America's Best Small Public Colleges

List Rules
Highly regarded public 4 year colleges/universities w/ undergrad student body under 10,000.

More and more parents hope to find the attention a small college can give to an undergraduate student at a public school price.   Here is a list of highly regarded public colleges and universities. (It may be incomplete.)

 To be on this list, undergraduate population should currently be under 10,000. (College of Charleston would have been on it, but is slightly over.)  This list may not be complete. 

(Note: This list was recalculated 09/2013 based on the same formula I've used on other college ratings lists.)

Here are the factors used in scoring: % of freshman retention, graduation rate, % of classes with fewer than 20 students, % of classes with more than 50 students, and % of alumni donations.

 I’m not a professional statistician or education expert, so this system is not perfect.  However, experts say these  metrics are strong indicators of student happiness, the happiness of graduates with their experience, the seriousness your student's classmates will take his or her education, and the school's dedication to providing personal attention to your student.  

 A sample score: Fauxville State University: Freshmen Retention: 75%, Graduation Rate: 50%, Classes 20 & under: 33%, Classes 50 & over: 24%, freshmen in the top 10% of their graduating class 20%, and alumni giving: 10%.  

 Fauxville State’s score would be 75 + 50 + 33 – 24 + 20 + 10 = 164.  A perfect score would be 500.  This list includes schools that scored 170 or above

 Where schools earned a tie score, the school with the higher percentage of students who graduated in the top tenth of their high school class will be listed first.  

Since the National military academies are unlikely to be typical of what someone interested in a small college experience would look for, they aren't on this list.  But be aware that they are ranked among the top liberal arts schools in the country, public or private.

Special mention also goes to the Macaulay Honors College in New York City.  Since, for now, it's entirely integrated into the other eight city universities, it's not clear how similar it is to a small college experience.  There's also not much information yet available at the newest small state university in California, UC/Merced. 

Most, if not all, of these selections are listed in Forbes Best Values in Public Education.

If you are familiar with US News' rankings, you know there are flaws that make comparisons difficult.  But often a school ranked below 50 on the list of National Liberal Art colleges will have a more impressive "brag sheet" than schools ranked much higher on regional lists. 

Feel free to leave a comment if there are other schools you feel should be considered for inclusion. 

  • College of William and Mary
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch
    Score: 329 Williamsburg, Virginia -  One of the oldest colleges in the nation.  Currently ranked 33rd in National Research University
  • New College of Florida
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch
    Score: 300 Considered the top public liberal arts college in the country.  Currently ranked 87th in National Liberal Arts colleges.
  • The College of New Jersey
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch
    Score: 282, Ewing, New Jersey - Currently ranked #6 of Regional Master's Universities - North, this is a school that maintains the increasingly rare philosophy that a state school primarily serve the students of that state.  So it can be a much tougher admit for out-of-state students. 
  • St. Mary's College of Maryland
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain
    Score 277,  Because of the name and the great facilities, many people don't realize this is a public college. (It's actually the honors public college for Maryland.  New York's is SUNY Geneseo.).   It's rank is currently tied with the New College of Florida at 87th in National Liberal Arts Colleges.