2022 Top Public Colleges and Universities

Public universities offer high-quality academic programs at a more affordable price. Find the right public college or university for you.

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by Doug Wintemute

Published on March 2, 2022 · Updated on May 16, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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While schools may use the terms interchangeably, there are some differences between colleges and universities. In general, universities are large four-year institutions offering undergraduate and graduate programs. Colleges tend to feature smaller campuses and student bodies.

Public colleges and universities are publicly funded and tend to have lower tuition rates, more traditional program offerings, and higher student populations than private schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2019-20, the average cost of tuition and fees was $9,349 at four-year public schools, $3,377 at two-year public schools, and $32,769 at four-year private schools.

In 2019-20, the U.S. had 1,960 public institutions, including 791 four-year schools and 946 two-year schools. The U.S. also had 1,826 private nonprofit universities and colleges. Learners who want lower tuition and larger schools often choose public colleges. Students who want specialized training or a more individualized classroom experience often choose private schools.

2022 Top Private Colleges and Universities

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

#1 Online College in Florida

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $179
Undergrad, out of state | $716
Graduate, in state | $327
Graduate, out of state | $1,152

From its flagship campus in Orlando, UCF serves more than 70,000 students annually. Learners can pursue bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees — online and in person.

Distance learners can access a writing center, online tutoring, career services, financial assistance, and IT support. 

Online students may apply to most distance programs in the fall, spring, or summer. Admission requirements vary by program, but first-time undergraduates typically need to submit their high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and an admissions essay.

#2 Online College in Florida

Florida International University

School Information
Location Miami, Florida
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 63%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $229
Undergrad, out of state | $346
Graduate, in state | $479
Graduate, out of state | $1,025

FIU's online learners benefit from services like success coaches, tutoring, and technical assistance. Students may apply on a rolling basis for the fall, spring, or summer terms. They may take part in any of the university's more than 100 fully online degree programs.

Admission requirements vary by program, but distance learners can expect to be asked for their high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. From its campus in Miami and online, FIU serves more than 58,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

#3 Online College in Florida

University of Florida-Online

School Information
Location Gainesville, Florida
Admission Rate 32%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $129
Undergrad, out of state | $553
Graduate, in state | Varies
Graduate, out of state | Varies

Prospective UF Online students can apply to the school's online programs in the fall, spring, or summer. Individuals applying as first-time students must submit high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores, along with any program-specific requirements. 

Once enrolled, online students can access academic support, a distance learning library, technical assistance, and research support. 

Students — including online learners — can take advantage of roughly 200 education, service, and research centers and institutes.

#4 Online College in Indiana

Purdue University Global

School Information
Location West Lafayette, Indiana
Graduation Rate 27%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $280
Undergrad, out of state | $315-$371
Graduate, in state | $420-$700
Graduate, out of state | $420-$700

Purdue Global offers more than 175 online undergraduate and graduate programs, with most courses delivered asynchronously. 

To apply, first-time undergraduates must submit their high school or GED transcripts. Applicants may also need to meet program-specific admission requirements. 

Online learners gain access to academic success centers, student groups, library services, and the school's Center for Career Advancement. New Purdue Global students can take part in a three-week free trial period to see if distance learning is right for them.

#5 Online College in Arizona

Arizona State University

School Information
Location Scottsdale, Arizona
Admission Rate 64%
Graduation Rate 4%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 98% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $561-$661
Undergrad, out of state | $561-$661
Graduate, in state | $543-$1,343
Graduate, out of state | $543-$1,343

Offering more than 280 online degrees, ASU serves more than 40,000 undergraduate and 14,000 graduate students who take classes from around the world. 

Individuals applying as first-time college students must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate and submit their ACT or SAT scores. They also may need to meet program-specific admission requirements.

The university offers distance learners counseling and life services, time management coaching, success coaches, technical resources, and tutoring services.

#6 Online College in Maryland

University of Maryland Global Campus

School Information
Location Adelphi, Maryland
Graduation Rate 15%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 90% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $312
Undergrad, out of state | $499
Graduate, in state | $514
Graduate, out of state | $659

UMGC offers more than 90 programs students can take online or through the school's more than 170 service and classroom locations nationwide. The university has replaced nearly all of its textbooks with free online course materials to help students reduce expenses. 

Distance learners can access career services, a writing center, online tutoring, learner support videos, and technical assistance. 

UMGC does not require first-time students to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process. However, applicants do need to provide their high school or GED transcripts.

#7 Online College in Connecticut

Charter Oak State College

School Information
Location New Britain, Connecticut
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $319
Undergrad, out of state | $419
Graduate, in state | $516
Graduate, out of state | $540

Located in New Britain, Connecticut, Charter Oak State College delivers 100% online programs featuring six start dates throughout the year. The school offers credit for professional credentials, allowing many students to reduce the time required to secure a degree.

Individuals applying as first-year students must provide their high school transcripts or GED scores. Those with high school GPAs lower than 2.0 may be granted conditional acceptance. 

Charter Oak's distance learners benefit from academic advising, tutoring, career services, writing assistance, and technical support.

#8 Online College in Florida

The University of West Florida

School Information
Location Pensacola, Florida
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $219
Undergrad, out of state | $648
Graduate, in state | $385
Graduate, out of state | $1,044

UWF Online's distance learners can access library services, academic support, IT assistance, tutoring, and writing help. 

Incoming first-year applicants must provide their high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. They may also need to meet program-specific admission requirements. The school accepts transfer credits from nearly all accredited postsecondary institutions nationwide. 

UWF offers more than 70 fully online undergraduate and graduate degrees. The university's main campus is located in Pensacola, Florida.

#9 Online College in Colorado

Colorado State University Global Campus

School Information
Location Aurora, Colorado
Admission Rate 99%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $350
Undergrad, out of state | $350
Graduate, in state | $500
Graduate, out of state | $500

CSU Global offers more than 30 online undergraduate and graduate programs that feature mostly asynchronous courses. This allows students to learn on their own schedules.

Distance learners benefit from online tutoring, library services, a writing center, technical support, and career services. 

Admission requirements depend on the student's desired program. However, most incoming first-year students must submit their high school transcripts or GED scores. Some programs require an admissions essay, as well.

#10 Online College in Minnesota

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

School Information
Location Minneapolis, Minnesota
Admission Rate 57%
Graduation Rate 83%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 30% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
Undergrad, in state | $419-$469
Undergrad, out of state | $419-$669
Graduate, in state | $693-$1,632
Graduate, out of state | $704-$2,267

Located in Minneapolis, UMN offers dozens of fully or partially online bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. 

Distance learners can apply in the fall, spring, or summer. Although admission requirements vary by program, most incoming first-year students must provide their high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and a personal essay.

UMN offers online students an academic support center, time management help, a writing center, technical support, tutoring, and career services.

Why Choose a Public College or University?

The differences between private and public colleges vary, but their general structures and formats make them more suitable for different types of learners. For example, public colleges and universities tend to offer lower tuition rates than private schools and generally have more diverse student populations.

Public schools also offer larger campuses, which can mean more substantial facilities, student organizations, and activity options. Many learners prefer larger public universities for the extracurricular experiences they provide. Some students, however, want a more intimate learning experience, which smaller private schools can offer more regularly.

For degree-seekers looking for two-year programs, public community colleges offer an affordable option. While private schools are often more expensive, they can offer substantial financial aid packages, which can assist students that may not qualify for federal financial aid. Private schools also provide more curriculum freedom, which allows them to offer more specialized programs that public schools cannot.

Pros and Cons of Public College and Universities

Pros of Public Schools

Lower tuition rates and more programs to choose from Larger campuses and more extensive facilities More student services, organizations, and extracurricular activities Access to more research and library resources More diverse student bodies and accessible admission requirements Reciprocity agreements available that offer lower tuition rates for nonresidents

Cons of Public Schools

Larger class sizes Less one-on-one time with professors and advisors More generalized curricula with fewer specialized programs Expansive campuses can overwhelm some students Fewer financial aid packages for students who do not qualify for federal aid May not have the same level of prestige as private schools

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

The Student's Guide to College Scholarships and Grants The Student's Guide to College Planning The Student's Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA

What Are the Admission Requirements for a Public College or University?

In general, public universities and colleges feature more accessible admission requirements than private schools. While competitive public schools set GPA minimums, many feature open admission policies, particularly community colleges.

Most public colleges and universities require candidates to submit official transcripts, 2-3 letters of recommendation, and college application essays. Some schools require college entrance exams, while others make them optional.

Private school applications often look similar. But they may feature more specialized and nontraditional components, such as unique essays, community involvement, and extracurriculars. Since many public schools use standard applications, it may increase the number of college applications students can complete.

How Do I Choose an Online Public College or University?

Cost

According to the NCES, the average tuition at a four-year public institution was $9,349 in 2019-20, $23,420 less than the average four-year private college tuition. The average room and board costs were $6,655 and $5,031, respectively, in public schools and $7,401 and $5,761 in private schools.

Unlike private schools, public colleges charge different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. At four-year colleges, in-state students paid $17,674 less in tuition on average than out-of-state learners. To find out how much college costs, prospective students must consider hidden college costs, such as books, transportation, and leisure.

Prospective students should also understand the misconceptions about paying for college before making enrollment decisions.

Location

Location should play a fairly large role in the college decision process. Choosing a nearby school has many benefits, including reducing travel and extra room and board expenses. Some public colleges also offer tuition discounts for local students.

Conversely, students may have a limited selection of local schools to choose from. While out-of-state schools can provide great study options to help students find exactly what they want from their training, high out-of-state tuition can be a major barrier.

Accreditation

Choosing the right school starts with college accreditation. All public colleges and universities need institutional accreditation, which allows them to offer federal financial aid. Programmatic accreditation may be mandatory, optional, or nonexistent, depending on the discipline.

Student Support

Public colleges offer many student services to support learners during and after their studies. Learners can benefit from academic support and mental health services to ensure they perform at their best. Other services, such as career services, mentorship programs, and internships and practica, help students prepare for their careers after graduation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Colleges and Universities

What is a public university? true

A public university is a publicly funded institution. These schools typically feature four-year undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees, including master's and doctoral programs. Public universities tend to have larger student bodies than public colleges and private schools.

As a result of their public responsibilities, public universities usually feature accessible admission requirements and programs with general appeal. These schools can have very large campuses, extensive research and campus facilities, and a large number of program offerings.

How are public universities funded? true

Public universities receive most of their funding from student tuition, endowments, donations, and government funding. According to the PEW Charitable Trusts, state and federal funding made up 34% of public university revenues in 2017. Government funding comes in various forms, including student aid, grants, and federal contracts.

Substantial government funding is primarily what distinguishes public universities from private nonprofit schools. But these schools also differ from for-profit private schools in how they handle funding. Public and nonprofit private schools must reinvest all money back into the school, while for-profit schools can take a profit from the funds.

What is the best public college or university in the U.S.? true

The best public college or university varies based on the individual student and their program choices. Students may prefer one institution over another based on a specific program, curriculum, or faculty. They might also look for the schools that offer the best campus facilities, location, or extracurricular opportunities.

Some of the top-ranked public colleges in the U.S. include the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan.

Are public colleges and universities affordable?

For some students, college is expensive no matter where they attend. Yet, public colleges and universities can be considerably more affordable than private colleges. According to NCES data, the average tuition and fees in 2019-20 were $3,377 for in-state students at two-year public colleges and $9,349 at four-year public universities.

At four-year private colleges and universities, average tuition and fees were $32,769 in 2019-20. For students with financial need, public colleges also offer financial aid packages, work-study opportunities, and access to scholarships and grants.

How can I get in-state tuition at a public college or university?

All state residents qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Residency requirements vary by state, but they usually require students to live in the state for one year before enrolling.

Out-of-state learners may receive in-state tuition if the public college has a reciprocity agreement in place. All public schools, plus students from states that participate in these agreements, should qualify. Moreover, nonresident online learners can qualify for in-state tuition if they complete a certain percentage of their courses online.

Students should research specific in-state policies for the state and institution they are interested in. Some states have unique exceptions for in-state tuition. For example, the state of Washington extends in-state tuition to any members of an American Indian Tribe who have lived in Oregon, Idaho, or Montana for at least a year.

Feature Image: Deepak Sethi / E+ / Getty Images

The Ivy League is well known for its academic prowess, which is why many other colleges use the "Ivy" label to showcase their prestige. With college costs growing higher, here are the top 10 public universities offering generous financial aid packages that lessen the burden. Some colleges give you more bang for your buck. Check out these 10 public colleges with the best return on investment for students in 2022.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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