These Are the Best College Campuses for Free Speech

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression surveyed almost 45,000 students for its third annual College Free Speech Rankings.

Published September 12, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
These Are the Best College Campuses for Free Speech
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

  • A report from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression aims to rank schools on their openness to free expression.
  • The lowest-ranking schools for free speech tended to be private institutions.
  • Students with conservative ideals stated they were more hesitant to talk openly about political issues.

It's often said that free speech on college campuses is vital to civic discourse in the U.S., and a survey of undergraduate students aims to grade schools on how accepting they are of free speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) found that self-censorship among students is fairly common across all types of campuses since many students are afraid to share some ideas. Two out of five students surveyed said they feel uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor, either in a public or written setting.

FIRE surveyed just under 45,000 undergraduate students enrolled full time at 208 four-year colleges and universities.

For the rankings, the survey took into account student responses, instances where an institution revoked a controversial speaker's invitation, times a school sanctioned faculty for their speech, and FIRE's own speech code rating.

FIRE CEO Greg Lukianoff said in a statement that the climate for free speech on campuses has worsened in recent years. He hopes the rankings will better inform students who prioritize free speech to identify schools that align with that value.

Inside the FIRE College Free Speech Rankings

The third annual College Free Speech Rankings ultimately ranked 203 institutions, up from 159 last year.

The five institutions that ranked the highest were:

  • 1. University of Chicago
  • 2. Kansas State University
  • 3. Purdue University (main campus)
  • 4. Mississippi State University
  • 5. Oklahoma State University

The five that ranked worst were:

  • 199. Skidmore College
  • 200. Georgetown University
  • 201. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • 202. University of Pennsylvania
  • 203. Columbia University

Nineteen of the 20 worst-ranked schools were private institutions. Only two of the top 20 schools were private institutions.

Politics May Impact Speech

Political topics may be difficult to discuss openly for some, and FIRE's report hints at political differences driving some hesitancy among students.

Broadly, just over 1 in 5 (22%) of students reported that they often felt they could not express their opinion on certain subjects because they worried about how students, a professor, or the administration would respond. This varied significantly based on the political leanings of each student.

Only 13% of liberal-leaning students felt pressured to self-censor. Meanwhile, 23% of moderate students and 42% of conservative undergraduates felt they should do so.

Male students reported more discomfort discussing certain topics (25%) than female students (19%), according to the report.

FIRE's report also found that students were more comfortable disagreeing with a professor through a written assignment (59%) compared to disagreeing with them publicly (47%).

Touchy Topics on College Campuses

Some topics are more polarizing than others. Students reported that conversations about things including abortion and vaccine mandates are oftentimes difficult to have on campus.

Generally, conservative students were more likely to say these topics were difficult to discuss than moderate and liberal students.

Liberal students, however, were more likely to report that discussions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and sexual assault were more difficult to have than moderate and conservative students.