2022 Top Public Colleges and Universities in Illinois

Public colleges and universities are often the most affordable option for students pursuing higher education, but it's not just affordability that makes these institutions attractive. Public institutions also rank highly among the best colleges and universities in many states, Illinois included.

Public colleges and universities receive state and federal funding. Although they generally have larger class sizes than private institutions, they also tend to offer a wide variety of academic programs, diverse student bodies, and prestigious research opportunities.

2022 Best Public Colleges and Universities in Illinois

  1. #1

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL

    Graduation Rate

    85%

    Enrollment

    51,605

    Format

    Online, In person

    From its campus in Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign administers 372 total programs. Degree-seekers enroll in top-ranked programs that offer a rigorous course of study. The school holds a student-to-faculty ratio of 20-to-1. The institution reports that 64% of students receive some form of financial aid. The public institution reports a 85% graduation rate. Hands-on experience helps graduates stand out on the job market. Learners participate in internships, research projects, and other forms of experiential learning. Prospective enrollees can expect an 59% admission rate. Some applicants qualify for a waiver for standardized test scores.

  2. #2

    Moraine Valley Community College

    Palos Hills, IL

    Graduation Rate

    28%

    Enrollment

    13,032

    Format

    In person

    A public institution located in Palos Hills, Illinois, Moraine Valley Community College enrolls students in several programs. Students complete programs that prepare them for careers and professional advancement. Learners benefit from academically rigorous programs at an affordable price. Many of the school's programs appear in national rankings. The institution's average cost per credit is unknown. Students attending the accredited institution may qualify for federal financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant. Students receive an average aid award of $8155, making the average tuition cost after aid $1933. Degree-seekers choose from academic and technical programs at the school. Depending on their program, students complete foundational courses, technical classes, and general education requirements. Moraine Valley Community College holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, an independent accrediting body.

  3. #3

    Elgin Community College

    Elgin, IL

    Graduation Rate

    35%

    Enrollment

    9,931

    Format

    In person

    From its campus in Elgin, Illinois, Elgin Community College enrolls students in 97 programs. The institution's rigorous programs rank among the best in the nation. The school reports a 20-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The institution reports that 47% of students receive some form of financial aid. The public institution reports a graduation rate of 35%. Graduates often benefit from hands-on experience, which makes them more competitive candidates on the job market. The institution's admission rate is unknown at this time. Some programs offer test-optional admission policies. Contact the admissions department for more details about application requirements.

  4. #4

    Frontier Community College

    Fairfield, IL

    Graduation Rate

    63%

    Enrollment

    1,719

    Format

    Online, In person

    Frontier Community College, located in Fairfield, Illinois, enrolls students as a public institution. With both academic and technical programs, the college helps learners reach their educational goals. The institution's degree and certificate programs offer coursework that prepares learners for a career in their field. Applicants may qualify for a standardized test score waiver. The waiver makes it simpler to enroll. The school supports learners with tutoring and career services. Information on the school's cost per credit is unavailable. Learners at the accredited school qualify for federal student aid programs. Frontier Community College has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  5. #5

    College of Lake County

    Grayslake, IL

    Graduation Rate

    28%

    Enrollment

    13,743

    Format

    In person

    Located in Grayslake, Illinois, College of Lake County enrolls students as a public institution. The institution's faculty brings expertise in multiple fields. The school's academic and technical programs prepare graduates for the workforce or further study. The amount students pay per credit is unknown at this time. Students at the accredited institution qualify for federal student aid programs, including the Pell Grant. The institution reports that 46% of students receive aid, and 3% receive loans. The public school reports a 28% graduation rate. The rate of admission for the school is unknown. The admissions office provides more information about application requirements and start dates. College of Lake County has received accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, an independent accrediting body.

  6. #6

    University of Illinois at Chicago

    Chicago, IL

    Graduation Rate

    61%

    Enrollment

    32,324

    Format

    Online, In person

    University of Illinois at Chicago is a public institution located in Chicago, Illinois. Learners study with experts in many different fields. Students who complete an academic or technical program enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor's degree. The institution charges an average per-credit fee of 750. At the accredited institution, degree-seekers qualify for financial aid, including federal loans, scholarships, and grants. A total of 78% of students receive financial aid and 38% take out loans at the institution. The public school reports a 61% graduation rate. The admission rate is 73% for prospective students. Prospective applicants can contact the admission department for more information about applying. University of Illinois at Chicago has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an independent accrediting body.

  7. #7

    University of Illinois at Springfield

    Springfield, IL

    Graduation Rate

    54%

    Enrollment

    4,275

    Format

    Online, In person

    Located in Springfield, Illinois, University of Illinois at Springfield offers multiple programs as a public institution. The school offers accredited degrees that prepare students for the workforce. Learners benefit from academically rigorous programs at an affordable price. Many of the school's degrees make national rankings. The institution's average cost per credit is unknown. Degree-seekers at the accredited school may qualify for federal financial aid, including the Pell Grant. The institution reports that students receive an average aid award of $ 12821, lowering the average tuition cost after aid to $ 11534. Learners at the institution choose from academic and technical programs. Depending on their major, learners complete fundamentals courses, technical classes, and general education requirements. University of Illinois at Springfield is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  8. #8

    College of DuPage

    Glen Ellyn, IL

    Graduation Rate

    25%

    Enrollment

    23,903

    Format

    In person

    Located in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, College of DuPage enrolls students as a public institution. Students learn from experts in multiple disciplines. Students who complete an academic or technical program enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor's degree. The amount students pay per credit is currently unknown. At the accredited school, enrollees qualify for financial aid, including federal loans, scholarships, and grants. The institution reports that 58% of learners receive financial aid, while 9% take out loans. Enrollees graduate from the school at a rate of 25%. The institution's admission rate is currently unknown. Prospective students can contact the admissions department for more details about application requirements. College of DuPage holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, an independent accrediting body.

  9. #9

    Career Center of Southern Illinois

    Red Bud, IL

    Graduation Rate

    81%

    Enrollment

    80

    Format

    In person

    A Illinois-based school, Career Center of Southern Illinois offers 2 certificate programs. After completing the rigorous curriculum, graduates can pursue careers or enroll in other programs. Students gain skills necessary to launch their career or pursue promotions. Learners apply their knowledge in real-world contexts. The institution maintains accreditation, signifying high-quality academic programs. The school's cost per credit is unknown. Students enrolled in a program at the accredited school qualify for federal financial aid. Students can learn about requirements through the school's website. The institution holds accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education.

  10. #10

    Waubonsee Community College

    Sugar Grove, IL

    Graduation Rate

    35%

    Enrollment

    8,665

    Format

    Online, In person

    Waubonsee Community College offers programs from its campus in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Enrollees take courses with experts in diverse disciplines. With academic and technical tracks, the school's programs help learners meet their professional goals. Completing a program can take anywhere from a few months to seven years depending on degree or certificate type and whether the student chooses part-time or full-time enrollment. Some applicants qualify for a waiver for standardized test scores. A waiver makes it easier to apply. The admissions department can provide additional resources on applying. At the accredited institution, enrollees also qualify for financial aid to pay for school. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an independent accrediting body.

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Why Choose a Public College or College or University in Illinois?

The Prairie State is home to 63 public colleges and universities — including two-year and four-year colleges — and 187 private for-profit and nonprofit schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Students and their families are often motivated by cost when choosing a public college or university rather than a private college. Illinois, a member of the Midwest Student Exchange Program, also offers tuition reciprocity to residents in participating states such as Michigan. Additionally, public colleges and universities in Illinois offer far more than just an affordable education.

Public institutions often have larger research facilities and program offerings. However, private Illinois colleges like Northwestern University — with 90 school-based research centers and 40 university research institutes and centers — also have vast research facilities.

Public college students can also enjoy more extracurricular and campus activities because public schools in Illinois have higher enrollment numbers than private colleges. Discover the top public colleges and universities in Illinois. Learn how much it costs to attend a school in the state and how to pick the right college.

Pros and Cons of Attending a Public College or University in Illinois

Pros

More affordable tuition since public colleges and universities receive federal and state aidGreater demographic diversityMore available majors and minors, as well as certificatesExciting campus life with more social, civic, and extracurricular activitiesA high-quality education at a lower price

Cons

Less interest-free financial aid than private schools with large endowmentsLess geographic diversityLarger class sizes and overall enrollmentLess personal atmosphere and less one-on-one time with instructorsPotentially less prestige and lower earnings among graduates

Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Colleges and Universities in Illinois

Nonprofit colleges and universities, also called not-for-profit schools, receive public funding from the state and federal government. These institutions usually hold institutional accreditation, signifying the school's outcomes, curriculum, and facilities have been vetted. Public colleges and universities such as the University of Illinois and Chicago State University qualify as nonprofits even though they profit from tuition and other sources. Tuition and funding from endowments and private donations at a nonprofit go toward educational programs, research, and faculty salaries.

For-profit colleges and universities are run by shareholders in order to make a profit. Revenue may go toward marketing efforts instead of research and education. Graduates of for-profit colleges and universities, which do not always hold accreditation, may receive a lower quality education. Students at for-profit schools more often have unfavorable graduation outcomes and less success in finding jobs. Employers may also look down on for-profit schools. That said, the pros of for-profit schools, such as higher acceptance rates, should not be overlooked. Some for-profit colleges also train students for specific vocations with flexible and quick programs.

The NCES College Navigator lists all for-profit and nonprofit colleges in Illinois.

How Much Does It Cost to Attend a Public College or University in Illinois?

Public colleges and universities in Illinois typically cost less than private schools. According to NCES, Illinois residents attending public four-year colleges paid an average of roughly $14,460 in tuition and fees during the 2019-2020 academic year. Private four-year college students paid $35,570 in tuition and fees during the same period. In-state students at public two-year colleges in Illinois paid an average of about $4,040 in 2019-2020.

Factors such as residency status can make attending a public college or university expensive. Out-of-state students at public four-year colleges in Illinois paid $29,515 for tuition and fees in 2019-2020, according to NCES. Two-year schools in Illinois charged out-of-state students $11,450 during the same year.

Tuition costs for out-of-state students vary by school and program. For instance, Northeastern Illinois University charges about $20,180 in tuition for out-of-state students during the 2022-2023 academic year. For out-of-state students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, tuition and fees cost $35,110-$42,800.

In addition, students must factor in other expenses such as transportation, books, and health. According to NCES, public colleges in Illinois also charged about $6,140 for room and $5,210 for board during the 2019-2020 academic year. Private colleges charged roughly $7,700 and $5,800 for room and board, respectively.

Nonetheless, despite common misconceptions, not all students borrow money to pay for college. Private and public schools offer financial aid packages, such as grants and scholarships that do not require repayment.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Public Colleges and Universities in Illinois

How many public colleges and universities are there in Illinois?

Illinois has 63 public schools, including 12 four-year colleges and 51 two-year schools.

Two-year schools include Black Hawk College, Capital Area School of Practical Nursing, Carl Sandburg College, the City Colleges of Chicago system, College of DuPage, College of Lake County, Danville Area Community College, and Elgin Community College.

Public four-year colleges include Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Springfield, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Western Illinois University.

What is the most expensive public college or university in Illinois?

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign charges the highest in-state tuition of all the public colleges and universities in Illinois. During the 2022-2023 academic year, in-state students pay about $17,140-$22,320 in tuition and fees.

Each program at the University of Illinois schools charges a different tuition rate. Business students pay about $38,740 in tuition, fees, and expenses. Engineering, technology, and management for agricultural systems students pay about $36,140 for tuition and fees.

College tuition across the nation has continued to increase each year since 1980, with students paying 170% more now than they did 40 years ago.

What is the least expensive public college or university in Illinois?

As of 2022, students who attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville pay about $9,120 annually for tuition and an additional $12,980 for general student fees and room and board. Eastern Illinois University also charges lower tuition than many schools, with students paying $9,660 annually during the 2022-2023 academic year, not including fees. Chicago State University undergraduates paid about $13,660 a year as of 2021.

Tuition rates differ for undergraduate and graduate students. Out-of-state fees and international student rates can make Illinois' most affordable public colleges cost as much as a private institution.

What is the biggest public college or university in Illinois?

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the biggest public institution in Illinois. The school boasted a total student enrollment of 52,331 in 2020, increasing by 4,135 from 2019. As of the 2021-2022 academic year, the college enrolled 56,299 students, with 8,303 in the first-year class alone. U of I also offers a large catalog of majors with 150 undergraduate programs and 100 graduate and professional programs.

Is a public college or university right for me?

What college a student attends depends on what they want to study. Public colleges and universities typically offer more areas of study than private colleges. Attending a public college or university may also suit you if you want an education that, on average, costs less than a private college. While private colleges may offer smaller class sizes and lower enrollment numbers, public colleges have larger class sizes and campuses.