Oklahoma may be “where the winds come sweeping down the plains,” but it’s also a state where students come sweeping down hills, across rivers, over valleys, and even over seas to access the many top value colleges and universities within its borders. Higher education in Oklahoma echoes the composition of many other Midwestern locales in that it consists primarily of state-supported public schools and small religious colleges. But if you pay close attention to the details, you’ll soon realize that many of these universities also boast some pretty unique features. For example, both the University of Oklahoma and Northeastern State University offer resources specifically for American Indian students, East Central University has one of the only Cartography programs in the nation, and Oklahoma Christian University provides all students with a personal laptop!
The key takeaway here is that to find a top college in Oklahoma, you simply need to know where to look. Thankfully, we’ve done a lot of the looking for you and have organized a top 15 ranking specifically for your convenience. Using indicators related to student success/retention on campus, selectivity, affordability, and post-grad performance, we’ve produced a best value list that we hope is equally valuable in your college search.
Methodology: Value Ranking Best Oklahoma Colleges and Universities
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 82 to 144, 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 Oklahoma.
As the only Oklahoma university featured in U.S. News' list of the Top 100 Best Colleges, the University of Tulsa offers an experience that is hard to beat. Its many nationally recognized academic departments, including premiere programs in Petroleum Engineering, Computer Science, and Organizational Psychology, provide a top-notch education to some of the region's most qualified scholars. UT is notoriously competitive: incoming students boast an average 30 on the ACT and a 3.9 high school GPA. But most would agree that its worth the hard work to earn acceptance to such an impressive school. By staying focused and ambitious for at least another four years, UT attendees can benefit from a 70% graduation rate, a prestigious degree from a top Oklahoma college, and a $322K ROI over the next two decades.
Like many of the best universities in Oklahoma, Family of Faith College is dedicated to preparing future community leaders and educators - but FFC's graduates are trained specifically as advocates for "the Kingdom of God." In practice, this means experiential training in either ministry or education through local churches or the Family of Faith Christian School on campus. Regardless of which path students choose, they maintain their faith fastidiously by participating in attendance-based morning prayer and chapel services, as well as by occupying important ministry positions in the community. In order to garner sufficient experiential learning experience, ministry students have the opportunity to work at local churches (with a denomination of their choosing) while education students intern in classrooms that range from kindergarten to 12th grade.
With 24,000 students and 200 undergraduate degree programs, Oklahoma State University is easily recognizable as the flagship institution of the Oklahoma State University System. At Oklahoma State, bigger means better: think 70,000 attendants at "America's Greatest Homecoming," 51 NCAA Div I football championships, and a $348K ROI of PayScale.com. Oklahoma State has also earned recognition as a Princeton Review-approved "Best Western College," and it's not hard to see why. Innovative programs for Truman Scholars and future business leaders (including a nationally recognized entrepreneurism initiative) put OSU squarely in the same league as the other top universities in Oklahoma.
A member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma is one of the best colleges in Oklahoma - and the only public college in the state that is entirely devoted to a liberal arts-focused curriculum. USAO students undergo a rigorous 46-hour interdisciplinary studies core curriculum that spans multiple areas of history, science, art, math, literature, and philosophy, and which culminates in a demanding capstone senior thesis. Aside from its appeal to bookworms, USAO is also a top choice for the impatient and budget conscious; with a trimester schedule and an astoundingly low net price, this university in Oklahoma allows dedicated scholars to complete their degree in three years or fewer with minimal to no student debt.
Northeastern State University is the oldest institution of higher education in the state of Oklahoma, founded before the region had even established its statehood! Its main campus is proximal to the capital of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, making NSU a convenient and loyal resource for Native American students. In fact, even today 25% of students identify as Native American, and these attendees can enjoy multiple classes that incorporate Cherokee as a first language. Students of all backgrounds can enjoy the Oklahoma university's comprehensive, popular Native American Linguistics program along with a full range of degree programs in traditional arts, natural sciences, and pre-professional subjects.
Owned and operated by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, this top Oklahoma college inherits the scholastic tradition of the Baptist Church through a compulsory comprehensive common core curriculum. The school's rigorous academic standards are certainly challenging, but students can find comfort, support, and guidance in a strong faith-based community of both learners and educators. OBU also promotes assiduous scholarship through their selective honors program, which mandates international study, community service, and a capstone senior thesis. For the most academically zealous students, OBU even features a Lifelong Learning program, where students can apply to continue to take unlimited colleges courses for free after they graduate.
An education is useless if it's unaffordable - especially if alumni have to spend years after graduation just climbing out of debt. Fortunately, students at Northwestern Oklahoma State University don't have to worry about that! Recognized by U.S. News as a national leader in low student debt, NOSU's competitive tuition and robust financial aid services ensure students receive an education they won't regret. NOSU is also known for providing room and board at the lowest rate in the nation: just $3,760 a year! But rest assured, this cheap Oklahoma college isn't about cutting corners; Northwestern Oklahoma State regularly appears on rankings of top regional universities.
Students looking for a spiritually edifying experience in an intimate educational environment will get more than their money's worth at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College. With just 226 traditional students enrolled on their sprawling campus, Hillsdale provides a rare opportunity for students to be part of a close community of scholars and faith leaders at an affordable rate. The student body may be somewhat unimpressive in size, but it's focused list of degree programs - including options in Ministry, Business, Humanities, Theology, Psychology, and Education - as well as steadfast dedication to personalized education will give students all the training they need to impress future employers. Hillsdale learners can also build leadership and teamwork skills outside of the classroom through clubs and varsity sports, including nationally competitive basketball and baseball teams.
With 15 nationally accredited academic programs and departments - the most among Oklahoma's senior regional universities - Southwestern Oklahoma State University is one of the best universities in Oklahoma. SOSU offers 38 degree programs across eight unique schools, including art, communication, theater, biology, and music, as well an interdisciplinary majors that allow students to devise their own courses through close faculty guidance. With a nearly $200K ROI on PayScale.com and an esteemed reputation as a "Tier 1" university in the west, this school's inspired education philosophy pays off in more ways than one.
Oklahoma Christian University is not your typical Christian liberal arts college. Located just ten minutes from downtown OKC, students are not confined to a small campus with restrictive rules. And unlike some other spiritually affiliated universities, OCU has willingly forged ahead into the 21st century, embracing technology and providing campus-wide WiFi and personal laptops for every student (since 2008, the Oklahoma college has provided all students and faculty with MacBooks and iPhones!). Professors seamlessly integrate Christian perspectives into the rigorous academic courses that typify life and OCU, where top student achievement always comes first. This type of forward-thinking and pedagogical dedication has consistently earned this affordable Oklahoma college a top U.S. News ranking among regional universities in the west.
The University of Oklahoma is a monolithic public research university with 20,000 undergraduates and 152 courses of study to satisfy even the most insatiable intellectual appetites. OU's programs truly offer something for everyone, including uncommon majors like Aviation, Meteorology, Geology, Petroleum Engineering, and Native American Studies (with language courses in Cherokee, Choctaw, and Kiawa). And this Oklahoma university's focus on educational quantity doesn't detract from its reputation for academic quality; the school ranks 1st in the nation for National Merit Scholars and is in the top ten for graduating Rhodes Scholars. With a graduation rate well above the state and national average, OU soars as a top universities in Oklahoma for student engagement and post-grad success.
Offering 70 undergraduate degree programs in business, education, psychology, health, the social and natural sciences, and the liberal arts, East Central University is an affordable college in Oklahoma for students of all interests. In fact, ECU is probably best known for its Cartography program, one of just a handful in the nation. ECU is also home to a unique Environmental Health Sciences program, one of only 30 such programs in the U.S. to have earned accreditation from the National Environmental Health Sciences and Protection Accreditation Council. ECU also engages students outside the classroom through on-campus programming that ranges from leadership development workshops and local service opportunities to Greek life and 60+ student-run organizations.
At Oklahoma Wesleyan University, an evangelical college affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, students of faith flourish in a community that adheres dutifully to the teachings of Christ. Ranked by U.S. News as the #5 Best Value College in the western region, OWU is up there with the very best Oklahoma colleges for quality as well as affordability. Just over 400 students attend classes on the main campus, where education and spirituality intertwine to form a tight-knit community. Students can select from 35 different majors, all of which feature small class sizes, personalized instruction from professors who care, and an emphasis on spiritual education.
Oklahoma Panhandle State University has a century-long tradition of producing farmers who have sustained and nourished local agriculture since the state was founded. Today, scholars carry on this tradition with some of the most successful and practical educational resources in bovine, equine, and swine research. The Firestone Meat Lab, for instance, is a fixture in the agricultural studies department, where students can learn all aspects of the meat processing industry while working in the lab. This lab is also a fixture in the community and on campus, providing meat and meat processing services for graduation and the Texas County Fair.
Ranked among the top 10% of America's Best Colleges by Forbes, the University of Central Oklahoma is undoubtedly one of the best educational resources in the state. But what makes this school unique among other top Oklahoma colleges are its celebrated and unique academic departments. For one thing, OCU is home to a nationally recognized Physics Department and the largest jazz program in the state. Combined with the only Forensic Science, Funeral Services, Photojournalism, and Biomedical Engineering degree programs in the state, UCO is truly home to an exceptional and eclectic community of scholars.
This concludes our ranking of best value Oklahoma 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.
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