MISSION, Kan. — When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Texas colleges to disavow critical race theory, the University of Texas faculty approved a resolution defending their freedom to decide for themselves how to teach about race.
Patrick said he took it as a message to “go to hell.”
In turn, Patrick, a Republican, said it was time to consider holding the faculty accountable, by targeting one of the top perks of their jobs.
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press
Max McCoy, the lone journalism professor at Emporia State University, poses for a photo on Jan. 4 in front of the school's administration building in Emporia, Kan. McCoy was was one of 33 mostly tenured professors fired at the school.
“Maybe we need to look at tenure,” Patrick said at a news conference in November.
It’s a sentiment being echoed by conservative officials in red states across the country. The indefinite academic appointments that come with tenure — the holy grail of university employment — have faced review from lawmakers or state oversight boards in at least half a dozen states, often presented as bids to rein in academics with liberal views.
Tenure advocates are bracing for the possibility of new threats as lawmakers return to statehouses around the country.
The trend reflects how conservative scrutiny of instruction related to race, gender and sexuality has extended from schools to higher education. But budget considerations also play a role. Tenured faculty numbers have been declining even in more liberal states. Universities are hiring more part-time, adjunct instructors amid declines in financial support from state governments.
Traditionally, tenured professors can be terminated only under extreme circumstances, such as professional misconduct or a financial emergency. Advocates for tenure say it is a crucial component of academic freedom — especially as controversy grows over scholarly discussions about history and identity.
Without tenure, faculty are “liable to play it safe when it comes time to have a classroom discussion about a difficult topic,” said Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors.
But in difficult financial and political times, even tenured professors may not be guaranteed employment.
In Kansas, Emporia State University this fall cut 33 faculty — most of them tenured — using an emergency pandemic measure that allowed universities to bypass policies on staff terminations to balance budgets.
Max McCoy, Emporia State’s sole journalism professor, penned a column that began, “I may be fired for writing this” — before learning this would be his last year teaching at the school.
“This is a purge,” he said. He said all the fired professors were “Democrats or liberal in our thinking.”
University spokesperson Gwen Larson said individual professors were not targeted for dismissal. She said the cuts followed a review of how demand for academic programs is changing and “where we needed to move in the future.
Attacks on higher education have been fueled by a shift in how conservatives see colleges and universities, said Jeremy Young, of the free-expression group PEN America. The share of Republicans and independent-leaning Republicans who said higher education was having a negative effect on the country grew from 37% to 59% from 2015 to 2019 in Pew Research Center polling.
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College rankings—specifically the broad "best of" lists based on self-reported data—are more often a form of bragging rights than a reliable resource for prospective students. They have evolved into a game schools play against each other, with the prize being prestige.
Some college administrators have even faced jail time for trying to defraud the system to improve their institution's rank. People have gone to such extraordinary lengths because these lists have measurable positive and negative—particularly financial—consequences for the schools.
Simply ranking among the top 25 schools can lead to a 6-10% increase in applications. Conversely, falling in rank, as Columbia University did on the U.S. News & World Report 2022-2023 Best National Universities list, can cause applications to drop and cost schools tens of millions of dollars.
Rankings are wielded in vastly different ways by different stakeholders: as a profitable product for publishers, a powerful marketing tool for schools, and a guidebook of sorts for prospective students and families. This would be a non-issue if all stakeholders were aligned on the primary purpose of rankings as an overview of the best schools based on a comprehensive list of factors reflecting an array of perspectives with rigorously tested statistical methodologies.
But they are not, and prospective students ultimately lose because of it. Concepts like "best" or "most valuable" are exceedingly challenging to quantify when there is so much variety among schools and student experience. Rankings with one-size-fits-all metrics based on limited data derived from flawed methodologies are not pursued by schools or assembled by publishers as a resource first and foremost, but rather as a product to sell. Former Stanford University President Gerhard Casper identified these shortcomings in 1996, and still, they persist.
However, some players, including Yale and Harvard, are refusing to participate in the game. As college rankings face a more high-profile reckoning, EDsmart explored why college rankings are—and always have been—a controversial practice.
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U.S. News & World Report has dominated the college ranking market since 1983. Its first ranking was a list of just 10 schools derived by asking a group of university presidents across the country to name the top schools in their field—in their opinion. With the dawn of the internet, the market for higher education grew from regional to national and even international. Soon, higher education rankings became a way for schools to highlight their value to students from around the world.
Today, the annual U.S. News & World Report list captures 1,500 schools and claims to use a statistical ranking system based on self-reported data such as graduation rates, test scores, student debt, and class sizes. U.S. News & World Report also uses a peer assessment survey as part of its ranking in which the president, provost, and dean of admissions at each school must rate the quality of the academic programs at their peer schools, as well as their own. One of the biggest criticisms of this process is the incentive for biased reporting—for schools to report favorably on their programs and to evaluate their competitors unfairly to gain the advantage.
Jacob Lund // Shutterstock
Many school rankings don't account for factors central to the student experience, like the cost of living, social fit, diversity among the student population, or success after graduation, which can look different to every student. Some of the most prominent rankings don't even poll enrolled students to capture their perspectives. Additionally, rankings' methodologies often change with each new annual list—an often criticized aspect of the U.S. News & World Report rankings—making it difficult to contextualize the results and any changes from one year to the next.
Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock
Wealth plays a deeper role in college rankings than anyone might suspect. Applicants who can apply to and choose any school often gravitate toward those at the top.
A 2017 report by the New York Times found that at nearly 40 of the most prestigious schools—those clustered in top spots of college rankings—more students came from the top 1% of household incomes than the bottom 60%. Data shows that wealth, more than ability, predicts graduation rates.
When rankings emphasize overall graduation rates as part of their "best" calculations, this can incentivize institutions to perpetuate these admissions practices. Admission decisions can shift to bolster rankings in other categories like test scores and the GPA of incoming students.
Stephen Chung // Shutterstock
Despite the popularity of broad national rankings, many schools are opting out of the game. Several Ivy League law schools—including historically high-ranking schools Yale, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley—announced in 2022 they will no longer participate in U.S. News & World Report rankings, citing concerns over misleading classifications, data omissions, and admissions disincentives.
More focused rankings, like those covering law schools or liberal arts colleges, are being published to highlight specific categories instead of the broader "best" schools rankings, but may still fall short of capturing the nuance of every student's needs.
This story originally appeared on EDsmart and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Creative Commons // Wikimedia Commons
Public colleges and universities can come with far less sticker shock than their private sector counterparts, but that isn't to say they offer a substandard education or even diminished status.
Using the most recent data compiled by the Department of Education, as well as feedback from millions of current students and alumni, Niche ranked over 500 public colleges and universities based on academic programs, student life, affordability, and admission statistics. Stacker compiled a list of the best public colleges in every state using Niche's 2023 Top Public Universities in America ranking.
Most schools that made the cut were created or repurposed due to the Morrill Land Grant Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The Morrill Act gifted 30,000 acres of public land to every state, with the caveat that it would be sold and the profits used to create and sustain agricultural and engineering colleges. Many of these new institutions had fewer than a dozen students and struggled to survive, sometimes battling the landscape and enrollment challenges.
Today, a handful of land-grant schools continue to specialize in agriculture, science, and engineering, although most have grown exponentially over the years and currently offer programs across various disciplines, including business, medicine, law, and the humanities. With access to multimillion-dollar budgets and state-of-the-art facilities, public universities are frequently at the forefront of some of the most innovative and life-changing research in science and technology.
Read through the list to see which school took top honors in your home state.
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University of College // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 81%
- Net price: $16,978
- SAT range: 1090-1340
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is Alabama's largest employer and is well-known for its football prowess and research hospital. The Birmingham campus began as an extension of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 1936 but became an independent institution in 1969.
All University of Alabama schools and extension programs were founded as whites-only schools, but Vivian Malone and James Hood changed that in 1963 when they became the first Black students to enroll and attend classes in Tuscaloosa.
Gillfoto // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 64%
- Net price: $10,506
- SAT range: data unavailable
The University of Alaska Southeast enjoys a spectacular setting along the Tongass National Forest and the Juneau Icefield—an ideal location for its highly rated marine science program. With fewer than 550 students and enviably small classes (an average 9:1 student-teacher ratio), UAS delivers a first-class education with a small college vibe.
Kevin Dooley // Flickr
- Acceptance rate: 88%
- Net price: $14,653
- SAT range: 1100-1320
As if plenty of sunshine and a campus with a decidedly southwestern flavor wasn't enough to recommend it, Arizona State University is also a top breeding ground for Fulbright scholars. "U.S. News & World Report" in 2022 recognized Arizona State as the nation's most innovative university, thanks in part to its prestigious NASA Space Grant Program, which enables students to participate in NASA-related research.
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- Acceptance rate: 78%
- Net price: $16,759
- SAT range: 1090-1280
The University of Arkansas, nestled in the magnificent Ozark Mountains, is one of the leading research institutions in the United States. In the mid-1970s, newlyweds Hillary and Bill Clinton joined the school's law school faculty before launching their political careers. Sen J. William Fulbright, a UA alumnus and former university president, sponsored a bill in 1945 that was to become the vaunted international exchange program bearing his name.
Prayitno // Flickr
- Acceptance rate: 14%
- Net price: $16,474
- SAT range: 1300-1530
Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, UCLA celebrated its centennial in May 2019, an anniversary that helped catapult the school to an unprecedented echelon of fundraising—the school garnered $5.49 billion as part of its Centennial Campaign. UCLA boasts a star-studded roster of alumni, including basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actor James Franco, and director Francis Ford Coppola.
The student films of '60s music legend Jim Morrison and fellow Doors band member Ray Manzarek are currently being restored by the university's Film and Television Archive.
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Chris Engelsma // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 55%
- Net price: $27,675
- SAT range: 1270-1440
The Colorado School of Mines is noted for its exceptional science and engineering programs and proximity to several major ski destinations. Graduates can take advantage of combined bachelor, master, and doctoral programs and are in high demand by employers. Kiplinger's Personal Finance ranked Mines as one of its 2019 top 100 educational values.
Daderot // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 56%
- Net price: $22,233
- SAT range: 1170-1390
In 1880, Charles and Augustus Storrs founded Storrs Agricultural College with a donation of 170 acres of farmland, a former orphanage, and $6,000 to the state of Connecticut.
The school awarded its first bachelor of arts degree in 1933 and was christened the University of Connecticut in 1939. In addition to its top-notch academics, UConn is also an athletic powerhouse, with both its men's and women's basketball teams winning numerous national titles. Notable alumni include musician Moby, actress Meg Ryan, ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, and authors Wally Lamb and Ann Beattie.
Parkpay2000 // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 66%
- Net price: $19,747
- SAT range: 1150-1330
Founded in 1743 as Newark College in New London, Pennsylvania, the school's first graduating class included some of its most illustrious alumni, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The school moved to its current home in Newark, Delaware, in 1765 and in 1921 became the University of Delaware when it merged with a neighboring women's college. Today, thousands of students actively conduct research at the university's 95 research centers and institutes. The school counts President Joe Biden among its graduates.
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- Acceptance rate: 31%
- Net price: $10,075
- SAT range: 1290-1460
The University of Florida began life in the mid-19th century with the merger of the Gainesville Academy and the East Florida Seminary. In 1928, UF pioneered an innovative athletic scholarship that continues to serve as a model for the NCAA. Currently, U.S. News & World Report ranks the university #5 among all public universities in the country. Notable alumni include former NFL star Tim Tebow, Olympian Ryan Lochte, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
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- Acceptance rate: 21%
- Net price: $17,410
- SAT range: 1370-1530
Georgia Tech started in 1885 as a trade school before transforming into a full-fledged university in the following decades.
In 1952, the school was officially christened the Georgia Institute of Technology with a focus on the sciences and engineering. Today, Georgia Tech offers 130 majors and minors in disciplines ranging from engineering and design to liberal arts. Georgia Tech ranks #8 on U.S. News & World Report's list of most innovative schools.
Graduates of Georgia Tech include President Jimmy Carter and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
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Daniel Ramirez // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 84%
- Net price: $15,193
- SAT range: 1070-1280
The University of Hawaii, alma mater of Sen. Tammy Duckworth and actor Bette Midler, was founded in 1907 to provide residents of the island paradise with access to educational opportunities in agriculture and engineering. In 1912, the campus relocated from Honolulu to the Manoa Valley and underwent a period of rapid growth in the 1920s.
One of the most ethnically diverse universities in the world, UH is highly regarded for its nationally ranked programs in oceanography, business, Pacific Islands and Asian area studies, and marine biology.
Davidlharlan // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 74%
- Net price: $14,929
- SAT range: 990-1220
Created in 1888 as a public land-grant institution, the University of Idaho currently offers 100 undergraduate degrees and has an annual research budget exceeding $100 million. High-profile graduates include former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Olympic gold medalist and former professional bicycle racer Kristin Armstrong.
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- Acceptance rate: 63%
- Net price: $13,517
- SAT range: 1200-1460
Sitting on approximately 6,300 acres of what used to be a 480,000-acre land-grant institution, UIUC is one of the largest research universities in the country. Its campus comprises more than 650 buildings to house more than 1,500 degree programs. UIUC alumni number more than 470,000 worldwide.
Huw Williams // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 67%
- Net price: $12,294
- SAT range: 1170-1420
Purdue first opened its doors in 1874 with just 39 students. In 1891, university students received the nickname "Boilermakers" when the school was accused of plucking its athletes from local steam engine operations. The alma mater of Hoover Dam engineer Elwood Mead, Purdue has also given America popcorn king Orville Redenbacher, Stove Top Stuffing creator Ruth Siems, and inventor of the soft-serve ice cream machine Frank Thomas Jr.
Tony Webster // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 84%
- Net price: $17,452
- SAT range: 1110-1310
The University of Iowa was founded in 1847, less than three months after Iowa received statehood.
The first public university to admit both men and women of all races, UI was also the first university to offer a master of fine arts degree. Thanks to the internationally renowned Iowa Writers Workshop, the alumni roster reads like a Who's Who of American literature, boasting the meteoric talents of Flannery O'Connor, John Berryman, John Irving, Carolyn Kizer, Philip Levine, and Robert Lowell, to name a few.
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Gen. Quon // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 91%
- Net price: $20,054
- SAT range: 1070-1320
The University of Kansas opened its doors in 1866 with an incoming class of 55 students. Today, KU offers more than 400 different degrees and certificates and is home to over 60 interdisciplinary research centers, including the Biodiversity Institute and the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis. Alumni of note include actor Paul Rudd and basketball titan Wilt Chamberlain.
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- Acceptance rate: 65%
- Net price: $17,894
- SAT range: 1050-1270
In 1798, a group of eight men declared their intention to open Jefferson Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. After a grueling 15 years wrought with financial struggle, the seminary finally opened, only to close within a decade.
Higher education in Louisville was revived when Louisville Medical Institute and Louisville Collegiate Institute were chartered in 1833. These institutions eventually became the University of Louisville that exists today.
Chad Robertson Media // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 64%
- Net price: $11,630
- SAT range: 1060-1260
Located in Ruston, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech University has a current enrollment of more than 10,000 students. Though the institution is known for its college education programs in science, technology, engineering, and other STEM disciplines, it also runs the Trenchless Technology Center. The university has international programs hosted in Italy and Mexico.
Billy Hathorn // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 52%
- Net price: $18,739
- SAT range: 1000-1160
The Maine Maritime Academy has an enrollment of around 900 students and a curriculum limited to engineering, management, science, and transportation. Students receive comprehensive, first-hand instruction aboard dedicated training ships.
Highly regarded within the maritime industry, 90% of MMA graduates receive offers of employment within three months of graduation.
Bgervais // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 51%
- Net price: $17,643
- SAT range: 1270-1480
The University of Maryland at College Park is one of the country's leading public research institutions and boasts two Nobel laureates, five Pulitzer Prize winners, 61 members of national academies, and dozens of Fulbright scholars among its graduates.
Originally founded in 1856 as the Maryland Agricultural College, much of the original campus was destroyed by a 1912 fire. Notable alumni include funnyman Larry David, puppeteer Jim Henson, and Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.
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- Acceptance rate: 65%
- Net price: $22,505
- SAT range: 1200-1390
Situated in the bucolic Pioneer Valley, the University of Massachusetts - Amherst is New England's largest public research university. Founded in 1863, UMass is part of the Five College Consortium, which includes reciprocal academic and social relationships with neighboring institutions Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire colleges.
Over the past decade, UMass has skyrocketed up the U.S. News and World Report rankings, currently occupying the #26 spot for public universities. Famous alums include singer Natalie Cole, actor Richard Gere, and basketball legend Julius Erving.
- Acceptance rate: 26%
- Net price: $17,832
- SAT range: 1340-1520
The University of Michigan occupies the #2 spot on Niche's 2022 list of top public universities.
Founded in Detroit in 1817 as the Catholepistemiad or University of Michigania, the university ditched the tongue-twister of a name a few years later and relocated to Ann Arbor in 1837. In addition to its impressive undergraduate program, the University of Michigan is also home to a number of renowned graduate programs in law and medicine, as well as the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Notable alumni include celebrity chef Sara Moulton, poet Theodore Roethke, and rock legend Iggy Pop.
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- Acceptance rate: 70%
- Net price: $17,729
- SAT range: 1240-1460
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities was founded in 1851, seven years before Minnesota was awarded statehood. Though it temporarily closed during the Civil War, the university reopened shortly thereafter and became home to many firsts. The Gophers retain the title as the inventors of cheerleading, the first state university to offer a program in mortuary science, and home to the invention of the seat belt.
Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 88%
- Net price: $13,540
- SAT range: 1010-1230
Frequently called Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi was chartered in 1844. In addition to its more than 100 academic programs, the university was both the first academic institution in Mississippi to admit a woman and the first to hire a woman as a faculty member.
The University of Mississippi is the home to more than 23,000 students enrolled in a wide range of degree-earning programs.
Emily Kebert // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 82%
- Net price: $16,930
- SAT range: 1110-1320
The University of Missouri, the first public university west of the Mississippi, was founded in 1839. Affectionately known as Mizzou, the school currently enrolls around 30,000 students and the 1,262-acre campus—with more than 42,000 plants and trees—is a botanist's dream. The College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources remains one of the university's driving forces. Mizzou counts playwright Tennessee Williams, actor Jon Hamm, and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine among its many notable alumni.
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- Acceptance rate: 81%
- Net price: $17,656
- SAT range: 1090-1320
Originally designated as a land-grant institution under the Morrill Act of 1862, Montana State University was chartered in 1893. Today, its primary campus is located in Bozeman and offers classes in the colleges of Letters and Science; Engineering; Education, Health, and Human Development; Graduate Studies; Arts and Architecture; Business; Agriculture; and Nursing. Though MSU offers many undergraduate studies programs, it is also home to more than 80 graduate degree programs.
Hanyou23 // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 78%
- Net price: $17,341
- SAT range: 1110-1320
The University of Nebraska is a lesson in resilience and determination. Chartered in 1869, early efforts to construct a sparkling new campus were met with unforeseen challenges. Hundreds of newly planted trees withered on the prairie and flower beds were devoured by swarms of locusts. By the end of the 19th century, however, the university had risen from the ashes, completing construction on an impressive new Franco-Italian-style campus.
Today, UN is a proud member of the Big Ten athletic and academic conference and boasts some of the most impressive doctoral programs in the country. Since its earliest days, UN has advocated for inclusivity, welcoming students of any "age, sex, color, or nationality." Philanthropist Warren Buffett, late-night TV host Johnny Carson, and novelist Willa Cather are just a few of UN's accomplished alumni.
Ken L. // Flickr
- Acceptance rate: 87%
- Net price: $16,359
- SAT range: 1060-1260
When the University of Nevada opened in 1874, enrollment was drawn from fewer than seven high schools in the entire state. Today, UN offers 460 undergraduate and graduate degrees to more than 20,000 students annually. Recognized as one of the country's top research institutions by the Carnegie Foundation, UN counts football player Colin Kaepernick and former Gov. Brian Sandoval among its graduates.
Millyard800 // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 85%
- Net price: $24,847
- SAT range: 1090-1280
Located just a stone's throw from the New Hampshire seacoast and less than an hour from Boston, the University of New Hampshire draws students from all 50 states and over 70 foreign countries. One of the greenest universities in the nation, UNH's Durham campus is powered entirely by renewable energy. Both the plasma physics and ecology programs rank among the nation's finest. High-profile alumni include astronaut Richard Linnehan, novelist John Irving, and former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch.
Tomwsulcer // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 67%
- Net price: $17,835
- SAT range: 1180-1410
Rutgers, New Jersey's flagship public university, is one of the oldest in the nation and one of just nine colleges founded prior to the American Revolution. A private school until the mid-20th century, Rutgers educates more than 33,000 undergraduate students annually and is home to the country's most highly ranked African American history program. Notable alumni include actor and activist Paul Robeson, economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, and novelist Philip Roth.
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- Acceptance rate: 97%
- Net price: $14,834
- SAT range: 1150-1370
New Mexico Tech was founded in 1889 as the New Mexico School of Mines, in an effort to meet the state's burgeoning economic needs. The first entering class consisted of seven students, who could choose between only two courses of study—chemistry and metallurgy. Today, students can concentrate on engineering, science, and business studies, but can also broaden their horizons with offerings from the non-degree granting fine arts department. It is one of the most highly regarded STEM institutions in the country.
Ad Meskens // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 9%
- Net price: $0
- SAT range: 1210-1440
Few have what it takes to make it at the United States Military Academy, more commonly referred to as West Point. Coming in at #5 on Niche's list, West Point enjoys a spectacular setting in New York State's scenic Hudson Valley and has produced outstanding military leaders since its inception in 1802.
Applicants must have a congressional nomination to apply, and accepted students can choose from 35 different majors, including kinesiology, nuclear engineering, computer science, and philosophy. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur are just a small sampling of West Point's illustrious graduates.
- Acceptance rate: 25%
- Net price: $10,038
- SAT range: 1280-1490
Sometimes referred to as a "Public Ivy," the UNC Chapel Hill occupies the #7 spot on Niche's list ranking the top public universities in America. UNC Chapel Hill welcomed its first incoming class in 1795 and is the country's first public university. Affectionately known as the "Tar Heels," the school's nickname was first levied in the 19th century when North Carolina was a major producer of tar supplied to the naval industry. Alumni of note include soccer star Mia Hamm, counterculture poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and NBA legend Michael Jordan.
Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 87%
- Net price: $16,780
- SAT range: 1000-1230
Despite bearing the name of its location, the University of North Dakota was founded in 1883: six years before North Dakota officially became a state. Notable alumni include Olympian Fritz Pollard Jr. and Judge Ronald Davies. Davies was the presiding federal judge who ordered the desegregation of Little Rock Central High in Arkansas in 1957.
Michael Barera // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 68%
- Net price: $18,884
- SAT range: 1210-1430
One of the top colleges for agricultural sciences in the U.S., Ohio State first opened its doors in 1873 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College and currently graduates one of the largest crops of Fulbright scholars and Peace Corps volunteers in the country.
The school has produced scores of illustrious graduates, including artist Roy Lichtenstein, Heisman Trophy winners Eddie George and Archie Griffin, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Olympian Jesse Owens, and writer and New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber.
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Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 67%
- Net price: $14,763
- SAT range: 1020-1250
Oklahoma State University began as Oklahoma A&M College in 1890. The first classes enrolled 23 women and 22 men in 1891, though there is some dispute about whether there were about a dozen additional students who were not integrated into the records. The first temporary buildings were built on a razed prairie that took months to completely prepare.
Bob Pool // Shutterstock
- Acceptance rate: 82%
- Net price: $21,444
- SAT range: 1080-1310
Located in Corvallis, Oregon, Oregon State University was known as Corvallis Academy when it was founded in 1856. The Academy was incorporated two years later and took the name Corvallis College. Throughout the next century, the school was known as Oregon Agricultural College, Oregon State Agricultural College, and Oregon State College. The institution finally changed its name to Oregon State University in 1961. Today, it is a top 10 engineering school.
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- Acceptance rate: 56%
- Net price: $26,151
- SAT range: 1160-1360
Penn State began with the Farmers' High School charter in 1855. Though well-known for its highly ranked football team and avid fans, Penn State is among the top 25 undergraduate institutions with the best engineering programs.
With more than two dozen individual engineering majors ranging from specialties in aerospace to nuclear, the university graduates around 1,800 engineering students each year.
Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 76%
- Net price: $15,386
- SAT range: 1090-1260
The University of Rhode Island was established on the 140-acre Watson farm, purchased by the state in 1888. The original 1796 farmhouse still stands and is the oldest building on campus. Once an agricultural experiment station, students can now choose from over 90 undergraduate majors. The university is also the first school in the U.S. to offer a master of science and Ph.D. in ocean engineering. URI is the alma mater of international journalist Christiane Amanpour.
- Acceptance rate: 62%
- Net price: $22,935
- SAT range: 1210-1390
Clemson, located in the foothills of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, was founded in 1889 with the hope of repairing the economic damage suffered by the South as a consequence of the Civil War.
Originally a whites-only military institution, Clemson transitioned to coeducation as a public university in 1955, and admitted its first Black student almost a decade later. With a focus on science and engineering, Clemson is a leader in innovative research in cyberinfrastructure, health, and the environment. Graduates of note include former Sen. Strom Thurmond, politician Nikki Haley, and TV journalist Nancy O'Dell.
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PatrickRohe // Flickr
- Acceptance rate: 86%
- Net price: $19,799
- SAT range: 1150-1350
The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology welcomed its first entering class in 1887, two years before South Dakota was awarded statehood. Students at SD Mines major in engineering or science but must fulfill a core curriculum that includes the arts, humanities, and social sciences. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school as a top 10 university for veterans.
Nightryder84 // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 78%
- Net price: $21,133
- SAT range: 1140-1320
Founded as Blount College in 1794, the school went through several name changes before settling on the University of Tennessee in 1879. Both the graduate program in nuclear engineering and the business school are highly rated by U.S. News & World Report. Notable graduates include football phenomenon Peyton Manning and actress Dixie Carter.
Utexas // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 32%
- Net price: $16,892
- SAT range: 1210-1470
The University of Texas at Austin, founded in 1883, sits pretty at #8 on Niche's list of top public colleges. Steeped in tradition, UT nevertheless maintains a sense of quirky individualism. Nothing brings out the Longhorn school spirit like football, where current students and alumni can be found donning the school's distinctive shade of burnt orange and flashing the famous "hook 'em horns" hand signal.
UT can claim many distinguished alumni, including physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, actor Matthew McConaughey, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, and actresses Renée Zellweger and Farrah Fawcett.
MrSchmidt // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 79%
- Net price: $12,881
- SAT range: 1130-1350
Given the University of Utah's proximity to some of the best skiing in the world, it's no surprise that the Utes captured the 2019 NCAA ski championship title.
The school gets top marks for its dance, game design, architecture, and social work programs. The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is an invaluable resource for enterprising student- and faculty-backed startups. Notable graduates include Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, former quarterback Alex Smith, and former U.S. ambassador to Russia and China Jon Huntsman Jr.
- Acceptance rate: 71%
- Net price: $20,235
- SAT range: 1160-1350
Situated on the banks of pristine Lake Champlain, the University of Vermont was chartered in 1791—the same year that Vermont became the 14th state. Known as the University of the Green Mountains, UVM started out as a private university and didn't become a public institution until after the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862.
The Princeton Review has designated UVM's Sustainable Innovation MBA program as one of the "best green MBA" programs in the country. Burlington is a bustling college town less than an hour away from some of the East Coast's best ski resorts. Actor Ben Affleck and writer Annie Proulx are both graduates of UVM.
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Ben Lunsford // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 23%
- Net price: $19,043
- SAT range: 1320-1510
The brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia was founded in 1819 as an "academical village," centered around a central green leading to the iconic domed neoclassical library. The stunning Charlottesville campus is both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
UVA is one of the most highly regarded academic institutions—public or private—in the country and is the alma mater of several illustrious alumni, including Robert F. Kennedy, Tina Fey, Katie Couric, and Edgar Allan Poe. UVA ranks #4 on Niche's 2022 list of top public colleges.
- Acceptance rate: 56%
- Net price: $9,661
- SAT range: 1200-1470
The University of Washington's earliest incarnation was the Territorial University of Washington, which first opened its doors to students in 1861. Today, the school enrolls roughly 30,000 undergraduate students annually and boasts a highly regarded English department, a top nursing program, and one of the top oceanography programs in the world. Notable graduates include actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, sculptor and glassblower Dale Chihuly, and saxophonist Kenny G.
Paula Cristina // Flickr
- Acceptance rate: 84%
- Net price: $13,087
- SAT range: 1030-1230
Students at the University of West Virginia—a land-grant school founded in 1867—work hard and party harder. Ranked by Niche as one of the top party schools in the country, WVU offers more than 440 majors across all degree levels taught at all 14 colleges and schools located on the Morgantown campus. Actress Cheryl Hines and Sen. Joe Manchin are both graduates of WVU.
James Steakley // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 57%
- Net price: $14,030
- SAT range: 1260-1460
The University of Wisconsin at Madison, founded in 1848, is one of the most highly regarded public institutions in the country, coming in at #11 on Niche's 2022 list of top public universities.
A leader in innovative research, UW-M launched the first national stem cell bank and first master's program in energy conservation. In addition to more than a dozen Nobel laureates, UW-Madison counts aviator Charles Lindbergh, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and novelist Joyce Carol Oates among its many illustrious alumni.
Thecoldmidwest // Wikimedia Commons
- Acceptance rate: 94%
- Net price: $12,224
- SAT range: 1040-1240
A coeducational institution since its inception, the University of Wyoming opened its doors in 1886 to 42 students, offering classes in the arts, humanities, and education.
As a land-grant university, agriculture and engineering were soon added to the curriculum. Today, the university educates approximately 13,000 students yearly, offering 145 majors across all its academic departments. The University of Wyoming is the alma mater of former Vice President Dick Cheney, physicist Marlan Scully, and sportscaster Curt Gowdy.
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In Texas, university administrators are working behind the scenes to squash anticipated legislation that would target tenure, fearful it will hurt recruitment, said Jeff Blodgett, president of the Texas Conference of AAUP.
Some people already aren’t applying for university jobs because of the discussions, said Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association.
In Florida, a federal judge in November blocked the “Stop-WOKE” Act, a law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in colleges. The governor’s office is appealing the injunction. Compliance with the law would be part of the criteria for evaluating tenured professors under a review process that the university system’s Board of Governors is weighing.
“They’ve latched onto the idea that many totalitarian regimes have done over the years, which is if you can stop students from learning about ideas that a political party in power disagrees with, that is one way to stop those ideas from existing in the society at all,” said Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida.
DeSantis, though, has questioned the argument that tenure provides academic freedom.
“If anything, it’s created more of an intellectual orthodoxy where people that have dissenting views, it’s harder for them to be tenured in the first place,” he said at a news conference in April.
In Louisiana, lawmakers set up a task force to study tenure with the Republican-backed resolution noting that students should be confident that courses are free of “political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.” Professors raised concerns until they learned the task force’s members were mostly tenure supporters.
In Georgia, the state’s Board of Regents approved a policy that made it easier to remove tenured faculty who have had a negative performance review. Elsewhere, legislation to ban or restrict tenure also has been introduced in recent years in Iowa, South Carolina and Mississippi, but failed to win passage.
The pushback follows decades of declining rates of tenured faculty. According to the AAUP, 24% of faculty members held full-time tenured appointments in fall 2020, compared with 39% in fall 1987, the first year for which directly comparable information is available.
Tenure exploded after World War II when it helped with recruitment as the GI Bill sent enrollment soaring, said Sol Gittleman, a former provost of Tufts University who has written on the issue. Lately, the country has overproduced Ph.D.s, said Gittleman, who predicts tenure will largely disappear in the coming decades outside the top 100 colleges and universities.
“Critical race theory — that’s an excuse,” he said. “If there was a shortage of faculty, you wouldn’t hear that.”