By Iris Stone
When you think of Ohio, there are probably a few colleges and universities that immediately jump to mind – Ohio State University, Oberlin, Case Western, Wooster, and perhaps a few others as well. But what you might not realize is that Ohio is actually overrun with great schools, each of which offers something a little different. Whether you’re a jock who insists on joining a top athletic program, a creative spirit destined for the big stage, or a religious student who values spiritual introspection, Ohio has it all.
For convenient online options, see Best Value Online Colleges and Universities in Ohio.
Most students who have started the college search come to one important realization early on: it’s expensive! Tuition climbs steadily from year to year, but students’ (and their parents’) pocketbooks aren’t growing any fatter. But many are also too quick to assume that learning on a budget has to mean learning less. In reality, there are plenty of universities that seriously deliver in measures of student success (such as graduation rate and long-term return-on-investment) but won’t break the bank in the process. That’s what the following ranking represents – the top 30 colleges and universities in Ohio that prioritize both cost and quality in serving their students.
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 164, 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 Ohio.
30. Marietta College
Marietta College is a “contemporary liberal arts college” that rewards students who display unique talents and creativity. Rather than focusing on specific career preparation skills, Marietta looks to foster students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills so that they will thrive in any number of potential occupations. The college places a particular emphasis on investigative learning through research projects and other independent study options. Marietta even supports an annual “All Scholars Day” to celebrate the achievements of the school’s many undergraduate researchers, artists, and performers. And the small town offers plenty of charm for students who need a break from the classroom; quaint red brick streets, sparkling rivers, and one-of-a-kind shops characterize this “Pioneer City.”
Net Price: $23,366/yr
29. Otterbein University
Otterbein University is a uniquely inclusive college that goes above and beyond in its attempt to celebrate diversity. Progressive even for liberal arts colleges, Otterbein stresses the worth of each individual and the importance of giving back to the community. These values make it a top college in Ohio for international students, who Otterbein welcomes with open arms. Between the popular Host Family Program and special ESL courses, international students find a comfortable home at this school. OU also demonstrates an impressive commitment to affordability; the university hasn’t increased tuition rates for years, and average student debt rates are significantly lower than other Ohio colleges.
Net Price: $26,200/yr
28. Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH
Students looking for a strong public school at an affordable rate will see plenty to like in Bowling Green State University. It’s one of the best colleges in Ohio – and one of the top public schools in the country – thanks to unique initiatives such as the First Year Program. Undergraduate students receive special assistance and advising to help them make the transition to college living and continue to benefit from student-centered opportunities for their duration at BGSU. The “Learning Commons” – which provides help in the form of subject tutoring, writing workshops, academic coaching, and study skills development – keeps students on track, while “Learning/Theme Communities” let students live together and bond over mutual interest in art, language, travel, music, or even similar career goals.
Net Price: $17,042/yr
27. Hiram College
A small community of about 1,300 men and women form the student body at Hiram College, a historic locale with a distinguished reputation for liberal arts education. Hiram is truly dedicated to the principles of higher education, and in fact more than half of its students make plans to attend graduate school or obtain some additional level of professional training. But what most distinguishes Hiram College is its one-of-a-kind “12-1-3” academic plan. In this system, students attend regular courses for 12 weeks, take a one-week break, and then spend the next three weeks immersing themselves in an intensive course or field experience. Some students also use these three weeks to travel abroad or focus on an independent research project. Faculty and students alike agree that this is the best possible structure to foster one-on-one relationships and student-centered learning.
Net Price: $22,194/yr
26. Baldwin Wallace University
Baldwin Wallace University has made confident claims about both its affordability and student success. 98% of students receive financial aid – including merit scholarships – making BWU one of the most affordable Ohio colleges. Baldwin Wallace also offers the “4-year Graduation Guarantee” and agrees to pay students’ tuition if they don’t finish in four years. And in fact, nearly 70% of students are out the door and into their desired careers right on schedule. One of BW’s biggest draws is its emphasis on entrepreneurship. The Center for Innovation and Growth offers consulting to students with innovative ideas and big plans, while the Business Clinic puts top BW learners in touch with local small businesses.
Net Price: $20,360/yr
25. Ursuline College
Pepper Pike, OH
On a spacious campus just east of Cleveland lies Ursuline College, a top religious school for women. Ursuline combines the principles of faith and spirituality with a strong appreciation for self-growth. Young women have the freedom to explore all their areas of interest, from Art History to Biotechnology to Religious Studies. Ursuline also houses a School of Nursing and a School of Professional Studies (which offers programs in Education, Fashion, Sports Management, and other similar career prep options) in order to appeal to a wide range of learners. On the social side, on-campus programs – particularly in ministry and multicultural affairs – bring women together to form a close-knit group of motivated and principled students.
Net Price: $15,062/yr
24. Tiffin University
Professionally focused students who want a practical, real world education can look to Tiffin University as the antidote to their academic needs. The university sports a comprehensive mix of undergraduate, graduate, and degree completion programs to fit every need, from Criminalistics to Professional Music. Tiffin is also home to the “China Program,” which includes numerous partnerships with Chinese educational institutions. Students travel from China (and other countries as well) to take advantage of Tiffin’s rich campus life. Students can participate in activities as unique as the Dragon Writers’ Guild, which publishes an online journal and sponsors poetry readings, and performing arts clubs – including the dance team!
Net Price: $21,863/yr
23. Art Academy of Cincinnati
The Art Academy of Cincinnati is not your typical college – it focuses exclusively on undergraduate programs in art and design. Students schools the Art Academy for its superior degree training in Illustration, Photography, Print Media, Sculpture, and other select visual media. But students don’t just choose this top Ohio college for its high caliber degree options; its opportunities like the NYSRP that make AAC really stand out. The New York Studio Residency Program selects two accomplished students each year and sends them to the big city, where they’ll have the opportunity to absorb one of the world’s best art scenes while getting plenty of studio time – and class credit!
Net Price: $17,683/yr
22. The University of Findlay
This “best in the Midwest” university has gained a national reputation for the rich academic environment it offers students. Findlay recently welcomed the largest freshman class in its history, and for good reason. Enrollment continues to increase because of the exciting opportunities at the university, including research trips to learn about whales! UF students also enjoy the Mazza Museum, the world’s largest collection of original illustrations by children’s book authors. Beyond that, students spend their time exploring an impressive selection of majors, including Animal Science, Graphic Design, Nuclear Medicine Technology, and yes – Children’s Book Illustration.
Net Price: $22,001/yr
21. John Carroll University
University Heights, OH
What makes John Carroll University one of the best universities in Ohio? It’s been one of the top 10 schools in the Midwest for nearly three decades, all thanks to its Jesuit Catholic roots and the strong dedication to education that drives all its programs. Students can choose from programs in the arts and sciences as well as business, with plenty of opportunities to forge their own path. As a “place of honestly, pluralism, and mutual respect,” JCU pushes its learners to pursue mastery in a given subject while still seeking a balanced education with an appreciation of world history and culture.
Net Price: $23,140/yr
20. Ohio Dominican University
As the top Catholic university of Central Ohio, ODU attracts students who seek a sound, faith-based education. The school’s “in-demand” majors include everything from Biopsychology and Entrepreneurship to Peace and Justice and Software Engineering, as well as some more unique options. Students can apply for the Honors Program or a “4+1” track, which combines bachelor’s degrees in business and athletics with accelerated graduate-level courses. What’s more, the Dominican Scholars Program brings business and education students into an environment where they can benefit from enhanced service learning and leadership training.
Net Price: $20,491/yr
19. Cleveland Institute of Music
The Cleveland Institute of Music may be even more specialized than the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Technically, the only degree available at the institute is a Bachelor of Music in Performance, although concentrations cover just about every instrument imaginable, including the bassoon, harpsichord, organ, percussion, and of course voice. Students also have the option to get a double major in Music Theory or to tackle specialized studies in Music Literature, Audio Recording, or Eurhythmics. Life outside of the classroom revolves around music, too; students live together on campus and bond over their love of instruments, and they even get to perform together throughout the Cleveland metro area.
Net Price: $34,081/yr
18. Cedarville University
One of the best Ohio colleges for religious students, Cedarville University is known for its Baptist foundations and its serious faith-based approach to learning. In fact, all students are required to earn a minor in Bible Studies along with their main degree, and Discipleship groups make up an important part of the campus social scene. Cedarville is also known for its incredibly rigorous academic programs, and the challenging coursework pays off – literally. The 20-year net ROI for the university is over $310,000 – a high figure, particularly for small liberal arts colleges.
Net Price: $23,403/yr
17. Wilberforce University
Wilberforce University’s six core principles perfectly encapsulate the school’s comprehensive approach to nurturing the whole learner. These six tenants include Religion and Christian Principles, History and Tradition, Social and Community Responsibility, Quality Education, and of course the Students themselves. Undergraduate coursework covers a few main areas of study – the humanities and social sciences, business, the natural sciences, and engineering – and includes degrees in Marketing, Electrical Engineering, and Health Services. Wilberforce also supports unique “Cooperative Education” opportunities, which take students out into the workforce to gain class credit for real-world, on-the-job learning.
Net Price: $16,456/yr
16. Ohio Wesleyan University
At Ohio Wesleyan University, learning is about connecting classroom theory to the real world – where it really matters. Students combine their traditional majors with internships, study abroad trips, and leadership experiences as a way to round out their collegiate journey. OWU invites its students to “never have another ordinary day,” and follows up on this call-to-action with unique first-year seminar courses; enticing research projects, and learning-based study abroad trips to places like Japan, Egypt, Sweden, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic. With so much to offers its students, its no wonder this top university in Ohio has been named one of the select few “colleges that change lives.”
Net Price: $29,445/yr
15. Mercy College of Ohio
Mercy College is a technical, career-based school and one of the most affordable colleges in Ohio. Bachelor’s degrees are available in Biology, Nursing, Medical Imaging, and Healthcare Administration, and students can also earn a certificate in Polysomnographic Technology, Opthalmic Technology, Medical Coding, Phlebotomy, and other health tech areas. Mercy College may not be the most traditional university, but its 20-year net ROI outranks many of its elite, more expensive neighbors. The important, real-world skills that students can acquire at Mercy lead them to an eventual return on investment of nearly $150,000.
Net Price: $17,905/yr
14. University of Mount Union
Students who are ready for “meaningful work” and “responsible citizenship” will fit right in at the University of Mount Union, a liberal arts institution with a religious heritage tied to the Methodist Church. The university attracts ambitious, focused students who often opt for the school’s most challenging initiatives, such as the Honors Program. This program gives highly accomplished students access to autonomous learning opportunities, special co-curricular classes, and exclusive benefits – including trips to museums and reserved seating at lectures. But all students have access to Mount Union’s innovative core curriculum, which includes “theme clusters.” These engaging courses encourage students to keep expanding their knowledge all four years, with special topics available in art, health, technology, ethics, culture, the environment, philosophy, and more.
Net Price: $24,465/yr
13. Wittenberg University
Wittenberg University is another college with a four-year guarantee, framed within the larger promise of the “Wittenberg Commitment.” The university plans out a road map for each student, guiding them through first-year seminars, personalized advising, active learning opportunities, and even a “Wittfolio” that summarizes students’ progress and helps them build a résumé. Although Wittenberg admits that it pushes its students to their limits, it also acknowledges that this approach is what helps its graduates be successful. To that point, nearly 70% of WU students graduate on time, and the average 20-year return on investment is north of $200,000. Ironically, the school that has earned a Princeton Review commendation as one of the “best classroom experiences” encourages students to get out of the classroom by volunteering in the community and looking for leadership positions.
Net Price: $26,343/yr
12. Denison University
The hallmark of this top Ohio college is what they call the “Denison Difference.” Denison combines a rigorous curriculum with integrative learning opportunities to forge a collegiate experience that makes student success the number one priority. Coursework engages students by pushing them to craft meaningful dialogue, hone their communication skills, and become leaders in their respective fields. This is all part of what Denison describes as educating the “whole person,” and students report that this model supports critical, creative, and analytical thinking. As a result, the university boasts an 82% graduation rate and a strong network of happy alumni.
Net Price: $29,412/yr
11. University of Cincinnati
Unlike many of the smaller, liberal arts colleges on this list, the University of Cincinnati offers an urban alternative on an expansive city campus. More than 40,000 students attend UC, drawn by its status as a robust research university and one of the great cheap colleges in Ohio. Although a larger campus typically means a more anonymous experience as a student, it also means practically endless opportunities for involvement – including more than 370 degree options. And students don’t have to worry about completely losing themselves in the crowd; a student-to-faculty ratio of just 16:1 ensures that UC learners will connect with at least a few of their professors. Plus, a UC education is bound to pay off for years to come – its average 20-year ROI is nearly $450,000!
Net Price: $19,739/yr
10. Ohio University
Ohio University welcomes new students to campus with a litany of opportunities and ways to get involved. The university accepts only the best students – the average undergrad GPA of incoming freshmen is a 3.4 – and maintains a moderate population of about 17,000. Like some of the larger schools in Ohio, OU provides more than 250 areas of study, from Acting to Wildlife and Conservation Biology. And at this university (a cheap Ohio college by most standards) special programs abound; the Career and Leadership Development Center helps empower students in the job search, while the Education Abroad opportunities whisk adventurous learners to far-off locales like Austria, Ghana, and Singapore.
Net Price: $19,613/yr
9. Ohio Northern University
Students who are hoping to see a return on investment of nearly $300,000 over 20 years should consider Ohio Northern University, one of the best universities in Ohio when it comes to academic excellence and student success. ONU has long been influenced by its affiliation with the Methodist Church, which in turn has inspired its adherence to the values of goodness, truth, and beauty. Students can choose from any number of traditional and uncommon majors, such as Advertising Design, Forensic Biology, International Theatre, Manufacturing Technology, and Multimedia Journalism. ONU sports plenty of pre-professional options as well, from Optometry to Physical Therapy.
Net Price: $23,906/yr
8. The College of Wooster
Plenty of schools advertise their serious academics, sports teams, and student activities, but it’s not so common to see a college that places a priority on undergraduate research. And yet that’s exactly what The College of Wooster does. The school realizes that research not only looks attractive to employers, but is also one of the best ways to help students learn to think critically, manage projects, develop their creativity, and communicate effectively. Special centers like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Research Scholars Program help undergrads soar past the competition, and in fact every senior completes an independent study initiative with a faculty mentor. This approach to education is part of the reason Wooster boasts a graduation rate of nearly 80%.
Net Price: $28,016/yr
7. Xavier University
A premier Jesuit Catholic university in Cincinnati, Xavier is a top choice for religious students who value both small schools and city living. Students gain access to plenty of top corporations in the area (perfect for internships and eventual jobs – and Xavier has a job placement rate of 91%!) and community service initiatives with more than 60 local agencies. And although Xavier’s price tag is a bit higher than other private colleges in Ohio, XU students enjoy some serious perks. This includes free tickets to athletic events, vegetarian and gluten-free meal options, and even HBO on Demand! Plus, financial aid and scholarships can bring down the cost of education considerably.
Net Price: $28,111/yr
6. Kenyon College
Kenyon College sports some particularly impressive statistics, even when compared to all the other top colleges in Ohio. Kenyon is incredibly selective (only a quarter of applicants are approved for admission) and touts a graduation rate that grazes 90%. Why? Because Kenyon combines enriching liberal arts degrees with unique interdisciplinary programs, an intimate campus environment, and plenty of support from faculty. The beautiful campus houses just 1,600 students but employs almost 200 professors, setting up students for a collegiate experience that will include plenty of one-on-one time with teachers. Students also enjoy the opportunity to learn 11 different foreign languages, access millions of items from the Olin and Chalmers libraries, and work on the prestigious Kenyon Review literary journal.
Net Price: $26,734/yr
5. Miami University
Despite the somewhat confusing name, which connotes images of beaches and palm trees over modest Midwestern living, Miami University is indeed in Ohio. The midsized university holds a national reputation for its commitment to undergraduate education, and it intentionally employs professors who make teaching and mentoring their number one priority. Degree options range from Biological Physics and Software Engineering to Business Economics and Diplomacy and Global Politics. But life at Miami isn’t all about classwork – the university encourages it students to have fun, too, whether its by joining one of the more than 650 campus organizations or cheering on the university’s dozen+ sports teams.
Net Price: $21,775/yr
4. Case Western Reserve University
They say numbers don’t lie, and Case Western Reserve University is fortunate enough to claim some numbers that clearly define it as one of the best colleges in Ohio. With a mere 38% acceptance rate but a lofty 81% graduation rate, CWRU succeeds in both selectivity and student engagement. It also earns a top spot when it comes to alumni satisfaction; the average 20-year net ROI for the university is more than $580,000! Case Western has achieved this status through the help of its mantra to “think beyond the possible.” Serious students typically split their time between lecture halls and research labs, working to solve problems that touch on everything from biology and medicine to technology and engineering.
Net Price: $29,140/yr
3. Oberlin College
Oberlin College is not necessarily one of the more affordable colleges in Ohio, but it deserves a spot on this list nonetheless. Like Case Western, Oberlin achieves both high selectivity and high graduation rates (88% for the latter). The college describes itself as a place of “intense energy and creativity,” an “ideal laboratory” where students can channel their innovative ideas in an inclusive environment to create a world of their own choosing. Oberlin consists primarily of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music, which together offer students nearly 50 degree options in areas like Comparative Literature, Archaeological Studies, Law and Society, and of course Music.
Net Price: $38,887/yr
2. University of Dayton
The University of Dayton earns the #2 spot on this list by being a well-rounded option for well-rounded students. And although it’s a Catholic university, Dayton deviates significantly from the typical liberal arts persona. In fact, it’s a top-ranked religious college for both its engineering programs and STEM research. The school’s commitment to science – and business and education, as well – prepare learners for the real world the way few universities can. Its 20-year return on investment approaches $400,000, which is no surprise considering the university places such an emphasis on research and leadership. On campus initiatives, like the Bombeck Family Learning Center and the Center for Strategic Energy and Environmental Informatics, give students plenty of ways to build up their résumés.
Net Price: $32,965/yr
1. Ohio State University
The #1 school in Ohio is none other than Ohio State University, a top national university and one of the largest public schools in the country. OSU climbs to the head of the ranking because of its combination of high quality classes and low costs. It maintains an 83% graduation rate and a 20-year net ROI of $360,000, and yet its annual net cost is far below the state average. Becoming a Buckeye also means opening the door to a practically endless list of degree options and special programs. In fact, there are over 200 majors and minors on offer at OSU, not to mention the research centers, student organizations, and top-rated division I sports teams. As long as students are OK with being one of nearly 65,000, this is without a doubt one of the best, affordable Ohio colleges.
Net Price: $18,215
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.