30 BEST LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES IN THE MIDWEST, RANKED BY RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)

Advertisement BestValueSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

Are you ready to find your fit?

30 BEST LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES IN THE MIDWEST, RANKED BY RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)

Big universities and well-known liberal arts colleges on the two coasts might command most of the attention, but for those students seeking a quality liberal arts education in a familiar setting, there’s no need to look further than the Midwest.

To find the 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, we started by considering only those colleges in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Ranking Methodology:

There are far more than 30 liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, so we narrowed down our list by considering factors such as:

– National rankings (40%)
– Freshmen retention rates (20%)
– Unique curriculum (30%)
– Membership in a college consortium (5%)
– Historical significance (5%)

Though we didn’t directly consider the 4-year cost of attending these liberal arts colleges, we did order our 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest based on their average 20-year net return on investment, as decided by PayScale.

Rank School Location
1 Washington University in St. Louis Saint Louis, MO
2 Rockhurst University Kansas City, MO
3 DePauw University Greencastle, IN
4 Truman State University Kirksville, MO
5 Carleton College Northfield, MN
6 William Jewell College Liberty, MO
7 Illinois Wesleyan University Bloomington, IL
8 Denison University Granville, OH
9 Wheaton College Wheaton, IL
10 Albion College Albion, MI
Advertisement BestValueSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

  • Washington University in St. Louis
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    20-Year Net ROI: $430,000
    Prestigious Washington University in St. Louis is a great option for those students who want both an urban college experience and a liberal arts education. Seven undergraduate and graduate schools offer students an impressive number of degree choices, many of which are in areas directly relating to the liberal arts. Impressively, Washington University in St. Louis has produced 25 Nobel laureates, and is ranked #20 on the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

  • Rockhurst University
    Location

    Kansas City, MO

    20-Year Net ROI: $352,000
    Prestigious Rockhurst University is a private liberal arts college which aims to provide its students with "Learning, Leadership, and Service in the Jesuit Tradition." Rockhurst consistently makes the rankings of the best colleges in the country, including those done by Forbes and U.S. News & World Report. Its reputation as one of the best liberal arts colleges in America has to do in large part with its rigorous academics. Before choosing from more than 50 degree programs, students must complete a well-designed core curriculum meant to expose students to a variety of subjects.

  • DePauw University
    Location

    Greencastle, IN

    20-Year Net ROI: $291,000
    DePauw University is a well-respected liberal arts college located in Indiana. DePauw's 4-1-4 calendar allows students to participate in a four-week Winter Term class as part of the college's mission to provide student's with a well-rounded education. Students are encouraged to take classes both inside and outside of their major, while also participating in extracurricular programs such as study abroad or team sports. U.S. News & World Report almost always includes DePauw University among the very top liberal arts colleges in the country, while Forbes has included it as the 2nd best college in Indiana (after Notre Dame) and the 14th best in the Midwest.

  • Truman State University
    Location

    Kirksville, MO

    20-Year Net ROI: $241,000 (in-state); $217,000 (out-of-state)
    Truman State University is one of the few public liberal arts schools to make our list. As a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, Truman offers its students 48 undergraduate degrees and eight graduate degrees. Truman's curriculum is carefully organized into three tenets of the liberal arts — essential skills, modes of inquiry, and interconnecting perspectives — and every student must complete a set of classes that include critical thinking, public speaking, history, and literature, among others.

  • Carleton College
    Location

    Northfield, MN

    20-Year Net ROI: $232,000
    Carleton College is a well-respected liberal arts college located in Northfield, Minnesota. Carleton, which is one of the few liberal arts colleges to run on a trimester system, offers more than 30 undergraduate majors, including its top-ranked program for education. Students may also design their own major, or earn a Certificate of Advanced Study in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Latin, or Greek. Carleton is almost always included on "top colleges" lists and is highly selective when it comes to admitting applicants. Since 2000, Carleton has produced over 120 National Science Graduate Fellows, 112 Fulbright Scholars, 20 NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, 13 Goldwater Scholars, 2 Rhodes Scholars, and 22 Watson Fellows.

  • William Jewell College
    Location

    Liberty, MO

    20-Year Net ROI: $232,000
    William Jewell College is a small liberal arts college with a population of just over 1,000 students. Though it was founded by members of the Missouri Baptist Convention, the college is now an independent institution and one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Honors students at William Jewell have the unique opportunity to take part in the Oxbridge Honors Program, during which they take English-style tutorials throughout their degree program, study abroad at either Oxford or Cambridge, and complete their senior year after passing comprehensive exams.

  • Illinois Wesleyan University
    Location

    Bloomington, IL

    20-Year Net ROI: $228,000
    Illinois Wesleyan University offers its students an entire College of Liberal Arts (along with colleges of fine arts and nursing) through which they can obtain a liberal arts education. In that College are 17 different departments and classes, each with an 11:1 student-faculty ratio. Students wishing to pursue the liberal arts at Illinois Wesleyan can be sure that they are a part of the university's mission to "foster the traditional liberal arts of creativity, character, and knowledge."

  • Denison University
    Location

    Granville, OH

    20-Year Net ROI: $219,000
    Denison University was founded in Granville, Ohio in 1831, which makes it the state's second-oldest liberal arts college. As a private liberal arts college, Denison offers a number of undergraduate majors, while also offering students the opportunity to create their own. Technology-minded applicants in search of a liberal arts education will also be happy to know that Denison is one of the few liberal arts schools to offer a major in data analytics. Denison is ranked among Forbes's 100 best universities in the nation, while U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly both include Denison on their lists of the country's best liberal arts colleges.

  • Wheaton College
    Location

    Wheaton, IL

    20-Year Net ROI: $194,000
    Wheaton College, located in Wheaton, Illinois, has a long and impressive history that includes being a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, it's one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation and has been recognized for its two traditions of academics and faith. Time Magazine ranked it the 20th best liberal arts college, while U.S. News & World Report and Forbes also include Wheaton on their respective lists. Wheaton College is also one of the schools included in Loren Pope's "Colleges That Change Lives" book.

  • Albion College
    Location

    Albion, MI

    20-Year Net ROI: $184,000
    Albion College is a private liberal arts school located in rural Michigan and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Albion's curriculum includes 30 undergraduate majors, including pre-professional programs in engineering, medicine, and law. The college is consistently included on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best liberal arts colleges and Forbes's list of America's Top Colleges.

  • University of Evansville
    Location

    Evansville, IN

    20-Year Net ROI: $169,000
    University of Evansville is a small private university of about 2,500 students. This unique institution is perhaps best known for its prestigious theater department, though its poetry and literature programs are also known internationally and have each produced various books and anthologies. Interestingly, University of Evansville also has a sister school in Grantham, England called Harlaxton College, where many of Evansville's students take the opportunity to study abroad.

  • Kenyon College
    Location

    Gambier, OH

    20-Year Net ROI: $155,000
    Prestigious Kenyon College is so serious about the liberal arts, students are required to complete a series of classes in the Fine Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Kenyon was recently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 27th best liberal arts college in the country, while Forbes and Newsweek also included it on their lists of the best American colleges.

  • Augustana University
    Location

    Sioux Falls, SD

    20-Year Net ROI: $150,000
    Augustana University is a liberal arts school with a proud Norwegian heritage. It's affiliated with the Lutheran Church and is even named for one of Lutheranism's founding documents, the Augsburg Confession. Students at Augustana have the choice of more than 50 fields of study, plus several pre-professional programs. Consistent with a liberal arts education, Augustana encourages its students to become involved in extracurricular activities such as musical programs or athletics. Augustana is consistently ranked among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest by publications such as The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.

  • Kalamazoo College
    Location

    Kalamazoo, MI

    20-Year Net ROI: $147,000
    Yet another Midwestern liberal arts college featured in Loren Pope's "Colleges That Change Lives" is Kalamazoo College, a private liberal arts college located in Michigan. Affectionately referred to as K, the college ranks among the top schools for producing graduates who go on to pursue doctorate degrees. It has also been ranked by Forbes as one of the America's Best Colleges, and in 2012 was called the best private college in Michigan.

  • Macalester College
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    20-Year Net ROI: $147,000
    Macalester College, a private liberal arts college in Minnesota, has been providing students with a quality liberal arts education since it was founded in 1874. Its approximately 2,000 students come from all over the world to enjoy the top-notch curriculum. Indeed, Macalester was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 23rd best liberal arts college in America, while Forbes called it the 68th best college in the country. Macalester has also been included on "best of" lists by Washington Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, among others.

  • Grinnell College
    Location

    Grinnell, IA

    20-Year Net ROI: $142,000
    Social responsibility is a major focus at Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college located in Iowa. Known for its rigorous academics, Grinnell encourages students to take control of their education throughout their college career. First year students are required to take a seminar covering writing skills and various methods of inquiry and analysis. Once completed, students choose the remainder of their classes with the guidance of a counselor in the area of their chosen major.

  • St. Olaf College
    Location

    Northfield, MN

    20-Year Net ROI: $131,000
    St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian immigrants. Today it is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. St. Olaf's impressive reputation is due in part to its curriculum. Before graduating, students must complete a series of foundation courses in subjects such as writing, speech, a foreign language, mathematical reasoning, Biblical studies, literature, and more. In 2017, St. Olaf was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 53rd best liberal arts college in the nation, while also making Washington Monthly's list as #88.

  • Hope College
    Location

    Holland, MI

    20-Year Net ROI: $117,000
    Thanks to its location between two Michigan lakes, beautiful Hope College is often included amongst the country's most beautiful collegiate institutions. Hope also happens to be one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Hope students have their choice of nearly 100 majors, and each student participates in a core curriculum deeply rooted in Christian faith. The college also offers its students the unique opportunity to take part in off-campus study programs in places like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Philadelphia.

  • Lawrence University
    Location

    Appleton, WI

    20-Year Net ROI: $113,000
    Lawrence University, located in Appleton, Wisconsin, has the unique distinction of being both a liberal arts college and a music conservatory. While cooperative degree programs in engineering, environmental studies, and health sciences are offered, most Lawrence students choose to major in a liberal arts discipline. Students are even given the opportunity to design their own majors. Regardless of their ultimate degree, every Lawrence freshman is required to take a series of core classes focusing on the Great Books.

  • Cornell College
    Location

    Mount Vernon, IA

    20-Year Net ROI: $109,000
    Cornell College is a private liberal arts school located in Iowa. Uniquely, students at Cornell College study only one course at a time, each of which lasts approximately three-and-a-half weeks. This intensive "block plan" results in an entire semester's worth of a class being covered in few than 18 class days — but don't worry, there is a four day break between each "block." Classes at Cornell average 10-19 students, and the most popular majors include economics, history, and psychology.

  • College of Wooster
    Location

    Wooster, OH

    20-Year Net ROI: $102,000
    The College of Wooster is a top-ranked liberal arts college located in Wooster, Ohio. The college is well known for its unique curriculum that emphasizes mentored research and independent study. To pursue the latter, students work one-on-one with an advisor to complete a thesis or project over the course of senior year. According to tradition, students turn in their projects and receive a yellow "I did it!" button and a Tootsie Roll. U.S. News & World Report ranked Wooster's independent study program as the second best "senior capstone experience" in the nation. College of Wooster is almost always included on lists of the top colleges, and is also one of Loren Pope's "colleges that change lives."

  • Luther College
    Location

    Decorah, IA

    20-Year Net ROI: $89,800
    Luther College in Iowa is a private liberal arts school which was founded as a Lutheran seminary and is today associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The college is home to just under 2,500 students, each of whom can choose from an impressive list of liberal arts majors. The college also has an impressive music program, with various student organizations that tour and sell their recordings worldwide.

  • Oberlin College
    Location

    Oberlin, OH

    20-Year Net ROI: $82,100
    Founded in 1833, Oberlin College in Ohio happens to be the oldest co-ed liberal arts school in the country. Therefore, it shouldn't be too surprising that it makes our list of the best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Oberlin students can choose from more than 50 majors, plus myriad options for minors and concentrations. Oberlin is also home to an impressive music conservatory.

  • Concordia College
    Location

    Moorhead, MN

    20-Year Net ROI: $76,800
    Moorhead, Minnesota's Concordia College was founded in 1891 by Norwegian settlers. Today, the private liberal arts college is well known for its unique curriculum that focuses on a "Christian and global perspective." Students may choose from 61 majors and 12 pre-professional programs, while also taking required courses in health, communication, religion, and culture. Interestingly, Concordia is one of 20 U.S. institutions to send students overseas as part of the Open Doors program. Because music remains a crucial part of the liberal arts education, Concordia hosts a whopping 19 musical ensembles, including The Concordia Choir and The Concordia Band.

  • Drury University
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    20-Year Net ROI: $66,800
    Drury University, located in Springfield, Missouri, is a private school that consistently ranks among the very best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Drury students have the choice of 54 undergraduate majors, plus professional degrees in architecture, business administration, and education. In addition to its inclusion on a number of best colleges lists, Drury was Time Magazine's Honorable Mention for Best Liberal Arts School in the Nation, as well as one of 13 "Institutions of Excellence" named by the Policy Center.

  • Earlham College
    Location

    Richmond, IN

    20-Year Net ROI: $62,600
    Founded by the Religious Society of Friends in 1847, Earlham College remains rooted in strong Quaker values — all of which complement well a liberal arts education. This is likely one of many reasons that Earlham was chosen to be included amongst the "Colleges That Change Lives." Earlham is an especially excellent choice of school for those looking to pursue post-graduate studies. Currently, the college is ranked in the 98th percentile for those looking to receive Ph.D.s, and the 99th percentile for producing students wishing to obtain Ph.D.s specifically in the biological sciences.

  • Beloit College
    Location

    Beloit, WI

    20-Year Net ROI: $7,100
    Besides being one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, Beloit College is the oldest continuously operated college in Wisconsin. In the 1960s, the college adopted the Beloit Plan, a unique curriculum that emphasizes experiential learning, learner agency, and learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. The current curriculum retains much of that original plan, and as such, each class averages only 10-15 students. Currently, Beloit College is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 62nd best liberal arts college in the United States. Forbes and Washington Monthly also include Beloit on their lists of top colleges, as does Loren Pope in his classic book "Colleges That Change Lives."

  • Finlandia University
    Location

    Hancock, MI

    20-Year Net ROI: No data available
    Finlandia University is a private college associated with the Lutheran Church. As the only private school located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Finlandia has the distinction of offering its students both a quality liberal arts education and a stunning setting in which to study. Because of its Lutheran affiliation, Finlandia's curriculum, community, and campus events all explore the Lutheran tenets of service, faith, and vocation.

  • Hillsdale College
    Location

    Hillsdale, MI

    20-Year Net ROI: No data available
    Founded in 1844, Hillsdale College is consistently ranked amongst the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Students from all over the country are drawn to Hillsdale's unique classical curriculum which requires each student, regardless of major, to complete courses in the Western and American Heritages, Great Books, and the Constitution. Interestingly, Hillsdale does not accept federal financial support, and instead provides its students with private financial assistance directly from the institution.

  • North Central College
    Location

    Naperville, IL

    Historic North Central College is another private liberal arts college to make our list of the best in the Midwest. Students here have almost 70 undergraduate majors from which to choose. The college also has a School of Graduate and Professional Studies. Besides the general core, all students must take a religion course, plus seminars on leadership, ethics, and values. North Central is consistently included on lists of the best colleges by Forbes and U.S. News & World Report, and is almost always recognized as a top producer of Fulbright Scholars.

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.


Top 5 Best Value Doctorate in Information Systems Assurance & Security Programs Online

Top 5 Best Value Doctorate in Information Systems Assurance & Security Programs Online

August 11, 2020   |   Staff Writers

As technology becomes an ever-increasing part of our lives, the demand for information systems security experts grows, and with it, the need for online Ph.D.

Nonprofit Management Scholarships – Best Value Schools

Nonprofit Management Scholarships – Best Value Schools

August 11, 2020   |   Staff Writers

If you’re looking to land nonprofit management scholarships, you may be surprised to discover that there are numerous awards available from professional organizations and universities…

Advertisement BestValueSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.