What are you looking for in a college in Arkansas? Affordability? A student-focused culture? The ability to take certain courses from home? Whatever attributes are most important to you, it can help to have as much information as possible about your options before making a decision for your own education.
Luckily, the state of Arkansas offers many options for students who want to earn a college degree. The two main public university systems in the state, the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University, include two-year and four-year schools with campuses throughout the state. There are also a number of other public schools, independent universities and private faith-based colleges.
Community college students hoping to transfer to a university should be sure to check for articulation agreements between their two-year institution and various four-year schools in the state. A thorough and painless transfer can help take some of the pressure off of your first semester in a university bachelor's program.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Arkansas
To find the top colleges in Arkansas, we considered 12 metrics, including the availability of career and academic services, the number of on-campus and online degree programs offered and the percentage of students who graduate. Based on our analysis, these are the best Arkansas universities and colleges. When you're done here, be sure to check out the best community colleges in Arkansas, too.
The flagship campus of the University of Arkansas System was founded as a land-grant institution in 1871. In the nearly 150 years since it first opened its doors, it has grown into a nationally renowned research university and one of the best Arkansas schools.
The 27,000 students enrolled in the University of Arkansas represent all 50 states and more than 120 countries. It has ten colleges and schools which offer degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. U of A is also one of the best online colleges in the state and offers numerous online courses and fully online degree programs.
Solid graduation and retention rates are part of what make U of A one of the best schools in Arkansas. Its campus is in Fayetteville.
Located in Searcy, about an hour northeast of Little Rock, Harding University is a private, Christian institution. It was founded with the merger of two other schools in 1924. Today, it is affiliated with the churches of Christ, and a Christian worldview helps guide its academic programs.
Harding University includes nine colleges and schools. These are devoted to more than 100 areas of study including a variety of undergraduate majors, pre-professional degrees and graduate programs. Liberal arts, pharmacy and Bible and ministry are a few of the education options available.
To make the list of best universities in Arkansas, Harding posted strong graduation and retention rates. Approximately 95 percent of its nearly 6,000 students receive financial aid to make their education more affordable.
John Brown University is another Christian university to make the list of best Arkansas schools. Founded in 1919, the school embraces Christ-centered education but is not affiliated with a specific denomination. Its campus is in Siloam Springs.
At JBU, students can select from undergraduate, graduate and online programs. Overall, more than 100 majors, minors and graduate degrees are available. Of these, popular options include nursing, engineering and graphic design.
More than 2,500 students are enrolled at John Brown University. While the largest percentage hail from Arkansas, students from more than 40 states and 50 countries get their education at the school. Small class sizes and a low student-faculty ratio are also notable reasons for JBU to fall among the top Arkansas colleges.
Arkansas Tech University ranks strongly across many of the metrics that determine the top schools in Arkansas. It has affordable tuition, an expansive degree catalog and a variety of student support services.
At Tech, as the school is often called, students are encouraged to explore and innovate. With more than 130 student clubs and about 1,500 student events each year, the university hopes those enrolled will think outside their major to find a balance of academic, social and service experiences. There are seven colleges within Arkansas Tech University, including a College of eTech for online degrees.
A degree is an investment, and Arkansas Tech University wants to help keep its programs affordable. To do that, the university awards more than $47 million in financial aid annually.
The flagship campus of the Arkansas State University System emerged as another of the best Arkansas colleges. It is not only a destination for on-campus programs but online degrees as well. Its online services division offers more than two dozen options for distance learners.
At the main campus of Arkansas State University -- known as A-State -- students will find more than 140 fields of study offered through six academic colleges. These include education, business, nursing and agriculture. More than 14,000 people are enrolled in the university's programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
A-State was founded in 1909 by the Arkansas General Assembly. Although originally established to teach agriculture, horticulture and textile manufacturing, it has since expanded into a comprehensive, doctoral-level school. Its campus is in Jonesboro.
The University of Central Arkansas is another one of the top colleges in Arkansas. The school is committed to intellectual excellence as well as promoting the values of community, service and integrity.
With eight colleges and schools, UCA offers more than 150 academic options. Many of these are offered as online degrees, which adhere to the same academic standards as programs provided on-campus. Beyond its strong academic selections, the University of Central Arkansas features small class sizes and affordable tuition.
Like other top colleges in Arkansas, UCA has a rich history. It was founded in 1907 as The Arkansas State Normal School and initially offered only teacher preparation programs. From those humble roots, it has grown to enroll more than 11,000 students online and on its Conway campus.
With dozens of educational programs in seven academic schools, Ouachita Baptist University takes another spot among the top Arkansas schools. The liberal arts university values personal connections between students and instructors, and a low student-faculty ratio makes those possible.
Ouachita Baptist University can trace its roots back to 1885 when it was first authorized. It opened its doors the following year to 235 students and saw its first three graduates in 1888. The university looks much different now, with approximately 1,500 students, but it continues to embrace the Christian values upon which it was founded.
Affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Ouachita has solid retention and graduation rates. It provides numerous study abroad opportunities and encourages community service. Its campus is in Arkadelphia.
The University of Arkansas campus in the state's capital city is known for providing generous financial aid, diverse degree programs and a number of online courses. All those factors help make it one of the best universities in Arkansas.
As a metropolitan research university, UA Little Rock works to graduate students who will be leaders and innovators in their chose field. There are more than 200 fields of study within the university's seven colleges and schools. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock maintains online and honors programs as well.
However, UA Little Rock didn't have all that at its start in 1927. At that time, the school was the Little Rock Junior College. Since then, it has grown into a nationally recognized institution that is also one of the top Arkansas colleges.
First established as a junior college in 1928, this outpost of the University of Arkansas System has expanded to become a premier regional university. Despite increasing its prominence, it has retained its mission of providing a reasonably priced education to Arkansas residents.
The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith is one of the best Arkansas schools for good reason. It offers dozens of academic programs, more than 100 student organizations and NCAA Division II athletic teams. There are undergraduate and graduate programs available through the seven colleges and schools within UAFS. Or for those who can't make it to campus, a wide selection of online courses is available.
UAFS enrolls more than 7,000 students each semester. As its name suggests, it has its campus in Fort Smith.
Southern Arkansas University is a mid-sized institution among the top schools in Arkansas. With more than 4,000 students, it is large enough to provide amble educational and social opportunities but not so large that you get lost in the crowd.
Founded in 1909, the public university seeks to provide a modern and affordable education to those enrolled. To that end, SAU offers more than 80 degree programs across four academic colleges and a graduate school. There are also hundreds of online courses as well as several fully online graduate degrees.
SAU made the list of best universities in Arkansas thanks to its strong retention rate and low student-faculty ratio. Its campus is in Magnolia, placing it within driving distance of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Arkansas
Some students want to be part of a large major subject group and some would rather pursue a less common study plan. Whichever situation applies to you, knowing which degree programs are most popular among Arkansas students can help.
In-Demand Careers in Arkansas
If you're interested in designing your academic approach to best suit a high-demand occupation once you've finished your degree, it can help to keep an eye on the job market. Here's a list of Arkansas careers that are expected to grow over the next several years.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists||35.9%||200||$36,870|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||35.8%||5,480||$86,100|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||35.2%||320||$61,990|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||35.1%||21,080||$22,520|
|Operations Research Analysts||34.1%||390||$62,900|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||31.3%||1,370||$59,180|
|Physical Therapist Aides||31%||300||$25,710|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||30.8%||110||$45,720|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||30.6%||4,630||$68,770|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||28.2%||1,070||$37,440|
|Film and Video Editors||27.6%||50||$53,490|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||26.5%||650||$55,710|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||25.8%||660||$66,400|
|Dental Laboratory Technicians||24.9%||340||$41,620|
|Forensic Science Technicians||24.8%||160||$43,470|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||23.3%||260||$117,060|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Arkansas
Arkansas students who need some additional help paying for college can look into these and other state programs. The Academic Challenge Scholarship provides gradually increased award amounts to qualifying traditional and non-traditional students, and the Governor's Distinguished Scholarship is a program for high academic achievers that pays tuition, fees and room and board up to $10,000 per year.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 2.0 GPA and income guidelines.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- University of Arkansas System
- Arkansas State University System
- Arkansas Department of Higher Education
- Arkansas Course Transfer System (ACTS)
- Arkansas Community Colleges
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note:Tuition prices are based on data for the 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2015-16, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- About, University of Arkansas, Accessed April 2018, https://www.uark.edu/about/index.php
- Quick Facts, Harding University, Accessed April 2018, https://www.harding.edu/about/quickfacts
- JBU Facts 2018-2018, John Brown University, Accessed April 2018, https://www.jbu.edu/about/facts/
- Quad Goals, Arkansas Tech University, Accessed April 2018, https://explore.atu.edu/
- About Arkansas State, Arkansas State University, Accessed April 2018, http://www.astate.edu/info/academics/degrees/index.dot?s=online-only
- Quick Facts, University of Central Arkansas, Accessed April 2018, http://uca.edu/president/quick-facts/
- About Ouachita, Ouachita Baptist University, Accessed April 2018, https://obu.edu/about/
- Quick Facts, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Accessed April 2018, http://ualr.edu/administration/fast-facts/
- About UAFS, University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, Accessed April 2018, https://uafs.edu/about/about-uafs
- Overview, Southern Arkansas University, Accessed April 2018, https://web.saumag.edu/about/
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Campuses and Affiliates, University of Arkansas System, accessed May 26, 2017, http://www.uasys.edu/campuses-affiliates/
- Arkansas State University System, accessed May 26, 2017, http://www.asusystem.edu/
- "SAU fastest growing, most affordable," Texarkana Gazette, May 29, 2016, accessed May 26, 2017, http://www.texarkanagazette.com/news/texarkana/story/2016/may/29/sau-fastest-growing-most-affordable/624825/
- Scholarship and Programs, Arkansas Department of Higher Education, accessed May 16, 2017, http://scholarships.adhe.edu/scholarships-and-programs/a-z/