Best in state: How does your college or university rank in 10 key categories?

New 'unbiased' ratings from Academic Influence show which colleges are most affordable in their states and more.
By: | May 2, 2022
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More than 80% of students choose to remain relatively close to home when selecting a college or university. So how well does your institution stack up against competitors in your state on true measures of academics and affordability?

One website that takes the bias out of rankings and uses artificial intelligence gleaned from thousands of sources across the web to determine its lists is academicinfluence.com (AI), which on Monday released its best-of ratings for every state. There are breakdowns among 10 categories, including top community colleges, graduate schools, online-only institutions, publics and privates, small colleges, research universities, Christian colleges and, yes, the most affordable colleges.

In New York state, for example, there are 47 colleges where tuitions and fees are under $20,000, but AI has whittled them down to a select group of those that cost less than $16,000. At the top is not the least expensive but one that features a combination of affordability ($10,000) and high ratings, including being the No. 1 public college in the state: Stony Brook University. The City College of New York, which costs just $7,000 on average for tuition and fees and is also regarded as the No. 8 best public college or university in the nation, is at No. 2. In Michigan, the most affordable is the University of Michigan, followed by Michigan State University and Wayne State University, all at $17,000 or less.

Although rankings lists have come under intense scrutiny for their reliability, students and families still turn to them when making decisions. For college admissions teams looking for any edge in recruitment, especially at private institutions, AI’s rankings might be one tool to measure where they stand against others in the state on less subjective ratings.

“Unlike some ranking sites, we’re not dependent on older, more subjective and more game-able processes,” says Dr. Jed Macosko, academic director of AcademicInfluence.com and professor of physics at Wake Forest University. “Students today want more value from their college choices, which is why choosing an in-state education continues to be attractive. Rising costs are a staple of daily news stories. We want to shift the focus off expensive out-of-state schools and onto the best in-state schools each state has to offer its students.”

While there are outliers on an AI’s list, its ratings of many private institutions do fall in line with what higher education leaders might expect to find on other rankings sites. In California, the top three privates are Stanford, USC and Caltech. Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco crack the top five ahead of Pepperdine, Pomona College, Chapman University, Harvey Mudd College and Claremont College, with several ranking in the top three among the best small colleges in the state. However, in liberal arts, two public institutions top the list – San Francisco State University and San Jose State University, both costing under $8,000 per year, or about $50,000 less per year than No. 3 Pomona College.


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While rankings are broken down in hyper-specific categories, AI does offer the best colleges by state, which factor in all of its other rankings – from research prowess to world ranking to various degree programs. There are very few shockers. No. 1 in New Jersey is Princeton University, followed by Seton Hall and Stevens Institute of Technology. At No. 4 is Farleigh Dickinson, which is also rated as the top small college in the state and top liberal arts institution. Harvard and MIT came in at 1-2 in Massachusetts, but Boston University managed to beat Tufts and Brandeis for the No. 3 spot, thanks to high research and grad school ratings.

AI also has a breakdown of the most influential colleges and universities, which delineates the best by scholarly impact by state. Again, not too many surprises here – the University of Alabama is No. 1 in Alabama, and the University of Arkansas is No. 1 in Arkansas. But dig a little deeper and there are some notable influencers in each that may not be as widely known nationwide – for example, Prescott College is No. 5 in Arizona, and tiny Manchester University in Indiana is No. 4.

Like other ratings organizations, AI has its own national and worldwide best-of lists. Again, there aren’t many stunners among its top 10 universities in the United States: Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UC-Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and NYU, or among its 50 best small colleges, where there are a host of powerhouse academic institutions, including Caltech, Yeshiva University, Swarthmore College, Wesleyan University, Reed College, Amherst College and Williams College.