Best Colleges in Rhode Island

Search Colleges

Online or Campus

The small state of Rhode Island has 12 institutions of higher education, from an Ivy League research university to liberal arts schools to community colleges. Rhode Island has schools big and small, urban and rural and many have online platforms as well. With such a variety of options, prospective students find that it can be difficult to compare to schools.

Typically, it helps to distill these comparisons to a few factors. Location, affordability and program length are common factors that most students consider as they evaluate colleges. To help students make an informed decision, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in Rhode Island, including the top four-year and two-year schools. Accounting for metrics that students value when examining schools, including acceptance, retention, graduation and enrollment rates, we’ve ranked the top colleges in the state of Rhode Island.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rhode Island is home to both public and private colleges, many of which boast a national reputation. Brown University, founded in 1764, is the state’s oldest four-year college and is one of eight schools in the Ivy League. The University of Rhode Island is the largest school in the state, a major research university with a notably strong reputation in environmental and natural resource economics. Additionally, the Rhode Island School of Design is among the nation’s most respected fine arts programs.

Students can study a number of disciplines at schools throughout Rhode Island, and prepare for a career in their chosen field. In the aggregate, four-year degree-holders in Rhode Island earn a higher salary than non-graduates. Earnings vary based on your major and professional interests, but mid-career professionals with a degree can expect to make several thousand dollars more annually than people with a high school diploma. If you’re interested in pursuing your degree in Rhode Island, our ranking of the top schools in the state is a good place to begin your research.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Brown University

 5/596.12%Providence, RI


Brown, an Ivy League school and the seventh oldest college in the United States, awards bachelor’s degrees in over 70 subjects. The university also offers more than 75 graduate programs. Students can join one of Brown’s 300 student groups, dine at nearly a dozen eateries—some of which cater to vegetarian, Kosher and Halal dietary needs—and participate in intramural sports.

Brown also offers free online non-credit courses to all students; pre-college programs are also available for high school students looking to take college-level courses.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Providence College

 5/586.32%Providence, RI


Providence is a Catholic and Dominican institution, and the school offers 50 majors and 36 minors. Students can enroll in a variety of innovative programs, including a 3+4 optometry degree, where students can study for three years at Providence and four years at the New England College of Optometry. Various undergraduate research projects are available to students as well.

Providence is home to more than 75 clubs and organizations, including the Friar’s Club. The Friar’s Club is one of the oldest student-run groups on campus; members support the school in a number of capacities, and are easily identifiable in their traditional white blazers.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Bryant University

 5/577.57%Smithfield, RI


Bryant offers degrees in a variety of disciplines, including a master’s in physician assistant studies, and one of the top business programs in the nation. The Bryant Scholars Program puts students side-by-side with faculty as they compete for Fulbright scholarships, Rhodes Scholarships, and other prestigious awards. Bryant’s campus is home to a couple of notable study centers, including a U.S.-China institute that forges academic, business, and cultural partnerships between Bryant and Chinese organizations.

Bryant also has 22 NCAA Division I teams and several community service organizations on campus. Many students participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where students prepare taxes for underprivileged people in the community.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Rhode Island College

 2/542.6%Providence, RI


Rhode Island College, founded in 1854 as one of the first public colleges in Rhode Island, offers more than 90 undergraduate and 30 graduate degrees. Popular programs include anthropology, dance performance, food safety, and francophone studies – the study of French culture, civilization, and language.

Various on-campus diversity initiatives, including The Unity Center and HOPE (Helping Others Promote Equality), help immerse students in multicultural experiences. RIC’s performing and fine arts initiatives also makes the college one of the state’s leading art and cultural centers.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

University of Rhode Island

 3/558.87%Kingston, RI


Founded in 1892, URI offers over 80 majors across ten academic departments. Featuring a number of innovative and traditional majors, students from all backgrounds can find a subject of interest at the state’s largest public research university.

Students can also pursue several pre-professional programs, including pre-law, dental, medical, physician assistant, physical therapy, and veterinary science. Online programs and certificates are available in nursing, dietetics, cybersecurity, digital forensics, and cyber security. Residence halls offer themed communities where students can live with others sharing similar academic interests. Over 100 student clubs and organizations are available from cryptocurrency to slam poetry, or intramurals including broomball, wiffleball, and ultimate frisbee.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Salve Regina University

 5/567.45%Newport, RI

Founded in 1934, Salve Regina University is a Catholic school located in the heart of Newport’s Bellevue Avenue Historic District. The campus is set on seven 19th and 20th century estates on the shores of Easton Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

With over 50 degrees and 200 study abroad programs in 45 countries, Salve offers unique educational programs to suit students from all backgrounds. Popular degrees include administration of justice, cultural and historical preservation, Catholic school leadership, and holistic studies programs. Considered a “military friendly school”, veterans are eligible for a variety of benefits. Community service is also a cornerstone of the Salve education, and students are required to complete 10 hours of community service before graduating.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Roger Williams University

 5/562.16%Bristol, RI

Roger Williams University was founded in 1956, and the school offers more than 40 majors and 60 clubs and organizations. With small class sizes—the student:faculty ratio is 15:1—students can enjoy individual attention from professors, and engaging discussions in all but the most introductory classes. The university also provides several support services for students, including a center for academic success, tutoring, and tech help. On campus, the school has fostered a vibrant dormitory and community for honors students and a gender resource center that houses women’s and men’s groups, including SAFE (Sexuality Advocacy for Everyone).

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

In Rhode Island, many two-year programs focus on technology training for students looking to launch a career in the state. Community college programs in Rhode Island are tailored to provide the skills career-oriented students need to find jobs in local industries. The state’s only two-year institution, the Community College of Rhode Island, has six locations that serves students across disciplines and specializations.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, graduates from the Community College of Rhode Island earn a higher salary than workers without college experience. With healthcare, manufacturing and education among the state’s top industries, community colleges and trade schools in the state produce skilled labor for jobs in key industries. To learn more about the specialized programs in the state, check out our review below.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

New England Institute of Technology

 4/548.15%East Greenwich, RI


New England Institute of Technology is a 75 year-old technical institution located in East Greenwich that offers associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in over 50 traditional, hybrid and online programs.

In addition to offering unique programs such as Architecture and Interior Design; Animal Business Management; Cyber Security; and Video Game Development, NEIT houses a Center for Technology and Industry to address the technical needs of a variety of industries.

The Academic Skills Center provides academic assistance for the entire length of a student’s education, and an ESL Bridge Program helps students with English skills so they can excel within degree programs.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

Community College of Rhode Island

 1/511.81%Warwick, RI


For over 45 years, the Community College of Rhode Island has graduated over 65,000 students at over six campus locations. CCRI offers two-year programs including an Associate in Applied Science in Technical Studies; Associate in Fine Arts (AFA) and several certificates.

Some unique offerings at this Rhode Island college include a histotechnician program that prepares students for a career preparing samples for microscopic examination, and an opticianry program that builds skills for future work in the optometry field.

CCRI students have access to support services including: a Center for Workforce and Community Education; a Success Center; and an Educational Opportunity Center that assists low income and first generation college students.

Tweet thisShare thisSchool Profile

If you’re thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in Rhode Island, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Ocean State.

Rhode Island is the smallest and second-most densely populated state in the country. Nicknamed “The Ocean State,” Rhode Island’s water composition accounts for 14% of its total area, encompassing several bays, inlets and waterways near its coastal border. Rhode Island played a key role in the American Revolution, as the first of the thirteen colonies to declare its independence and the last to ratify the Constitution. More than half of Rhode Island residents are native to the state, and service-based commercial industries play a significant role in the local economy.

Rhode Island had a per-capita income of $30,765 a year as of 2014. A U.S. census of national statistics from 2009 to 2013 reported that 31.4% of Rhode Islanders 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, well above the national average of 29.3%.
Below, we’ve highlighted two of the larger regions in Rhode Island:

Regional Spotlight: Northern/Central Rhode Island

    • Major Cities: Providence, Smithfield, East Greenwich
    • Attractions: Roger Williams National Memorial, Prospect Terrace Park, Audubon Society of Rhode Island
    • Cost of Living: Providence’s Numbeo Cost of Living
    • Popular Schools: Brown University, Rhode Island College, New England Institute of Technology

Regional Spotlight: Southern Rhode Island

      • Major Cities: Newport, Kingston/Kingstown
      • Attractions: East Matunuck State Beach, Ocean Drive Historic District, Fort Greene
      • Cost of Living: Newport’s Numbeo Cost of Living
      • Popular Schools: University of Rhode Island, Community College of Rhode Island, Naval War College


Establishing residency allows students access to in-state tuition at public colleges in Rhode Island. Students 18 or older must provide proof of state residency; minors have to live with either a parent or legal guardian to qualify for in-state tuition.

For Minors:

If a student is a minor when they enroll, they must prove that their guardians reside in the state to claim residency themselves. To establish Rhode Island residency, a minor must live with a parent or guardian in a household within state borders. If the parents are divorced or separated, the minor must reside with a parent living in Rhode Island. Minors must provide evidence that they lived with their parent in Rhode Island before turning 18 and prove their intention to continue living with that parent until the school year begins.

For Adults:

Students age 18 and older who plan to claim residence must meet specific criteria, including:

      • You must live in Rhode Island for at least one year prior to declaring residence.
      • You must prove intent to make Rhode Island your home.
      • You must prove your financial independence. Adults under age 23 may need to formally declare emancipation from their guardians.

Additional Resources for Rhode Island College Students

College Savings

Education Nonprofits

Higher Education News

Official State Links