The higher education landscape in the Sunflower State contains large schools and small, and they each present students with their own unique arrangements of challenges and opportunities. We wanted to put together a straightforward source of information on the best traditional and online colleges in Kansas, so we researched popular degree programs, state-based options for financial aid and Kansas's hottest upcoming jobs for graduates.
If paying for your education is your main concern, remember that starting your degree plan at a two-year school and finishing it at a university can be a cost-effective way to earn a bachelor's degree. The Kansas Board of Regents maintains transfer and articulation agreements between community colleges and Kansas public universities that can help your transition go smoothly.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Kansas
We pulled National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) numbers on student success, financial aid, tuition cost, schedule flexibility and other important metrics for close to 60 Kansas schools. Tap the methodology button to see how we came up with the scores and rankings, and read on for our list of the ten best colleges and universities in Kansas. For more insight into education in the state, be sure to read about the best community colleges in Kansas, too.
Kansas State University is one of the top schools in Kansas by enrollment, reporting a student body nearly 24,000 strong in 2017. Its academic catalog is also one of the largest in the state, offering more than 250 undergraduate programs and nearly 160 graduate degrees and certificate plans.
It's not just quantity that helps the degrees at K-State stand out from those at other Kansas universities. National publications like the Wall Street Journal have praised the quality of education available here, from the tendency of students to improve their critical thinking skills to the university's leadership in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training.
K-State students also have enjoyed consistently good outcomes once they finish their degrees. The university reports that between 94 and 97 percent of alumni become employed or enroll in further education within six months of graduation.
As another large institution among Kansas colleges, the University of Kansas has a wide and varied selection of degree programs at the bachelor's level and beyond. Undergraduates here have more than 190 undergraduate majors and nearly 300 total degree programs to choose from, while graduate students enjoy close to 200 options for their master's degree.
KU also keeps illustrious company, having served as a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) since 1909. Other members include NYU, MIT, the University of Chicago and eight of the nine Ivy League schools.
If you're a veteran or active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you may want to give KU extra consideration. The Lawrence campus maintains a special resource center for military-affiliated students, and Military Times listed the school among its top 10 "Best for Vets" colleges in 2017.
Founded as Fairmount University by a Congregational Church reverend at the end of the 19th century, Wichita State University became a public institution in 1926. The student body in its first year as a state school had just 569 members, but it's grown into a formidable institution that educates more than 14,000 students annually.
More than 160 undergraduate degree plans are offered at the Wichita campus, with an additional dozen or so online degree programs available. Graduate students have more than 80 programs to choose from, including six online degrees.
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas -- it's home to nearly 700,000 residents -- but it avoids some of the big downsides of other large metro areas. The cost of living is affordable, for example, and traffic congestion is lower than other cities its size.
This medium-small school in the southeastern part of the state maintains four academic colleges and an honors college for undergraduates. The selection of bachelor's degree programs at Pittsburg State University numbers more than 150, including a range of 2+2 transfer agreements for students at Kansas community colleges.
The affordability of tuition at their institution is touted by Pitt State admins, and the numbers seem to back up their claims. Average annual tuition across all four-year colleges nationwide was $22,355 in 2017-18, according to The College Board, with public schools averaging $9,970 -- in-state students at Pitt State paid a yearly average of $7,100.
Pitt State may also be one of the top colleges and universities in Kansas for online graduate programs. Roughly 30 advanced degrees can be completed with a schedule of exclusively online courses.
This public university in the capital city of Topeka has been educating Kansas residents since 1865. Today, it offers academic study plans at all levels, from associate degrees on up to Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) and Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs.
In fact, the J.D. program isn't the only notable feature of the law school at Washburn University. Thanks in part to the expanded opportunities available through its Center for Law and Government, the university took home the No. 2 spot on preLaw magazine's list of top schools for governmental law.
Washburn is also one of few institutions west of the Mississippi to provide resident tuition discounts to students from other states. The institution's affordable in-state tuition rates are available to residents of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as qualifying active-duty military and veterans.
MidAmerica Nazarene University was founded only about 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean it takes its educational mission any less seriously than its elder counterparts. It features state of the art campus facilities, for example, including a virtual patient center and simulation nursing studio for health care students.
Students who enjoy an intimate learning environment may find a lot to like at this private, evangelical Christian institution. The average undergraduate class size is just 16 students, so you're unlikely to feel like an anonymous face in a crowded classroom.
MNU has a campus in Olathe, a city of around 135,000 people on the outskirts of Kansas City, but the institution also deserves a mention among the state's online colleges. Degrees and certificates in business administration, education, health care and other professional disciplines can be earned fully online.
As the first four-year university founded in Kansas, this small, private institution in Baldwin City has certain historical distinctions that few if any other schools can claim. Perhaps most notably, Baker University counts Abraham Lincoln among its patrons -- the then-president donated to the construction of Parmenter Hall, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Around 2,700 students attend classes at Baker, where more than 40 undergraduate areas of study and 25 graduate programs are offered through its four academic colleges and schools. Campus attractions include the Ivan L. Boyd Arboretum, where students can walk, study and relax under 100+ different species of trees.
The numbers also suggest that aspiring physicians may want to give Baker a second look. The pre-med program here has a 90 percent acceptance rate to medical school, more than double the national average.
Few traditional institutions have as deep a commitment to distance education as Fort Hays State University. Enrollment here is higher in online programs than those offered on campus -- nearly 6,900 of the roughly 15,000 students enrolled at FHSU are counted on the online rolls, compared to around 4,700 on the brick-and-mortar campus.
The array of online courses available at FHSU is vast and diverse, adding to its credentials as one of the best online schools in Kansas. The institution provides more than 70 accredited programs for online learners at all levels, including terminal degrees in education and a D.N.P. program.
The list of online bachelor's degrees at Fort Hays State includes finance, philosophy, agricultural business and computer science. Hundreds of campus-based programs are available as well, including pre-professional programs in law, medicine, public administration, physical therapy and more.
Founded as a teachers' college in 1863, Emporia State University offers an affordable education in more than 120 undergraduate majors, minors and concentrations. Kansas resident tuition at this small public university was less than $3,400 in 2017, which amounts to a savings of nearly $6,600 off the national average calculated across all public colleges.
Residents of select nearby counties in other states may also be able to take advantage of ESU's low average cost. Three initiatives -- Corky Plus, Neighbors in Education and Recruitment and Retention (NEARR) and the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) -- ensure that discounted tuition rates are more widely available.
On top of the manageable enrollment costs at ESU, financial aid programs are far from scarce. In 2015-16, more than 2,200 scholarships totaling nearly $6 million were awarded to ESU's 3,340 full-time students.
Founded in 1885 by the Southwest Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Southwestern College became an accredited institution in 1917 and now offers more than 40 undergraduate academic programs and 15 professional studies majors. It's one of the smallest Kansas colleges, reporting a total headcount enrollment of approximately 1,300 in 2017-18.
The relatively low enrollment at Southwestern means that students and professors are likely to have time to work one-on-one or in other personalized settings. The 11:1 student-faculty ratio here is more than 30 percent better than the national average.
The city of Winfield, where Southwestern is located, can be a great place to study if you enjoy the slower pace of life afforded by small town living. Fewer than 13,000 residents call Winfield home, and the city calendar features recreations like outdoor markets and livestock shows.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Kansas
Whether you're still looking for inspiration in the search for your major or you just want to know what your fellow students are likely to be studying, a list of the state's most popular degree programs can help. Take a look at the top college majors in Kansas by enrollment.
In-Demand Careers in Kansas
Students who have a good idea of what to expect from the job market once they graduate tend to have a better chance of aligning their degree plan with high-demand occupations. Here's a quick list of the hottest careers in Kansas.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||34.8%||130||$104,110|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||32%||25,110||$22,950|
|Information Security Analysts||30%||840||$87,290|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||28.7%||9,000||$91,990|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||25.9%||1,020||$34,200|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||25.4%||950||$28,420|
|Operations Research Analysts||24.4%||810||$85,920|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||23.7%||130||$59,640|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||22.7%||6,470||$66,450|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||22.6%||300||$93,790|
|Personal Financial Advisors||22.3%||2,060||$102,660|
|Soil and Plant Scientists||21.5%||400||$60,820|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||21.3%||480||$68,090|
|Aircraft Service Attendants and Transportation Workers, All Other||19.9%||280||$30,840|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||19.9%||2,470||$44,460|
|Environmental Engineering Technologists and Technicians||19.4%||100||$51,600|
|Cargo and Freight Agents||18.2%||610||$42,900|
|Training and Development Specialists||17.7%||3,760||$60,790|
|Service Unit Operators, Oil and Gas||17.4%||510||$40,590|
|Office and Administrative Support Workers, All Other||17.2%||890||$44,490|
|Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas||17.2%||200||$45,470|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Kansas
Certain state-based student aid programs can help Kansas students lower their college expenses. For example, The Kansas State Scholarship offers up to $1,000 annually for Kansas high school seniors who have been designated as Kansas State Scholars by the Kansas Board of Regents. Also, The Kansas Comprehensive Grant awards eligible full-time public and private university students between $100-$1,500 and $200-$3,500 respectively, based on financial need.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain academic good standing" and demonstrate financial need to retain grant."
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Minimum 3.0 GPA, demonstrated financial need, and reapplication are required to retain scholarship.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Minimum 2.0 GPA, demonstrated financial need, and reapplication are required to retain scholarship.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable up to four years.
- The Kansas Board of Regents
- LearningQuest 529 Education Savings Program
- Credit for Prior Learning Guidelines
- Kansas Community College Transfer and Articulation
- Kansas Association of Community College Trustees
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/
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- Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical Thinking Skills, The Wall Street Journal, Douglas Belkin, June 5, 2017, accessed April 25, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/exclusive-test-data-many-colleges-fail-to-improve-critical-thinking-skills-1496686662
- Our Members, Association of American Universities, accessed April 25, 2018, https://www.aau.edu/who-we-are/our-members
- Best for Vets: Colleges 2017, Military Times, accessed April 25, 2018, https://bestforvets.militarytimes.com/2017-11-01/colleges/4-year/
- Tuition and Fees and Room and Board over Time, Trends in Higher Education, The College Board, accessed April 25, 2018, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-room-and-board-over-time
- Best Schools for Public Service, preLaw, Winter 2016, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/cypress/prelaw_2016winter/index.php#/26
- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed April 24, 2018: Olathe, Kansas, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/olathecitykansas/PST045216; Winfield, Kansas, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/winfieldcitykansas/PST045216;
- Museums and Historic Sites of Douglas County, Kansas, Legends of Kansas, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.legendsofkansas.com/douglascountymuseums.html
- Calendar, City of Winfield, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.winfieldks.org/Calendar.aspx
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- 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/
- The Kansas Board of Regents, accessed May 18, 2017: Scholarships and Grants, http://www.kansasregents.org/students/student_financial_aid/scholarships_and_grants; Transfer & Articulation, http://kansasregents.org/transfer_articulation;