If one were asked to describe the stereotypical Oregonian resident, the typical response would probably outline a progressive, stylish, eco-conscious activist with an affinity for organic produce and handmade goods. While we don’t like to endorse stereotypes, we must admit that many of the best universities in Oregon seem to cater to this exact individual. From the Oregon College of Art and Craft, which consists almost entirely of studio art classes in areas of study like ceramics and “fibers,” to Portland State University, which is popular for its socially-conscious curriculum as well as majors like Environmental Studies and Urban Planning, higher education in Oregon is undoubtedly oriented toward serving a higher purpose. Even the schools that deviate from the above description, like the religious Warner Pacific College and gargantuan Oregon State, display a level of conscientiousness and community involvement that should make residents – and students – proud.
And ultimately, when you consider how these top 15 colleges balance their budgets with the academic, social, and career benefits they offer students (the very definition of “best value,” as far as we are concerned), it’s not hard to see the advantages in attending a university in this state.
Methodology: Ranking the Best Oregon Colleges and Universities Based 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 89 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 Oregon.
At the end of the day, college is supposed to be about learning and intellectual growth, and Reed College embodies that mission more than most. It has a reputation as "one of the most intellectual colleges in the country, " and attracts a horde of high-achieving applicants each year who hope to overcome the Oregon college's selective 39% acceptance rate. The curriculum ditches rote memorization in favor of divergent thinking and creative analysis, while small, conference-style classrooms promote interactive discussions among peers. Most students would be quick to acknowledge the rigor of academic life at Reed, but they also understand that the challenge will pay off (and the 79% graduation rate demonstrates this persistence).
The Oregon Institute of Technology is not only one of the best universities in Oregon, it's also the only public technical institute in the entire Northwest! You'll enjoy a curriculum that is both hands-on and real-world, whether you choose to study Electronics Engineering Technology, Geomatics, Entrepreneurism, or Nuclear Medicine Technology. Pre-professional programs are available for aspiring dentists and dental hygienists, medical and osteopathic medical doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians, and physical therapists, while study abroad programs that blend cultural immersion with technical training are available in 15 countries. OIT's practical approach to learning makes its alumni highly sought after in the job market, and its average net ROI of $550k is the highest in the state!
If you can't decide between attending a large research university or a small liberal arts college, the University of Oregon might convince you that you don't have to choose! One of only 36 public schools to earn membership with the prestigious Association of American Universities, UO has proven its status as a hub of scientific exploration. And yet academics take on a surprisingly "liberal arts" feel, thanks to a classical focus on critical thinking, unrestricted inquiry, and an unyielding quest to uncover the unknown. The university also exemplifies what it means to truly be a diverse campus. In fact, UO rejects the word "diversity" in favor of "inclusivity," a sign of its mission to encourage cross-cultural collaboration at every turn.
This University of Portland has earned almost unanimous approval as one of the top universities in Oregon - and in the nation. U.S. News, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, and Bloomberg Businessweek have all recognized this Oregon university's caliber and overall value in private education. UP continuously earns high rankings because of its unparalleled investment in its students: the administration is constantly renovating and expanding its facilities, from the shiny new recreation and wellness center to the state-of-the-art engineering building to the recently updated athletic fields. UP students feel this support and are motivated to give their all in return, as evidenced by the notable 80% graduation rate.
"Beaver Nation," as Oregon State University is affectionately known, encompasses a massive community of 30,000 students and more than 200 undergraduate programs. And the numbers continue to astound: the 400-acre campus is located on the National Register of Historic Places, is surrounded by more than 11,000 acres of pristine woodlands, and contributes more than $2 billion to the state's burgeoning economic footprint. And OSU "Beavers" are as productive as their industrious mascot would suggest; the school is one of only two U.S. universities to hold land, sea, space, and sun grants, and its impact on research continues to grow year after year. This work ethic apparently sticks with students long after graduation; PayScale.com reports an average 20-year net ROI of almost $385k!
As one of the state's premier public universities, Portland State is without a doubt one of the best cheap Oregon colleges. But it's not just the low in-state tuition that makes PSU so affordable - it's also the only university in Oregon to pledge a "Four Year Degree Guarantee." Sign up as a freshman and as long as you attend full-time and follow your advisor's advice, you'll either graduate in four years or get the rest of your education for free! PSU is an urban research university, and its location in one of the nation's most progressive, socially-conscious cities has a strong influence on both academic and research pursuits. Top programs include Environmental Studies, Urban Planning, and Social Work, while the required "senior capstones" are a hallmark of the community-oriented curriculum.
All the knowledge in the world won't do you much good professionally if you don't have the emotional maturity and moral framework necessary to guide smart decisions. Corban University capitalizes on this fact by offering a comprehensive, religious education that integrates theological perspectives with practical coursework. The Oregon college also recognizes that learning isn't limited to the classroom, and extracurricular activities and events offer endless opportunities for fun (the annual Beach Party and Turkey Trot are two examples), service (volunteer at the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center or Habitat for Humanity), and recreation (outdoor adventures like kayaking, camping, and "cosmic tubing" are specially popular). With so much to do, it's no wonder Corban is so popular. The annual acceptance rate is just 37%!
While other art schools establish a competitive and formal campus environment, the Oregon College of Art and Craft puts a predictably "Portland" spin on artistic education. City residents generally desire globally aware, locally produced, hand-made products and have popularized the idea of values-based consumerism, and OCAC fits right into this ethos. The small campus of just 180 students functions less like a business and more like a family; professors - who are artists and "makers" themselves - act as mentors and motivators for courses that are largely studio-based. Students can dive into hands-on projects in one or multiple of OCAC's seven specialties (Book Arts, Wood, Photography, Ceramics, Metals, Fibers, and Drawing and Painting) while also taking liberal arts courses that emphasize critical thinking above all.
Although Bushnell University is yet another religious college in Oregon, that doesn't mean it's unoriginal or generic. BU sees its faith as a way to cultivate wiser, more culturally rich graduates who understand that community, family, and service are essential aspects of a fulfilled life. Leadership, character development, and global engagement go hand-in-hand, making Northwest Christian one of the best universities in Oregon for religious students with big ambitions. This multifaceted approach to education - which has inspired academic initiatives such as the American Culture and Language Program and a competitive forensics debate team - has earned BU a top ranking on U.S. News' list of "comprehensive colleges."
Even among the most affordable universities in Oregon, Concordia stands apart from the rest. Its low tuition and generous financial aid programs (98% of students receive financial help and the average award for freshman tops $13k) give new meaning to the word "accessibility." Concordia is genuinely committed to education for all - a mission made clear in the attention it provides distance-learning initiatives. Almost 75% of students at this university in Oregon attend courses online through a web platform that features striking interactivity, flexibility, and connectivity to professors. Far from feeling isolated, online students at CU enjoy the same rigorous, stimulating curriculum and religious undertones that characterize on-campus courses.
Multnomah University is a small, biblical institution that equally emphasizes spiritual and intellectual growth on campus. This university in Oregon firmly believes that each student has something unique to offer, and it leverages its close-knit community of classmates, strong moral fiber, and supportive environment to bring out the best in every individual. Multnomah works hard to distinguish itself from other colleges - many of which essentially function as degree factories - by encouraging students to pursue their calling and to consider how their career choices will serve Jesus Christ and the greater good.
Located just south of Portland on nearly 140 acres of wooded, rolling hills, Lewis & Clark College embodies the conscientious yet eclectic spirit that typifies local residents. A self-proclaimed "private institution with a public conscience," this top university in Oregon looks to capture global interests while discarding outdated ideas. Degrees like Environmental Studies, Entrepreneurism, International Affairs, and Rhetoric and Media Studies give passionate learners multiple ways to pursue a life of activism and impact. Lewis & Clark also boasts a "life changing" group of overseas programs that will inspire the same love of adventure that motivated the school's eponymous pioneers. Study politics in Beijing, socioeconomic theory in the Dominican Republic, ecology in East Africa, and much more.
As an inclusive Christian school that is also small, diverse, and urban, Warner Pacific College is unlike any other. Liberal arts subjects reign supreme at WPC, where students primarily choose from among degrees in business, education, the social sciences, humanities, and music. The Oregon college has also created a unique pre-med program; you can couple a broad-spectrum degree in Biological Science/Human Biology or the Physical Sciences with supplementary initiatives - such as the Murdock Undergraduate Research Program or Trauma Intervention Program - that will ensure you are well-prepared for graduate school. WPC is also known for its "Living Learning Communities," which allow students to learn, serve, and socialize together while participating in experiential activities off campus - you could work in a community garden or even on a cattle ranch!
Southern Oregon University describes the "essential SOU experience" as one of both connected learning and intellectual creativity. While other schools pigeonhole themselves as an exclusively artistic, practical, or technical institution, SOU has made the unique decision to combine multiple career goals in one. Academic programs include everything from Business to Innovation and Leadership, Creative Writing to Financial Mathematics, Outdoor Adventure Leadership to Forensic Chemistry. The inclusive campus is cozy and inviting, and 75% of students at this affordable Oregon college receive financial aid - not a bad way to welcome new learners! SOU has also pioneered the one-of-a-kind House Experience, a hands-on, experiential way to fulfill your passions. Connect with likeminded peers in Houses that promote environmental sustainability, social justice - even skepticism!
For an education that is genuinely accessible and student-centric, put Eastern Oregon University at the top of your list. EOU understands that students can only be academically successful if they feel socially supported, and as such it has cultivated an outstanding sense of unity on campus. All freshmen and international admits must live on campus for at least a year, but you won't hear many complaints from residents. Fully equipped game rooms, big screen TVs, and suite-style rooms offer plenty of fun and friendliness between classes. Speaking of classes, EOU's buffet of degree options rivals that of the top universities in Oregon. In addition to more than two-dozen independent majors, students at EOU can also choose from a multitude of pre-professional, partnership, online, and international programs that extend far beyond the campus borders.
This concludes our ranking of best Oregon colleges and universities based on value.
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.
Get prepared for your next steps
Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.
College is an exciting but harrowing time for most college students, and that can be especially true for prospective college students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or...
Historically Black colleges and universities, commonly known as HBCUs, are an incredibly important part of the higher education system in the United States. These schools, which of the nation’s colleges...
It can be tough to narrow down higher education options after graduation for most students. There are state and private college options, trade schools, and community colleges to choose from, and each option offers a different price point, a different trajectory, and a different path. These choices become even more difficult when there are other […]
Discover a program that is right for you.
Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.