By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we examine the best values in Maryland colleges and universities. For the corresponding ranking of online programs, see Best Online Colleges and Universities in Maryland.
Maryland may be one of the smaller states in the Union, but it has a big impact when it comes to higher education – especially along the Eastern Seaboard. Schools like the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins pack a powerful academic punch and generate a wealth of activity in their respective centers (Silver Spring and Baltimore). Maryland also hosts several smaller private colleges and unique schools like the United States Naval Academy, which offers FREE education to aspiring members of the armed services. But most of all, Maryland’s prime location – neighboring D.C. and within a short distance of both Philadelphia and New York – makes it worthy of consideration by any future college student.
The following ranking of the 15 best value colleges and universities strikes an important balance between cost and quality – a balance that is important to many during their search for appropriate schools. Our research focused on a few primary reliable indicators – net annual price included – as a way to distinguish the universities that are worth the money from those that will simply take your money.
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 91 to 166, 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 Maryland.
15. Maryland Institute College of Art
Founded in 1826, this Maryland college is one of the oldest arts colleges in the United States, nurturing creative explorers for nearly two centuries now. MICA is also one of the best colleges in Maryland, ranked 7th among fine arts colleges in the country by U.S. News. Students pursue BFAs in 14 studio disciplines alongside minor programs in the humanities and liberal arts. In addition to more traditional studio programs like animation, photography, and painting, MICA features unique offerings in game and product design to keep pace with industries outside the cloister of academia.
Net Price: $39,299/yr
14. Washington College
Although George Washington himself didn’t found this Maryland college, the school nonetheless carries a patriotic spirit and proud history as the first school chartered after America achieved independence. Rich campus traditions and spirited academics, along with plenty of social events – be it George Washington’s Birthday Ball, campus-wide picnics, or the annual May Day nudist bacchanalia, make sure students at this intimate campus always feel a part of a meaningful community. Washington also maintains an admirable 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio to keep education just as meaningful. No wonder this cheap Maryland college is ranked so high on the Princeton Review’s list of colleges with the happiest students.
Net Price: $30,968/yr
13. University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Princess Anne, MD
With dozens of major and minor programs to choose from, students at this Maryland university have no shortage of opportunities to pursue their goals and interests. In fact, judging by the top five undergraduate programs—Criminal Justice, Biology, Exercise Science, Human Ecology, and Sociology—there isn’t just one type of student that’s suited for UMES. And with 85% of students receiving financial aid at what is already among the most affordable colleges in Maryland—including scholarships from the estimably endowed Thurgood Marshall College Fund—UMES ensures that students of all backgrounds can chase their destiny through higher education.
Net Price: $13,841/yr
12. Washington Adventist University
Takoma Park, MD
Founded by and affiliated with the Seventh-Day Adventists, Maryland university is an educational institution guided by higher values of moral leadership and spiritual and academic excellence. Outside of diverse pre-professional and liberal arts and science degree programs well in the double digits, WAU is best known for its prestigious and selective music program. In fact, WAU’s resident orchestra, the New England Youth Orchestra, is one of the most traveled in North America and is endorsed by the Carnegie Scholar’s Program, which pairs top student musicians with professional mentors in NYC.
Net Price: $17,055/yr
10. Frostburg State University
Outside of Frostburg State University, where else can you find concentrations and degrees in Adventure Sports and Ethnobotany? Considering that their latter program is only the second in the country, your chances are pretty slim. And Frostburg isn’t light on hard subjects, either; in fact, the existence of such unique degrees at a top Maryland college like Frostburg just shows how incredibly serious they are about experiential learning and sustainability – two pillars of their mission as a university. As a charter member of American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Frostburg galvanizes students, faculty, and the community to take the carbon-neutral future of the nation into their own hands.
Net Price: $12,952/yr
10. Bowie State University
At this Maryland university, students always get the best of both worlds. Located just between DC and Baltimore, students have their pick of two of the most vibrant cultural capitals not just on the East Coast, but in the entire nation. Plus, located on a 300-acre suburban wooded tract, Bowie students can choose between city antics and a relaxing afternoon on the quad. And with 22 undergraduate majors, a state-of-the-art supercomputer and satellite imaging facility for research, and a low tuition further reduced for eligible students by scholarships through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Bowie offers all the resources of the best Maryland colleges for a fraction of the price.
Net Price: $11,663/yr
9. Coppin State University
Put bluntly, education is the number one priority at this Maryland university. And it should be! On one hand, this means that Coppin is a great choice for future educators who can’t wait to get a degree to start making a difference in young people’s lives. In fact, Coppin is the only higher education institution in Maryland to manage a public school since taking over Rosemont Elementary School in 1998. This gives future teachers and education administrators alike a unique opportunity for experiential learning. But Coppin’s emphasis on education doesn’t end there; it also extends to the rest of their undergraduate programs, from liberal arts to the health sciences.
Net Price: $9,407/yr
8. Loyola University Maryland
Over the last 500 years, Jesuits have built a tradition within the Catholic Church founded on scholarship, education, and cultural cultivation. This tradition is alive and well at this Maryland university. One of the top universities in Maryland, LUM features a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio; 40 academic fields for undergraduate study; and study abroad programs in countries like Spain, New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. Like the Jesuits before them, LUM’s recipe for success is self-evident, from their nationally dominant lacrosse team to their nearly 90% graduation rate and $550K 20-year ROI.
Net Price: $33,346/yr
7. Notre Dame of Maryland University
As the only women’s college in Maryland, you could say that Notre Dame of Maryland University really puts the “dame” in “Notre Dame.” But all jokes aside, NDMU has a rich tradition of inculcating women of faith into higher education and service. In addition to being the first Catholic college in the U.S. to offer women a four-year baccalaureate degree, NDMU has contributed 34 alumni to The Daily Record’s list of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. Considering the experiences and education offered at this affordable Maryland college – as well its unparalleled commitment to service – it’s no wonder NDMU produces such successful graduates.
Net Price: $18,370/yr
6. University of Maryland – Baltimore County
For the last six years, this Maryland university has ranked first on U.S. News’ list of top up-and-coming colleges in the country. What does this mean? First and foremost, it’s an indication that you should take advantage of the opportunity to apply to such a prestigious research university while it still accepts nearly 60% of applicants. But in more general terms, this ranking refers to the 50 undergraduate majors offered, the school’s enviable proximity to both DC and Baltimore, its 19 Division I athletics teams competing in the American East Conference, and an expected $450K 20-year return on investment. But that’s just our guess.
Net Price: $14,137/yr
5. Salisbury University
From U.S. News and Washington Monthly to Money Magazine and Kiplingers Personal Finance, this Maryland university has been making it onto lists of the “best deals” in higher education for years. The tuition is low enough, but that alone fails to capture what makes Salisbury such a great opportunity. Offering 42 undergraduate degree programs in education, science and technology, business, and liberal arts, there’s a huge breadth of learning available at Salisbury for its stellar price point. Above all, Salisbury understands that what makes students worthwhile is not their grades or test scores, but their attitude towards achievement.
Net Price: $16,683/yr
4. Towson University
This Maryland university is one of the largest public universities in Maryland and features all the student amenities and resources that come with the territory. Students can choose from over a hundred degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as applied professional programs. That sounds kind of typical until you realize Towson also features one of just a handful of gerontology programs—and the only e-Business degree—among public universities in the country. Towson is also known for producing more teachers than any other school in any state, and yields a whopping $343K average return on investment over 20 years, according to Pay Scale.
Net Price: $13,859/yr
3. Johns Hopkins University
Founded in 1876 with a $7 million bequest from its namesake (the late philanthropist Johns Hopkins himself), this Maryland university was the first research university in the nation – and it has continued to set the bar for higher education for generations. Arguably the top college in Maryland, JHU is best known for its groundbreaking engineering and medical programs and has been affiliated with 36 Nobel Laureates over its lifespan. So it’s no surprise that JHU skims only the cream of the crop with a slim 16% acceptance rate. And while the price of tuition may be higher than most schools on our list, the nearly $600K you can expect to make your first two decades after graduating makes it oh so worth it.
Net Price: $25,207/yr
2. University of Maryland College Park
College Park, MD
As the largest school—public or private—in the state, the University of Maryland College Park is Maryland’s true flagship institution. UMCP avails itself of this status with a wealth of resources, including a $1.9 billion annual operating budget that covers everything from the 90 undergraduate degree programs to hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced research funding for dozens of cutting-edge departments. But money alone doesn’t make UMCP one of the best universities in Maryland; it’s also ranked among the top 20 public research universities according to U.S. News and boasts 3 Nobel Laureates and 5 Pulitzer winners among its faculty.
Net Price: $14,833/yr
1. United State Naval Academy
Many students join the military to finance their education when they return home; what if you could do it the other way around? At the United States Naval Academy, students’ tuition is waived for a federal service education, where they are commissioned to become officers for the Navy or Marine Corps upon graduation. But the USNA isn’t just another cheap Maryland college; not only does the school have a cutthroat 8% acceptance rate, students must receive a nomination from a Congressman to even apply in the first place! The competitive atmosphere only intensifies upon arrival, with mandatory athletics and military leadership comprising a large part of students’ total grade.
Net Price: $0/yr
This concludes our ranking of the top value universities and colleges in Maryland.
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.