Updated December 5, 2022

Find the top value universities and colleges in Iowa on this list of the top 20 best value schools in Iowa.

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

Are you ready to discover your college program?

By Iris Stone

In this ranking, we examine top value universities and colleges in Iowa. Our Best Value Online Colleges and Universities in Iowa provides a look at flexible distance learning options for Iowa residents.

Right away, Iowa stands out for the sheer number of four year, public and private/non-profit colleges it offers. Many Midwestern states host a relatively small number of schools (at least compared to East Coast alternatives) that is simply reflective of their comparatively smaller populations and sparser distribution of residents. But not Iowa! Not only is Iowa home to more than 30 options in higher education, but it's also the proud host of 20 colleges and universities that qualify for our "best value" ranking. Iowa residents and newcomers alike can enjoy Midwestern standouts like Central College (a leader in environmental sustainability), Luther College (a music powerhouse), Iowa State University (a top public school and leader in scientific research), and Emmaus Bible College (a popular choice for Christians and high achievers).

Below, you will find all the aforementioned universities - plus many more - listed in accordance with their performance in our ranking. We quantified each of these school's performance (see the total scores) based on a variety of core factors that we feel best represent excellent value, i.e. the ability to bring a lot to the table but ask a little in price.

Methodology: Ranking the Best Value Universities and Colleges in Iowa

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 156, 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 Iowa.

#1 Emmaus Bible College Dubuque, IA
#2 Mount Mercy University Cedar Rapids, IA
#3 Iowa State University Ames, IA
#4 Coe College Cedar Rapids, IA
#5 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
#6 Grinnell College Grinnell, IA
#7 Drake University Des Moines, IA
#8 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
#9 Graceland University Lamoni Lamoni, IA
#10 Allen College Waterloo, IA

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.

  1. Emmaus Bible College

    Dubuque, IA



    Emmaus Bible College prepares all of its students to follow their own path in life by working Christian values and Bible instruction into every field of study it offers. Some students study to join the ministry while others use their Christian education in secular careers. Whatever they plan on doing, Emmaus students know that they've earned their place at one of the best Iowa colleges after proving themselves against its selective 41% acceptance rate. This dedication and desire for the best is just a glimpse of what's to come for these ambitious students; 82% of freshmen can trust that they will have graduated - and be putting their education to good use - within six years of setting foot on campus.

  2. Mount Mercy University

    Cedar Rapids, IA



    From its starting point as a small, two-year college for women, Mount Mercy University has expanded into one of the best universities in Iowa and a top school for student success (thanks to a strong 72% graduation rate). Like many Catholic schools, Mount Mercy follows religious principles to instill in its students a sense of service and spirituality as well as scholarship. But what sets this school apart - even from other religious institutions - is its focus on five "critical concerns": earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism, and women. Through prayer, education, and legal advocacy, Mount Mercy and its students strive to create a more peaceful, equitable world for all.

  3. Iowa State University

    Ames, IA



    One of the best cheap Iowa colleges around today, Iowa State University is marked by historic firsts and groundbreaking achievements. Iowa State was the first beneficiary of a land grant, which the government provided to help the school develop its agriculture and industrial programs. This Iowa university used that contribution to become a leader in science and technology education - a mission it continues to advocate today. A professor and graduate student at ISU are responsible for creating the world's first electronic computer, and the campus is still the only one in the country to house a U.S. Department of Energy research laboratory on its grounds. ISU's laboratory was integral to the nation's atomic energy program and has become a beacon of innovation in higher education.

  4. Coe College

    Cedar Rapids, IA



    Coe College asks a lot of students, but what they receive in exchange makes the effort more than worth it. A tough 50% admissions rate sets the bar high, and classes are demanding for those who do secure an acceptance letter. The campus culture is one of hard work and focus, which pays off in the form of a 70% graduation rate. What's more, Coe College's library houses the largest undergraduate writing center in the country, giving students access to professional help with their assignments at any time. Plus, a wealth of extracurricular activities and events - like thought-provoking lectures and performances - provide an outlet for those who want to unwind, connect with others, or expand their minds.

  5. University of Iowa

    Iowa City, IA



    Though it excels academically in many areas, the University of Iowa is best known for its commitment to the arts. The UI Museum of Art houses nearly 15,000 works and the campus holds hundreds of live performances throughout the year, all of which are offered free or low cost to students. But the school's most prominent contribution to the arts is in writing. In fact, UI is the birthplace of the modern MFA, and the Iowa college's graduate-level Writers' Workshop is known around the world as one of the best of its kind. Undergraduates, too, can benefit from the instruction of many noted writers, including esteemed Pulitzer Prize winners.

  6. Grinnell College

    Grinnell, IA



    Those who choose to attend this college in Iowa have long known of its excellent academic program, and the word is finally getting out to the general public! In recent years, Grinnell has been recognized as a rising star - many have even recognized its capacity as a rival to the prestigious Ivy League universities. Given its extremely selective 28% acceptance rate and its laudable 89% graduation rate, it's clear that Grinnell deserves the distinction. The school's administrators give students a nearly unheard of level of responsibility to govern themselves, which helps explain why Grinnell students rate both the administration and faculty as highly favorable. Even with its unbeatable mix of scholarship and self-governance, Grinnell remains one of the most economically diverse and affordable colleges in Iowa.

  7. Drake University

    Des Moines, IA



    Drake University has been around since 1881, giving it time to both create long-standing traditions and reinvent itself as the era demands. While the school was originally a Christian college, it has no longer has any religious affiliation. Though its religious viewpoint has changed, its focus on academics has remained strong. Drake University houses one of the first 25 law schools founded in the country, as well as a nationally celebrated journalism program. It's no wonder, then, that Drake University has been named both one of the best universities in Iowa and the entire Midwest, aided by its strong 78% graduation rate.

  8. University of Northern Iowa

    Cedar Falls, IA



    While the University of Northern Iowa has a nationally renowned academic program on its campus, it also recognizes the unique value one can garner from a change of scenery during the learning process. Students at UNI get the chance to study at another institution inside the United States or overseas while earning their degrees, thanks to the school's leading international travel and student exchange programs. The school's study abroad center provides support to students throughout their trips, including language training. After broadening their cultural and academic horizons at a partner school, students return to one of the top universities in Iowa, where they'll enjoy all the amenities of life back home on an active Midwestern campus.

  9. Graceland University Lamoni

    Lamoni, IA



    Graceland University boasts a beautiful campus that offers plenty of opportunities for social and cultural growth. Its residential houses have replaced fraternities and sororities on campus, making it easier for students to join activities and meet their peers. Each House has its own student-led governing body and has representatives in the overall student government. They also host a variety of events and field extremely popular intramural sports teams. In fact, almost all students at this top Iowa college participate in the intramural program, providing a practically unbeatable platform for both healthy living and fun social bonding. If that's not enough, Graceland is also known for its strong academic performance and its selective 50% acceptance rate.

  10. Allen College

    Waterloo, IA



    Founded in 1925 as the Allen Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Allen College became an independent degree-granting institution in 1989. Though its name has changed, Allen College remains true to its mission of preparing students for excellence in healthcare professions — and of course it offers many more programs than when it started. In addition to its nursing program, Allen College offers top-notch programs in dental hygiene, radiography, nuclear medicine, and other fields, all while maintaining an impressive 75% six-year graduation rate and its notable status as one of the most affordable colleges in Iowa.

College Navigator
Pay Scale

This concludes our ranking of best value Iowa colleges and universities.

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.

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.