program. This initiative sends students to locations across the globe to work toward the elimination of poverty and social injustice. Back home, students have access to a vibrant spiritual community and plenty of other activities. Anderson University supports extracurriculars as a way to strengthen its community and is considered one of the top universities in Indiana for intramural sports.
Net Price: $23,229/yr
12. Earlham College
The Earlham College experience is marked by its affiliation with the Quakers. A religious group known for its principles of equality and community improvement, the Quaker mindset makes the campus especially egalitarian and active. Earlham is one of the best colleges in Indiana for students' well-being, thanks to a campus community that encourages students to be open about their feelings and respect the needs of their peers. It also supports community initiatives both on and off campus, such as the Bonner Scholars Program, which awards service scholarships to students based on financial need.
Net Price: $20,589/yr
11. Oakland City University
Oakland City, IN
Oakland City University sets itself apart from other top universities in Indiana by its faith affiliation. As the only school in the country affiliated with the General Baptist Church, OCU puts a strong emphasis on faith, service, and Christian values. While the school promotes a Christian environment with chapel services, a campus minister, and various worship activities, students of any faith or denomination are welcome to attend. Located in Oakland City — a small town without the features that cities offer — the school makes an effort to keep campus life exciting with a variety of student organizations and free activities.
Net Price: $19,344/yr
10. Hanover College
Hanover College is the oldest private college in Indiana, and it's built a respected and innovative academic program throughout its history. Nearby Madison, Indiana, is home to the state's largest historic district — and the largest National Historic Landmark in the country — which spans 133 blocks on the National Register of Historic Places. Students can explore this historic town and the natural beauty of the surrounding area while studying, and their prospects look great after graduation, too. 98% of students land a job or start an advanced degree program shortly after graduating, proving that Hanover is undoubtedly one of the best colleges in Indiana when it comes to alumni success.
Net Price: $22,046/yr
9. Wabash College
As one of the three remaining all-male liberal arts colleges in the country, Wabash College prides itself on teaching men to become valuable members of their community. The school emphasizes the merits of personal responsibility and service by maintaining a self-directed environment meant to foster growth and discipline. Situated on a beautiful campus in west Indiana, Wabash students are free to find their own path with the full support of their school. Wabash College receives one of the largest per-student endowments in the nation and remains one of the more affordable colleges in Indiana, thanks to a generous financial aid package that supports an incredible 90% of students.
Net Price: $22,883/yr
8. Ball State University
Ball State University takes students beyond the normal classroom experience by offering plenty of opportunities for experiential learning. Performing arts majors participate in talent showcases and entrepreneurship students pitch their business plans to experts in their field. Students at this cheap college in Indiana get the chance to help improve their state even before graduating by taking on research projects and working with members of the community while earning their degrees. Thanks to its hands-on approach, Ball State is considered one of the best colleges in the Midwest, earning national acclaim for its architecture, telecommunications, and education programs.
Net Price: $12,804/yr
7. Purdue University Calumet
Located just 25 miles from Chicago, Purdue University Calumet offers a tree-lined 167-acre neighborhood campus, putting natural serenity and a major American city within a short drive of each other. And despite its close proximity to the big city, many students find that campus life is equally as exciting. Just ask the 750 students who reside in the school's on site apartment-style dorms – which feature private bedrooms and quick access to Purdue's many popular events and activities. Getting around campus couldn't be easier, thanks to the ample bike paths and secure bike racks. This cheap Indiana college is also home to a highly diverse student body, with the highest proportion of Hispanic students at any Indiana college and more than 600 international students.
Net Price: $10,908/yr
6. DePauw University
With traditions and landmarks that stretch back more than 100 years, DePauw University connects its storied history to ongoing innovation. DePaul University is home to the nation's oldest sorority, Phi Beta Kappa, as well as the original Sigma Delta Chi fraternity, which has since evolved into the Society of Professional Journalists. The School of Music here was also one of the nation's first. Far from being stuck in the past, DePauw remains committed to its community through its pioneering efforts to reach carbon neutrality. DePauw is still one of the best universities in Indiana after all these years, pairing a selective 57% acceptance rate with a high 80% graduation rate.
Net Price: $29,523/yr
5. Rose Hulman Institute of Technology
Terre Haute, IN
Students at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology benefit from both a low student to faculty ratio while they're in school (13 staff for every one student) and a high job placement rate once they've graduated. The school puts a heavy emphasis on hands-on education and promotes practical experience as a must-have for any major. This approach is one reason why 90% of Rose-Hulman students have already secured a job by the time they graduate – and enjoy an average salary of $66,940! Many consider Rose-Hulman to be one of the best universities in Indiana – and the nation, for that matter – and its undergraduate engineering program deserves special praise. The school's classes put an emphasis on more than just technical skills, teaching students to work as a team to solve problems.
Net Price: $38,429/yr
4. Goshen College
Goshen College's acceptance rate is one of the lowest among top colleges in Indiana, at 54%, but those who make the cut are likely to feel their hard work has been rewarded. The student to faculty ratio at Goshen is just 10 to 1, and most classes have fewer than 25 students, making it easy to get to know both peers and instructors. Goshen's welcoming community helps students of diverse faiths feel at home and supports social justice. Eco-conscious and nature-loving students will be especially pleased with the campus's work on sustainability and conservation, which includes a 1,189-acre environmental center. Goshen also encourages students to venture out into the world beyond campus, and as a result a full 80% take advantage of the school's active study abroad program.
Net Price: $19,675/yr
3. Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University at Bloomington describes itself as an exemplar of traditional American higher education, but that doesn't mean that it's stagnant. In fact, the university has a history of progressive ideas to match its academic achievements. Herman B. Wells, the university's president and chancellor for much of the 20th century, guided the school to high esteem while championing the rights of African American students and supporting the controversial but important research of the Kinsey Institute. The university has educated many who went on to great success, such as journalist Ernie Pyle and Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom. Indiana University also houses renowned music and fine arts programs, all while remaining one of the most affordable colleges in Indiana.
Net Price: $11,573/yr
2. University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN
The University of Notre Dame has plenty to boast about, from its tradition of academic excellence to its strong athletics program that draws fans from across the nation. Not to mention that its 96% graduation rate is the highest among the top Indiana colleges. More than 80% of the school's 8,000 undergraduates opt to live on campus – a not-so-surprising choice considering the location's natural beauty and stately, modern buildings. In fact, its architecture college is one of the university's biggest strengths. Acclaimed worldwide, the program regularly produces highly successful graduates, and its annual Driehaus Architecture Prize is sought-after across the globe.
Net Price: $27,025/yr
1. Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN
Purdue University has a reputation as a top-notch school and boasts a long list of awards to support its enviable stature. This is in part due to Purdue's staunch commitment to academic excellence, which has cultivated a campus environment that is both nurturing and intellectually challenging. The university also prioritizes freedom of expression, and supportive professors make every effort to let students speak their minds. This open atmosphere also facilitates free inquiry and discussion in the classroom, which is yet another way Purdue academics trump the competition. And because students from any background feel free to share their views without fear, this top Indiana college has become a leader in international student enrollment and diversity on campus.
Net Price: $13,081/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.