Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S., but the educational opportunities are many and diverse. From the hallowed halls of the Ivy League to regional public institutions, the colleges and universities in the Ocean State offer something for just about everyone.
We wanted to help students sort out which schools were the best traditional and online colleges in Rhode Island, so we gathered data on each institution and did a detailed analysis. We also provided some information on job market projections for regional graduates, financial aid options exclusive to Rhode Island residents and the most popular degree programs for in-state students.
If you attend the Community College of Rhode Island, you may be able to neatly transfer your associate degree credits into a bachelor's program at one of the state's four-year schools. We've included a link to CCRI's transfer agreements at the bottom of the page, and you can check with your advisor for more details.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Rhode Island
Though the smallest state by land mass, this state offers diverse education options. Rhode Island colleges include public schools, private institutions and even an Ivy League university. To rank the best schools in Rhode Island, we analyzed them for 12 factors including tuition, online courses and graduation rates. When you're done here, be sure to read about the best Rhode Island community colleges, too.
Roger Williams University is not only one of the best universities in Rhode Island but also one of the state's top online colleges. It offers more than a dozen online degree programs as well as hybrid options that combine traditional class instruction with online courses.
Named after the 17th Century leader Roger Williams, the school continues to embrace his legacy of promoting freedom of conscience and social justice. RWU opened its doors in 1956 as a junior college but now offers undergraduate, graduate and law degrees.
Affordability is one reason Roger Williams University makes the list of top universities in Rhode Island. Since 2012, it has offered a tuition guarantee to its incoming undergraduates and that was expanded to the RWU School of Law in 2014.
Among Rhode Island universities, the University of Rhode Island is among the biggest and the best. However, its size is still relatively small compared to major universities in other states. Approximately 14,700 students are enrolled in the undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs at URI.
The university was founded in 1888 as Rhode Island's agricultural school and has since grown into the state's flagship research institution. The University of Rhode Island offers dozens of majors across 10 colleges and schools including a College of Business and a Graduate School of Oceanography.
URI is notable among Rhode Island schools for its affordable tuition, large degree catalog and access to online classes. The institution offers numerous internship, experiential learning and study abroad opportunities. It has its campus in Kingston.
Providence College is another of the best colleges in Rhode Island. The accredited institution features a low student-faculty ratio, small class sizes and amble opportunities to participate in research projects. It also has strong graduation and placement rates.
As a Catholic institution, Providence College was founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph. The school maintains its Catholic and Dominican identity today but welcomes students of any faith background.
The college includes four schools, and all undergraduate students participate in a core curriculum designed to promote self-reflection, critical thinking and effective communication. Nearly 5,000 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs at Providence College. The school has its campus in Providence.
The Providence campus of Johnson & Wales University is part of a national system that includes four traditional locations in addition to an online college. The university strives to provide an industry-focused education that offers plenty of opportunity for hands-on learning.
JWU Providence was founded in 1914 and says it has been a driving force in recent decades to create jobs and spur business in the city and state. The university has nine academic units that offer degree programs ranging from interdisciplinary majors to culinary arts to physician assistant studies.
Johnson & Wales University - Providence ranks high for affordability and flexibility. Its average net price and robust online programs helped it land among the top colleges in Rhode Island.
Known as an Ivy League institution, Brown University makes the list of best schools in Rhode Island. The university has strong graduation and retention rates as well as generous financial aid. What's more, Brown has an impressive catalog of degree programs with hundreds of educational options.
The Providence-based school was founded by a group of Baptist leaders in 1764. Today, Brown University has a mission of serving the community, nation and world by discovering and preserving knowledge.
Brown University is highly selective, admitting only a small portion of its applicants. Those enrolled get access to a unique educational experience in which undergraduates design personalized programs of study that can span multiple fields. The Graduate School offers dozens of doctoral and master's degrees in engineering, public health, medicine and more.
At Bryant University, the school hopes to inspire students to excel. As one of the top universities in Rhode Island, Bryant can boast of some impressive numbers too.
For instance, 99 percent of its Class of 2017 were employed or in graduate school within six months of receiving their degree. What's more, students tend to graduate with manageable student debt that they are able to pay off quickly. Bryant University also has strong graduation and retention rates.
Founded in 1863, Bryant University was originally created to provide business education. It has since evolved to take an integrated approach to the field and allows students to pair a business major with a liberal arts minor. The university has its campus in Smithfield.
As an accredited school, Rhode Island College enrolls about 9,000 students each year. Often called RIC, the college is known as one of the most affordable Rhode Island schools.
Rhode Island College was founded in 1854 as the state's first public institution of higher education. It has grown to offer more than 120 undergraduate and graduate programs that cover fields such as nursing, business, education, social work and the fine arts. There is also an option for students to create an individualized major.
Small class sizes and a low student-faculty ratio are also among the factors that help make RIC one of the top colleges in Rhode Island. The school has a well-established internship program and gives undergraduates the opportunity to participate in research.
Rhode Island School of Design has the distinction of being one of the first art and design schools in the nation. It was founded in 1877 and is a private, nonprofit institution.
Nearly 2,500 students from around the globe study at the school, known as RISD. They can select from bachelor's and master's degrees in field such as art education, design, architecture and the fine arts. As a selective school, only about a third of those who apply to the Rhode Island School of Design are admitted.
RISD says 95 percent of its incoming students return the next year. That type of retention rate, along with a similarly strong graduation rate, help make RISD one of the best schools in Rhode Island.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Rhode Island
Whether you're hoping to pick a major that's common among students in your state or stay away from the most crowded parts of the academic landscape, it can help to know which study plans are the most popular. Here's a list of the top degree programs by enrollment in Rhode Island.
In-Demand Careers in Rhode Island
Certain career fields are expected to see significantly more growth than others in the coming years, according to employment projections by state and national statistical agencies. Check out this rundown of top careers in the state and see if one matches up with the degree you're planning to pursue.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Marine Engineers and Naval Architects||48.1%||-||-|
|Extruding, Forming, Pressing, and Compacting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders||37.7%||70||$34,430|
|Fiberglass Laminators and Fabricators||35.4%||230||$37,610|
|Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers||31.8%||1,410||$51,000|
|Software Developers, Applications||28.4%||1,840||$96,850|
|Painters, Transportation Equipment||28.1%||440||$48,490|
|Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic||23.5%||50||$54,190|
|Sheet Metal Workers||22.9%||640||$57,580|
|Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||21.8%||1,260||-|
|Personal Care Aides||21.2%||5,860||$27,190|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||20.5%||2,060||$72,180|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||20.5%||40||$24,850|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||20.2%||350||-|
|Home Health Aides||20.2%||1,160||$32,440|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||20.1%||520||$35,670|
|Helpers--Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||19.4%||170||$34,050|
|Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers||18.4%||340||$60,040|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||18.1%||270||$78,450|
|Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food||18%||9,970||$24,830|
|Production Workers, All Other||17.9%||110||$36,540|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Rhode Island
Rhode Island residents can take advantage of several exclusive state-funded aid programs, such as the RI Promise program, which pays tuition and fees for four semesters of full-time study for high school graduates at participating state institutions, regardless of family income. The State Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) pays up to five courses worth of tuition per semester for members of the Rhode Island National Guard enrolled at three RI state institutions. And the Paul Sherlock Scholarship awards aid to qualifying Rhode Island residents whose expected family contribution (EFC) is calculated to be below $12,800.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain satisfactory academic progress, financial need, and residency to retain scholarship.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must attend school on a full-time basis and meet GPA requirements for renewal.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner
- Prepare Rhode Island Dual Enrollment Fund
- Graduate! Rhode Island
- Rhode Island Student Loan Authority
- Community College of Rhode Island Transfer Agreements
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/
- RI Promise, Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, accessed May 13, 2017, https://www.riopc.edu/page/ri_promise/
- Army National Guard Benefits, Rhode Island Army National Guard, accessed May 13, 2017, http://www.riarmynationalguard.com/free-college/
- Paul Sherlock Scholarship, Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, accessed May 13, 2017, https://www.risla.com/paul-sherlock-scholarship
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
- Who We Are, Roger Williams University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.rwu.edu/who-we-are
- Roger Williams University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.rwu.edu/
- About the University, University of Rhode Island, Accessed May 2018, https://web.uri.edu/about/
- Fast Facts & Statistics, Providence University, Accessed May 2018, https://about.providence.edu/fast-facts/
- History, Providence University, Accessed May 2018, https://about.providence.edu/mission/history/
- Colleges Providence, Johnson & Wales University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.jwu.edu/campuses/providence/colleges/index.html
- About JWU Providence, Johnson & Wales University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.jwu.edu/campuses/providence/about-jwu-providence/index.html
- Brown gives students the freedom to direct their education, Brown University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.brown.edu/academics
- Welcome to Brown, Brown University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.brown.edu/about
- Bryant University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.bryant.edu/
- At a Glance, Bryant University, Accessed May 2018, https://www.bryant.edu/about/at-a-glance/
- RIC Facts, Rhode Island College, Accessed May 2018, http://www.ric.edu/admissions/Pages/RIC-Facts.aspx
- About RISD, Rhode Island School of Design, Accessed May 2018, https://www.risd.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/