- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 2, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed March 2, 2016, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 30, 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=PA&ic=1
- School pages, accessed March 30, 2017: About Us, California University of Pennsylvania, http://www.calu.edu/about-us/index.htm; Net Price Calculator, Bergen Community College, http://bergen.edu/Portals/0/calculator/npcalc.htm; Academics, Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, http://fayette.psu.edu/academics; Bradford and Beyond, University of Pittsburgh - Bradford, http://www.upb.pitt.edu/bradfordandbeyond/; Fast Facts, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, http://www.bloomu.edu/fast-facts; About Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock University, http://www.sru.edu/about; Online Degree Completion - Undergraduate Programs, Slippery Rock University, http://www.sru.edu/academics/online-learning/online-undergraduate-programs; This is Penn State, Penn State Abington, http://abington.psu.edu/this-is-penn-state; About Penn State Abington, Penn State Abington, http://abington.psu.edu/about-penn-state-abington; Penn State Online, Bachelor's Degree, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/directory/undergraduate/bachelor; IUP at a Glance, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, http://www.iup.edu/about/iup/;
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The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education encompasses just 14 universities across the Keystone State, but the full roster of college and university options is much broader than that. In fact, only three states in the U.S. are home to more four-year colleges than Pennsylvania, according to 2017 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
With so many schools to choose from, knowing how they stack up against each other on key metrics can be a great help when it comes to deciding where to get your degree. We did a far-reaching study of data from the NCES and other statistical sources to help determine which institutions could be called the best traditional and online colleges in Pennsylvania. We've included our full methodology at the end of the article to show you just how we chose the winners.
Are you more likely to find a certain degree at a large central campus or a regional satellite location? Which schools work with the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) to streamline university admissions for graduates of Pennsylvania community colleges? We'll give you information on these points and more, including affordability, flexibility and student success data from our ten best schools in the state.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Pennsylvania
Here's our list of the best traditional and online colleges in Pennsylvania, along with some details about why they ranked the way they did.
Educational access through distance education was a big part of the reason that California University of Pennsylvania took the No. 1 spot overall. This southwestern Pennsylvania school had the No. 1 percentage of online students among our top 10, with nearly 64 percent of the student body taking at least some of its coursework in the virtual classroom. It also posted the No. 1 ratio of online degrees to campus-based study plans of any school on our list.
Students at Cal U tend to graduate without breaking the bank, as well. The institution's average tuition and fees in 2015-16 tied for third-most affordable among our top Pennsylvania schools, and no other school on our list reported a lower median debt load for its graduates. Cal U is a State System school and a participating member of PA TRAC.
With more than 38,000 students counted on the rolls, our No. 2 school had the second-largest student body in the state in 2015. Its variety of degree plan offerings was similarly vast — 379 programs in total, according to NCES data. Only one other school in the state has a larger degree catalog than Temple University. The graduation rate at Temple was also high, good for No. 3 among all schools on our list.
The 10 most popular degree plans in Pennsylvania, from psychology to business administration to English literature, were all available at Temple in 2017. The Philadelphia school also features eight out of ten of our flexibility metrics for on-campus students, and those seeking an online bachelor's degree in Pennsylvania shouldn't skip Temple in their consideration. U.S. News & World Report ranked the online bachelor's programs here at No. 2 in the nation for 2017.
One of the largest schools on our list is followed at No. 3 by the decidedly smallest. Typical enrollment at the Lemont Furnace school is about 700 students, which might make it a great choice for students hoping to avoid the more intense experiences of a major university while still having access to the resources of the Penn State system.
Affordability was a primary driver of this tiny school's placement in our top three. Penn State Fayette's average net price, a measure of college cost that subtracts average grant and scholarship aid from estimated tuition, fees, supplies, housing and other expenses, ranked No. 2 on our list and seventh out of all 125 Pennsylvania schools we studied. It was also one of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania, reporting at least some distance education enrollment by more than 60 percent of students.
This satellite campus of the University of Pittsburgh was home to the lowest cost of books and supplies of any school on our list in 2015-16. Graduates have also been able to recoup their student loan investments fairly quickly after completing their degrees. More than 85 percent of Pitt-Bradford alumni managed to pay off their college debts within three years, according to a report by College Scorecard.
Students at this northwestern Pennsylvania school have access to plenty of outdoor recreation in the area around the town of Bradford. Try hiking, camping or fishing a few minutes south of campus in Allegheny National Forest; canoeing, trail cycling and swimming just across the state line in New York's Allegany State Park; or skiing and snowboarding at Holiday Valley Ski Resort about a 45 minute drive to the north.
The lowest raw cost of tuition and fees in the state can be found at our No. 5 school, which also reported a lower median student debt figure for its graduates than all other schools on our list but three. The average net price reported here was also on the affordable side, ranking No. 4 among our best traditional and online colleges in Pennsylvania.
Bloomsburg University is the third-largest school in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and participates in PA TRAC transfer agreements with many of the state's two-year schools. The PA TRAC website states that more than 38,500 courses from regional community colleges may transfer into Bloomsburg, but it's always important to check with a program administrator to ensure that your specific credits will transfer.
Another low-cost option for Pennsylvania students, Slippery Rock University ranked No. 2 on our list for affordability of tuition and fees and No. 3 on the average net price metric. Graduates of SRU left school with the second-lowest median debt load, and more than 83 percent paid off their loan balance within three years of completing their degree.
Students looking for an online bachelor's degree in Pennsylvania can find five distinct degree completion programs at SRU. Qualifying students who have already completed some college coursework or hold an associate degree can sign up for a bachelor's in management, nursing, leadership studies, interdisciplinary programs or philanthropy and nonprofit management. SRU is also a State System school and offers the perks of PA TRAC participation for community college graduates.
The No. 2 average net price in all of Pennsylvania can be found at this suburban satellite campus just north of Philadelphia. Penn State Abington, formerly known as the Ogontz campus, has the third-smallest student body among our top ten schools. Although just 18 undergraduate majors can be taken to completion at the Abington location, more than 160 may be initialized here and completed at other locations in the Penn State system.
Flexibility is an important part of the mission at Penn State Abington. Credit for life experience, advanced placement (AP) credits, remedial services, career counseling and tuition payment plans are all available to students, among other assistance measures. It also ranked No. 5 among schools on our list for its percentage of students enrolled in some form of distance education.
Two of the most common measures of student success — graduation rate and year-over-year student retention rate — stood out for the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Just three percent of all 1,649 schools we surveyed nationwide had a higher percentage of students who chose to re-enroll after completing a lower-division year, and its graduation rate was No. 2 among schools on our list.
As the third-largest campus on our list, it's fitting that it took the No. 3 spot for the size of its degree catalog. Students at Pitt also received the most institutional grant aid relative to their tuition and fees expense of any school that made our top ten. Pitt also posted the second-lowest cost of books and supplies among our best traditional and online schools in Pennsylvania.
The largest school in the state comes in at No. 9, boasting the state's widest assortment of degree programs and the No. 1 graduation rate of any school on our list. Penn State also offers far and away the most online degree programs of any school in our top 10. Students seeking an online bachelor's degree in Pennsylvania have no fewer than 32 study plans available through Penn State World Campus.
Not only are Penn State's online programs numerous, they've earned national recognition for their quality of student services and faculty credentials. U.S. News & World Report ranked the online bachelor's programs at Penn State's University Park campus in a tie for No. 8 nationwide on their 2017 list of top distance education universities.
Founded in 1875, Indiana University of Pennsylvania placed in a tie for the third-lowest raw cost of tuition and fees among our top ten schools. Its average net price was in the top five among schools on our list, and only three other schools in our top ten offered a wider variety of on-campus programs.
The large array of degree plans available at this western Pennsylvania school provides a broadly inclusive PA TRAC agreement with the state's two-year colleges. No other State System school on our list permits as many different transfer courses as the more than 88,500 commonly accepted at IUP. Campus-based flexibility measures like weekend/evening degree programs and placement services for graduates are also available.
Most popular degree programs in Pennsylvania
The list of a state's most popular degree programs can help prospective students understand the academic priorities of their college cohort, as well as get a picture of which degrees are likely to be most commonly represented on the state's career market. Here's a snapshot of the most popular undergraduate degrees in Pennsylvania.
In-Demand Careers in Pennsylvania
The landscape of state and national job markets tends to shift year after year, and knowing which industries are most in need of qualified applicants can help you tailor your education to suit regional employment demand. Check out this list of Pennsylvania's top careers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Interpreters and Translators||34.5%||1,000||$55,290|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||33.2%||2,350||$48,940|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||29.1%||4,510||$50,850|
|Physical Therapist Aides||27.8%||2,210||$27,720|
|Operations Research Analysts||27.5%||2,500||$78,430|
|Personal Financial Advisors||27.1%||8,350||$119,140|
|Home Health Aides||26.4%||42,890||$23,340|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||24.9%||810||$34,860|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||22.8%||210||$58,170|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||22.5%||600||$28,480|
|Industrial Machinery Mechanics||21.8%||14,860||$49,690|
|Insulation Workers, Mechanical||21.7%||370||$61,040|
|Personal Care Aides||21.1%||92,040||$22,810|
|Computer Systems Analysts||20.8%||21,630||$89,100|
|Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic||20.8%||1,150||$49,630|
|Therapists, All Other||20.6%||250||$59,850|
|Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers||20.6%||320||$57,420|
|Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers||20.6%||4,480||$74,390|
|Forensic Science Technicians||20.5%||250||$50,520|
|Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic||20.5%||11,030||$37,640|
|Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians||20.3%||2,850||$53,070|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Pennsylvania
Most college students know about federal opportunities for student financial aid, but there are some state-based programs in Pennsylvania that can be good to have on your radar:
- The Pennsylvania State Grant Program awards student aid to Pennsylvania residents based on financial need.
- The Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) provides need-based awards to students seeking degrees relevant to the manufacturing, agriculture and energy industries.
- The Pennsylvania Educational Gratuity Program provides tuition waivers and room and board assistance to children of Pennsylvania military and paramilitary personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.
November 15 (Early Action admissions deadline)
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.25 GPA and full-time status.
$5,000 recipient may re-apply; $20,000 recipient may only apply once.
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.6 GPA.
- Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education
- Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
- Pennsylvania Student Aid Guide
- Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center
- Pennsylvania Recreation Guide
- Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges