- 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/
- School pages, accessed April 26-27, 2017: About the UW, University of Wisconsin-Madison, http://www.wisc.edu/about/; Future Students, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, https://www.uwlax.edu/future-students/; Online and Distance Education Programs and Degrees, University of Wisconsin-Stout, http://www.uwstout.edu/de/deo.cfm#iTab_1; UW-Stevens Point Online Offerings, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, http://www.uwsp.edu/online/Pages/default.aspx; Department of Music, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, http://www.uwsp.edu/music/Pages/default.aspx; UWSP at a Glance, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, http://www.uwsp.edu/admissions/Pages/WhyUWSP/default.aspx; About UWP, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, https://www.uwp.edu/explore/aboutuwp/index.cfm; Online Degree Programs, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, http://www.uwosh.edu/academics/online-degree-programs.html; Points of Pride, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, http://www.uwosh.edu/about-uw-oshkosh/points-of-pride.html; Academics Hub, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, http://www.uwplatt.edu/academics;
- What is the UW System, University of Wisconsin System, accessed April 26, 2017, https://www.wisconsin.edu/about-the-uw-system/
- University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report, accessed April 27, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/uw-platteville-3921
- Financial Aid Programs, State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board, accessed April 27, 2017, http://heab.state.wi.us/programs.html
- Talent Incentive Program Grants (TIP), Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, accessed April 27, 2017, https://dpi.wi.gov/weop/tip-grant
- 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.
Wisconsin has some elite public universities within its border and it turns out that they are all members of the University of Wisconsin System, which encompasses 26 schools overall, including 13 four-year universities. If you're a student in the Badger State who's looking to transfer from a Wisconsin community college or another four-year school, in Wisconsin or elsewhere, the UW System's Transfer Information System (TIS) and the collaborative Transfer Wisconsin program can help you find a way to make your transfer as easy as possible.
It may not be easy for prospective students to tell at a glance the difference between the Wisconsin schools, other than their location. So how might you decide which one might be your best option? We wanted to take a closer look at all of the schools in Wisconsin to find out which ones were the best traditional and online colleges, so we did it the most scientific way we know how — with math.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Wisconsin
We collected statistical info on dozens of Wisconsin schools and analyzed it using a 13-point methodology devised by our data team. We looked at things like affordability, flexibility, academic variety and availability of distance education to students who need it. There's a full rundown at the end of this page that shows the metrics we used and how they were weighted. Check out the ten best traditional and online colleges in Wisconsin:
Affordability was a prime factor in landing the No. 1 spot for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The school's average net price, a measure of college cost determined by subtracting a student's expected amount of grant and scholarship aid from the aggregate expense of tuition, fees, room and board and other related costs, placed UW-Green Bay in the top three among our top ten schools for both low- and middle-income students.
The Green Bay campus also took the No. 1 spot among schools on our list for the manageable amount of debt that students carried on average after graduation. On top of its comparatively low cost of attendance, UWGB was one of the best online colleges in Wisconsin by enrollment. Only one other school on our list showed a higher percentage of students taking at least some courses online.
Founded in 1848, the largest campus in the University of Wisconsin system has developed into a world-class research institution that offers one of the nation's largest selections of academic programs. Not only were the 399 degree programs available at UW-Madison enough to land it the No. 1 spot in the state, but only eight other schools out of the 1,647 we surveyed nationwide had a larger catalog than the Madison school.
The numbers also show that UW-Madison invests its energy in helping students stick with their degree plans to the end. It ranked No. 3 in the state for its rate of retention of first-year students, and its graduation rate came in at No. 1 statewide and in the top 100 nationally.
Students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse paid the lowest average cost in the state for books and supplies in 2015-16, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data. It can also claim the state's No. 5 rank for the affordability of its average net price for low-income students; just three other schools on our list saw their students graduate with a lighter burden of loan debt.
UWL also took the top spot among our top 10 Wisconsin schools for the ability of its alumni to pay off their college loans shortly after graduation. College Scorecard reports that nearly 90 percent of UWL graduates managed to repay their loan balances within three years of completing their degree plans.
If you're looking for an online bachelor's degree program in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Stout should be on your radar. The list of 25 degree programs offered entirely in the virtual classroom by the Menomonie institution, including no fewer than 13 for undergraduates, constituted the largest online catalog available at any of the schools in our top ten.
Online enrollment was also high at UW-Stout, where the nearly 45 percent of students taking at least some distance education courses made up the second-largest proportion of online learners in the state. It also provided on-campus students with considerable academic variety, coming in at No. 3 among schools on our list for the size of its overall catalog of its courses of study.
Tuition and fees costs at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater ranked No. 4 in the state for affordability, and that wasn't the only financial category in which this southeastern Wisconsin school stood out. It also posted the fifth- and eighth-lowest average net prices in the state for middle-income and low-income students, respectively.
Another factor in UW-Whitewater's favor is its noteworthy ability to accommodate non-traditional campus-based students, taking the top spot on our list for the programs it has in place. It was the only school in our top ten to offer entire degree programs that can be completed using only night and weekend classes, and it provides remedial services and exams that allow students to earn course credit for applicable life experience.
The average net price for middle-income students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point ranked it No. 3 in the state, and the figure for students of low-income backgrounds wasn't far behind at No. 7. Students seeking an online bachelor's degree program in Wisconsin can choose among business, liberal arts and health care specialties from the state's No. 7 portfolio of distance education study plans at UWSP.
There's also some under-the-radar upside for singers, musicians, music educators and other prospective seekers of music degrees at the central Wisconsin school. The student-faculty ratio in UWSP's Department of Music is just 10:1, according to the departmental website, and the campus features more than 20 music performance ensembles for students to join or enjoy.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire features the No. 3-ranked freshman retention rate among our top ten schools, and its graduation rate placed at No. 7 among all schools statewide. Students also paid comparatively little for books and supplies in 2015-16, according to NCES data, which put UW-Eau Claire in a tie for No. 3 on that metric.
Considerable academic variety is also on display at UW-Eau Claire, where students are free to choose their course of study from the fifth-largest catalog among the top ten schools in the state. As a bonus, UW-Eau Claire was the only University of Wisconsin System school other than the Madison flagship to offer all ten of the most popular degrees in Wisconsin during the 2015-16 academic year.
The NCES counted just 39 academic programs available at our No. 8 school in 2015-16 — the smallest catalog of any institution in our top ten — but students who find their degree plans at this small school in the lakefront city of Kenosha are in for a low-cost path to graduation. The raw cost of tuition and fees at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside was the most affordable in the state, and the average net price for students at all income levels ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin and placed among the top 100 of all 1,600+ U.S. schools that we analyzed.
The median college debt of alumni at Parkside was manageable, too. Only three other schools in the state reported lower debt burdens for graduates. Distance education enrollment and first-year student retention rate both landed at No. 5 among schools on our list.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh features the second-lowest average tuition and fees cost in Wisconsin. And its average net price for both low- and middle-income students places it in the top ten statewide. The selection of degree programs available on campus and online were both fairly robust in 2015-16, placing at No. 8 for online bachelor's degree options in Wisconsin and taking the No. 7 spot for traditional, campus-based plans.
Students of international studies and political science may also have an extra pull factor at UW Oshkosh. The Model United Nations Program at the Winnebago County school is heralded as the most successful of its kind in the world, having earned 25 consecutive Outstanding Delegation awards at international competitions.
If you're concerned about carrying your student debt for decades after graduation, our No. 10 school might be a good choice. It placed in the statewide top ten for the manageability of its average debt load, and nearly 90 percent of alumni reported being able to pay off their loans within three years of finishing their degree programs.
Wisconsin students hoping to move into STEM jobs after graduating might be wise to take a second look at UW-Platteville. The school's College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science (EMS) was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as offering undergraduate engineering programs that ranked in the national top 40 among institutions where the terminal engineering degree is a master's.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Wisconsin
Whether you're hoping to run with the pack or find that elusive high-value degree off the beaten path, it can help to know which subjects of study typically see the highest enrollment. Here's a list of the most popular campus-based and online degrees in Wisconsin, according to recent numbers.
In-Demand Careers in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin job market can sometimes be unpredictable, but employment growth estimates offer some insight into which career sectors may be most in need of fresh college graduates when your time comes to leave school. Take a look at this quick survey of Wisconsin's hottest careers.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Operations Research Analysts||33%||1,440||$68,760|
|Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers||31.5%||130||$46,470|
|Personal Care Aides||28.7%||59,690||$22,400|
|Rock Splitters, Quarry||28.2%||80||$35,750|
|Home Health Aides||28%||4,940||$26,120|
|Computer Systems Analysts||27.7%||12,800||$77,090|
|Personal Financial Advisors||26.3%||4,370||$108,680|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||25.5%||240||$63,520|
|Industrial Machinery Mechanics||23.7%||9,830||$50,700|
|Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs||23.2%||5,450||$23,670|
|Forensic Science Technicians||22.8%||170||$53,040|
|Interpreters and Translators||22.3%||1,020||$48,940|
|Insulation Workers, Mechanical||22.3%||390||$63,070|
|Biochemists and Biophysicists||22.2%||440||$67,960|
|Septic Tank Servicers and Sewer Pipe Cleaners||21.8%||590||$37,090|
|Continuous Mining Machine Operators||21.8%||70||$38,710|
|Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic||21.7%||1,440||$51,640|
|Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic||21.3%||10,560||$42,170|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||20.6%||210||$49,160|
|Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers||19.8%||-||$72,440|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||19.7%||200||$38,270|
|Real Estate Brokers||19.5%||240||$92,190|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||19%||11,210||$57,420|
|Software Developers, Applications||18.8%||15,850||$83,040|
|Farm and Home Management Advisors||18.8%||60||$51,050|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Wisconsin
Financial aid can go a long way toward easing the cost burden of college. Here are a few aid programs for Wisconsin residents only:
- The Wisconsin Grant Program provides need-based awards of up to $3,000 annually for students in qualifying degree programs.
- Talent Incentive Program (TIP) grants offer additional funding assistance to nontraditional or disadvantaged students of public or private Wisconsin institutions.
- Aspiring nurses and classroom teachers may take advantage of several state-based loan programs, including the Nursing Student Loan Program and the Teacher Education Loan Program.
April 15 (fall); October 1 (spring); May 1 (summer)
Reapplication required for renewal. Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 2.0 GPA (undergraduate) or minimum 3.0 GPA (graduate) and submits FAFSA.
November 15 (Early Action admissions deadline)
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.25 GPA and full-time status.
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.6 GPA.
- University of Wisconsin System
- Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
- Transfer Wisconsin
- State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB)
- EdVest: Wisconsin's College Savings Plan
- Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation
- State of Wisconsin Educational Approval Board