DENVER (Stacker) — Every state approaches education differently. For some states, investment in K-12 and higher education is paramount. For others, there is simply not enough tax money to both fully fund the state’s public education system and meet certain requirements for higher education—and how that manifests can speak to a student’s educational experience in that state.

New York, for example, has experienced a historic reshuffling of state-based college funding. Since 2012, the state has been pumping money into its higher education system, with total support for the 2020 fiscal year estimated at $7.6 billion. Beginning in the 2019–2020 academic year, the Excelsior Scholarship has allowed New York State residents who have a household income of $125,000 or less to enroll in a New York State public university tuition-free.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, California houses some of the best post-secondary schools in the nation. Well-funded up to the 1970s, the University of California and the California State University systems defined international standards. Budget cuts in the last four decades, however, have slowly driven up the cost of tuition, with state funding priorities now directed toward California’s community colleges instead of the state’s public universities. In recent years, the deficit has forced California to spend more on reinvestments than any other state.

But California’s situation is not unique. As state education budgets ebb and flow, so too do collegiate rankings. Stacker studied Niche’s 2022 Best Colleges in America list, released on August 16, 2021, to determine which states have the most highly ranked colleges. For this list, states are ranked by the number of schools they have in the top 250 of Niche’s Best Colleges in America rankings. Ties are broken by the highest-ranked school. Nine states—Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and West Virginia—are not included as they didn’t have any colleges in the top 250.

Keep reading to find out where your state ranks.

#41. New Hampshire

– Schools in top 250: 1
– Highest ranked schools: Dartmouth College (#10 national rank)

Dartmouth College is New Hampshire’s Ivy League institution. One of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the United States, the school was founded a full seven years before the United States declared independence. Dartmouth Medical School, in particular, is among the best in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report.

#40. Delaware

– Schools in top 250: 1
– Highest ranked schools: University of Delaware (#144 national rank)

The small state of Delaware has eight colleges and universities, but the University of Delaware, located in Newark, is the state’s oldest and largest. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school’s physical therapy graduate program as the best in the country for 2020, and it was the 38th best public university in 2022.

#39. Wyoming

– Schools in top 250: 1
– Highest ranked schools: University of Wyoming (#207 national rank)

Wyoming is home to nine institutions of higher learning. Of these, the University of Wyoming is the only one that is a four-year, degree-granting school. The University of Wyoming has an acceptance rate of 94% and a graduation rate of 33%.

#38. Vermont

– Schools in top 250: 1
– Highest ranked schools: Middlebury College (#32 national rank)

Middlebury College has deep historical significance for the U.S. One of the best liberal arts schools in America, the college was the first in the nation to see a Black graduate, Alexander Twilight, earn a bachelor’s degree. Twilight would go on to become the nation’s first Black state legislator.

#37. Arizona

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Arizona State University (#150 national rank), University of Arizona (#174)

Arizona has a strong public university network, with more than 75 colleges and universities throughout the state. Arizona State University, for example, is one of the nation’s largest public universities by enrollment, and U.S. News & World Report named ASU the most innovative school in the nation in 2021.

#36. Mississippi

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Mississippi State University (#154 national rank), University of Mississippi (#186)

Mississippi’s schools are steeped in tradition and history, for better or for worse. Reflective of the part of the world they reside in, the state’s schools have struggled with race issues and coming to terms with their segregationist pasts. In recent years, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University have both declared themselves to be “welcoming and inclusive.”

#35. Kansas

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Kansas State University (#172 national rank), University of Kansas (#204)

Like many of the colleges and universities on this list, the University of Kansas is well known for its athletics along with its educational programs. One of the top Division 1 schools, its men’s basketball team regularly participates in March Madness. Success on the court is one thing, but KU also boasts some impressive academics. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked KU’s city management and urban policy program the best in the nation.

#34. Nebraska

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Creighton University (#180 national rank), University of Nebraska – Lincoln (#188)

At 856 acres, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln boasts a sprawling campus. The school, which has a strong commitment to research, is also the alma mater of Warren Buffett. It’s ranked slightly lower than Creighton University, a private Jesuit university located in downtown Omaha. Creighton has a 97% post-graduation success rate within six months and was one of the first schools to offer a financial technology degree.

#33. South Dakota

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Augustana University (#193 national rank), South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (#199)

Augustana University is South Dakota’s largest private undergraduate university. The Sioux Falls school was ranked #10 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Regional Universities Midwest 2022. Although Augustana is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, it accepts students of all faiths and promotes academic integrity that is free of religious bias.

#32. Louisiana

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Tulane University (#73 national rank), Louisiana Tech University (#210)

New Orleans’ Tulane University is arguably Louisiana’s most prestigious school. Founded in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana, Tulane’s medical and law colleges are among the oldest in the nation.

#31. Rhode Island

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Brown University (#8 national rank), Rhode Island School of Design (#122)

Rhode Island is the smallest of the nation’s states, but it’s also one of the oldest and as such, it holds a significant place in U.S. history. For example, Brown University, one of the oldest colleges in the country, was the first to accept students without consideration of religious affiliation.

#30. Utah

– Schools in top 250: 2
– Highest ranked schools: Brigham Young University (#94 national rank), University of Utah (#146)

Brigham Young University is one of the few religious schools on Niche’s list of top colleges. Owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the school has an honor code that forbids extramarital sex, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine and mandates Bible and LDS scripture studies. The school’s foreign language and business programs are among the best in the nation.

#29. Oklahoma

– Schools in top 250: 3
– Highest ranked schools: University of Tulsa (#118 national rank), Oklahoma State University (#136), University of Oklahoma (#156)

The University of Tulsa manages the Gilcrease Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of American Western art and indigenous American artifacts. Building on its tradition of conservatorship, the private research university made headlines in 2018 for taking over the Bob Dylan Center.

#28. Arkansas

– Schools in top 250: 3
– Highest ranked schools: Hendrix College (#151 national rank), University of Arkansas (#179), Ouachita Baptist University (#213)

Arkansas is another state whose schools are known for both athletics and academics, like the University of Arkansas and its Razorbacks. The agricultural university has also earned high ratings for its law and architecture programs.

#27. Maryland

– Schools in top 250: 3
– Highest ranked schools: Johns Hopkins University (#22 national rank), University of Maryland – College Park (#109), Loyola University Maryland (#201)

Johns Hopkins University is not only the first center for research in the nation, founded in 1876, but it’s also regarded as one of the finest to this day. The university is named for its first benefactor—abolitionist and philanthropist Johns Hopkins—and its medical university is where the cardiac defibrillator was developed.

#26. Georgia

– Schools in top 250: 3
– Highest ranked schools: Georgia Institute of Technology (#30 national rank), Emory University (#35), University of Georgia (#57)

Georgia’s capital city of Atlanta is a university-dense metropolitan area. Besides Emory, Georgia Tech, and UGA, the city is home to Morehouse University—which is the alma mater of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—as well Spelman College, Clark Atlanta College, Georgia State University, Oglethorpe University, and many others. 

#25. South Carolina

– Schools in top 250: 4
– Highest ranked schools: Clemson University (#100 national rank), Furman University (#129), University of South Carolina (#153)

South Carolina’s top college, Clemson University, ranked 30th in U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Top Public Schools rankings. The top-tier public research university has also emerged as a football powerhouse.

#24. Alabama

– Schools in top 250: 4
– Highest ranked schools: Auburn University (#140 national rank), University of Alabama – Birmingham (#191), The University of Alabama (#192)

Yet another state that houses colleges with strong athletics programs, Alabama is home to Auburn University and the University of Alabama. Typically, both schools have starring roles in the end-of-year bowl games. But their football programs should not overshadow the Alabama schools’ educational prowess—both Auburn University and the University of Alabama have been recognized as top public universities.

#23. Maine

– Schools in top 250: 4
– Highest ranked schools: Bowdoin College (#27 national rank), Colby College (#58), Bates College (#62)

Maine is known for its liberal arts schools. Bowdoin College, for example, which is technically older than the state itself by 26 years, regularly ranks among the top liberal arts schools in the nation. The college has formed an athletic and library-exchange consortium with fellow Maine liberal arts schools Bates and Colby Colleges.

#22. New Jersey

– Schools in top 250: 4
– Highest ranked schools: Princeton University (#5 national rank), Stevens Institute of Technology (#117), Rutgers University – New Brunswick (#137)

New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of colonial-era schools that are still in operation, among them being Princeton University and Rutgers University, which was originally called Queen’s College. New Jersey has invested a large amount of money in its higher education program. While Princeton is a founding member of the Ivy League, Rutgers is considered to be a Public Ivy, meaning it’s a top school capable of providing students with an education comparable to the Ivy League.

#21. Wisconsin

– Schools in top 250: 4
– Highest ranked schools: University of Wisconsin (#65 national rank), Milwaukee School of Engineering (#169), Lawrence University (#195)

Like Rutgers, the University of Wisconsin – Madison—or the University of Wisconsin for short—is also considered a Public Ivy. The oldest university in Wisconsin, the school scores high points for research, having yielded recipients of the coveted Fields Medal in mathematics.

#20. Oregon

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: Reed College (#108 national rank), Lewis & Clark College (#155), University of Portland (#184)

If you haven’t heard of Reed College, it’s worth taking a look at. The Portland-based school is small yet distinguished—according to the National Science Foundation, it ranks third in graduates that go on to get doctorates in physical and social sciences, and fourth in humanities, the arts, and all other disciplines. 

#19. Tennessee

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: Vanderbilt University (#13 national rank), Rhodes College (#141), Union University (#205)

A legacy school, Nashville’s Vanderbilt University was built from a $1 million endowment from railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, despite the billionaire never visiting the South. The university has emerged as one of the most prestigious private schools in the region, playing a key part in the intellectual heritage of the South.

#18. Michigan

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (#25 national rank), Michigan State University (#111), Michigan Technological University (#126)

It is true that the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor has the largest college football stadium in the nation. It is also the eighth-best university in the world, per Scimago. One of the best research universities in the U.S., UM is also one of the most well-funded. It had a budget of more than $10 billion for the 2021-2022 academic year.

#17. North Carolina

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: Duke University (#6 national rank), Wake Forest University (#45), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#47)

Another legacy school, Duke University was founded from the Duke Endowment, funded by tobacco industrialist James Buchanan Duke. From 1986 to 2015, Duke had the fifth-highest number of Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall Scholars in the nation.

#16. Iowa

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: Grinnell College (#60 national rank), Iowa State University (#147), University of Iowa (#149)

Iowa is home to more than 50 colleges and universities, including Grinnell College, a liberal arts school known for its high endowment, academic rigor, the pursuit of social justice, and diversity.

#15. Washington

– Schools in top 250: 5
– Highest ranked schools: University of Washington (#99 national rank), Whitman College (#106), Washington State University (#164)

Sometimes, a university can help a city to develop, like Seattle’s University of Washington, which played a key role in growing the city’s tech industry. Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft all chose the Seattle area for their main campuses in part due to the proximity to the University of Washington.

#14. Missouri

– Schools in top 250: 6
– Highest ranked schools: Washington University in St. Louis (#12 national rank), Saint Louis University (#128), University of Missouri (#166)

One of the best medical schools for research in the nation (ranked by U.S. News & World Report), Washington University in St. Louis is a world-renowned research university. The school has been at the forefront of modern political discussion as the host of more presidential and vice-presidential debates than any other institution.

#13. Indiana

– Schools in top 250: 6
– Highest ranked schools: University of Notre Dame (#19 national rank), Purdue University (#77), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (#97)

Any college football fan is probably familiar with Indiana’s schools. Whether it’s the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish or Purdue’s Boilermakers, Indiana’s football prowess helps to highlight the academic excellence of these schools. One example? Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was a graduate of Purdue, and the tradition holds: At least one person on almost one-third of NASA’s space flights has been a Purdue alum.

#12. Connecticut

– Schools in top 250: 6
– Highest ranked schools: Yale University (#4 national rank), Wesleyan University (#53), University of Connecticut (#157)

Connecticut is one of the smaller states in the Union. Its proximity to New York City, however, positions it as a strategic option geographically for students. Take the University of Connecticut, for example. The school’s presence in the New York City media market helped its athletics to draw better talent, which is reflected in the success of the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. UConn’s athletic successes highlight the fact that the school has been recognized as a Public Ivy, one of the best public universities in the nation.

#11. Minnesota

– Schools in top 250: 6
– Highest ranked schools: Carleton College (#41 national rank), Macalester College (#63), University of Minnesota Twin Cities (#95)

Similar to Oregon’s Reed College, Minnesota’s Carleton College is a Ph.D. factory. The school, per 100 students, has one of the highest rates of grads who go on to earn their doctorate. The top school in 2021 for undergraduate teaching, Carleton College is considered to be one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.

#10. Colorado

– Schools in top 250: 6
– Highest ranked schools: Colorado School of Mines (#93 national rank), Colorado College (#113), University of Denver (#198)

Colorado is a highly affluent state that draws its wealth from both mineral extraction and its technical affiliation with the federal government. The state’s schools reflect this paradigm. Colorado College, for example, is a top-ranking liberal arts school, while Colorado School of Mines is one of the best regional tech schools.

#9. Illinois

– Schools in top 250: 8
– Highest ranked schools: Northwestern University (#14 national rank), University of Chicago (#15), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (#71)

Illinois’ universities have the distinction of having advanced the fields of learning. The University of Chicago has created new schools of thought in architecture, sociology, economics, and mathematics, while Northwestern University is a world-acclaimed research university, with a $10.456 billion endowment as of 2021.

#8. Virginia

– Schools in top 250: 8
– Highest ranked schools: Washington and Lee University (#28 national rank), University of Virginia (#29), William & Mary (#56)

Virginia is known for the University of Virginia, regarded to be one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States. The school, which was founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson, has become a template for universities around the world. 

#7. Florida

– Schools in top 250: 11
– Highest ranked schools: University of Florida (#48 national rank), University of Miami (#61), Florida State University (#81)

U.S. News & World Report found the University of Florida to be the fifth-best public university in the country in 2022. With some of the largest single-campus universities in the nation, Florida’s public schools have distinguished themselves for their research and academic rigor.

#6. Ohio

– Schools in top 250: 11
– Highest ranked schools: Case Western Reserve University (#72 national rank), Kenyon College (#78), The Ohio State University (#89)

During the United States’ years, the “frontier” referred to anything west of the Appalachians, including the Ohio River Valley, the Tennessee River Valley, and much of what we now call the Midwest. As settlers headed into these areas, there was a need to train ministers, teachers, and other professionals. The institutions that formed as a result would go on to become these states’ most prestigious schools. Ohio’s Kenyon College and Case Western Reserve both started as ministry training facilities, for example.

#5. Texas

– Schools in top 250: 12
– Highest ranked schools: Rice University (#7 national rank), University of Texas – Austin (#52), Texas A&M University (#80)

One of the largest states in the Union by physical size, Texas had plenty of acres to offer as land grants for its universities. This allowed the schools to set up endowments by selling the land quickly. Many of the state’s land-grant universities, such as the University of Texas, have since emerged as national research hubs.

#4. Massachusetts

– Schools in top 250: 18
– Highest ranked schools: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#1 national rank), Harvard University (#2), Tufts University (#26)

Boston, Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of universities in the nation. Within its metropolitan area are Boston College, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Harvard University, Tufts University, and many others. A colonial city, many of these institutions have deep connections to the history of the city and the country at large.

#3. Pennsylvania

– Schools in top 250: 18
– Highest ranked schools: University of Pennsylvania (#9 national rank), Carnegie Mellon University (#21), Haverford College (#34)

The home of the nation’s first capital, Pennsylvania is a state steeped in history. As such, it hosts some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S., like the University of Pennsylvania, the state’s contribution to the Ivy League. Due to the concentration of wealth in Pennsylvania, many local endowment schools were created, such as Carnegie-Mellon University.

#2. New York

– Schools in top 250: 22
– Highest ranked schools: Columbia University (#11 national rank), Cornell University (#17), United States Military Academy at West Point (#37)

New York is the only state to host two Ivy League schools: Cornell and Columbia Universities. New York is also the home of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the highly acclaimed State University of New York system, Cooper Union, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Colgate University, Syracuse University, and many other well-ranked schools.

#1. California

– Schools in top 250: 27
– Highest ranked schools: Stanford University (#3 national rank), University of Southern California (#16), Pomona College (#18)

California is a highly affluent state that commits a significant amount to educational spending. This is reflected in the University of California and the California State University systems, which make up a significant portion of Niche’s list. Other schools on the list include the University of Southern California, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, and Claremont McKenna College.


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