To identify the Best Colleges in Nebraska for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in Nebraska anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges and Universities
When we rank the best colleges and universities in Nebraska, we look to the schools that have done the most for Nebraska’s people – the ones that real students praise, and respected authorities admire. Nebraska’s heart, from the earliest days of settlement as a frontier territory, has been its land – it’s not called the Cornhusker State for nothing. And the University of Nebraska-Lincoln 58 had a tremendous role in developing Nebraska as an agricultural model, developing the Nebraska Method of farming to maintain ecologically sound, productive land usage that revolutionized agriculture and agribusiness. The members of the UN system – including regional institutions like Wayne State College 65 and the University of Nebraska at Kearney 66 – further encourage exploration, discovery, and innovation.
Nebraska also has some of the top liberal arts colleges and universities in the Midwest and the US; top Catholic institutions like Creighton University 73 and the College of Saint Mary 62 are nationally-renowned and give Nebraskans – both Catholic and non-Catholic – a deep grounding in the humanities and sciences, while Christ-centered Protestant and evangelical schools like Union College 56 and Hastings College 66 unite faith and professional learning. Nebraska’s best colleges and universities are dedicated to building Nebraska’s future with inspiring leaders, critical thinkers, and confident professionals.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Cornhusker State.
Nebraska’s largest and most prestigious Catholic institution, Creighton University was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1878. The Jesuit order, renowned worldwide for their dedication to education, began the school with a gift from Mary Lucretia Creighton, the charitable and devout widow of a prominent Omaha businessman. Creighton grew over the next several decades, eventually splitting into a prep school and a college. Today, Creighton has over 8000 students and a long history of excellence, ranked the top regional university in the Midwest for 14 years in a row by U.S. News & World Report, and one of the most innovative institutions in the nation.
Creighton, in the Jesuit tradition, bases their curriculum on the traditional liberal arts, infusing the humanities and sciences with Catholic values including ethics, service to others, and social justice. Home to the Heider College of Business, one of the Midwest’s most trusted business schools, Creighton is steeped in professional studies; Creighton’s medical and law schools are also highly respected. In recent years, Creighton has become a regional and national leader in online education, earning numerous rankings for online business and leadership degrees, as well as for best value and best ROI. Creighton graduates can be certain they’re carrying the name of one of Nebraska’s best universities to the job market.
Nebraska Wesleyan University
Founded in 1887, Nebraska Wesleyan University is a small liberal arts college associated with the United Methodist Church. Unlike many religious colleges, which often began as seminaries or theological institutions, Nebraska Wesleyan was built as a university, including liberal arts, business, music, and teacher education; today, NWU has also earned acclaim for its adult education, graduate school, and online degree programs in professional studies, including nursing, criminal justice, and social work. Nebraska Wesleyan has long been ranked the top liberal arts college in Nebraska by U.S. News & World Report, and has a national reputation as a top value as well as a military-friendly institution.
With a student body of 2100, Nebraska Wesleyan is small enough to maintain its commitment to traditional liberal arts education, with students learning directly from experienced, expert professors in small classes that foster communication and collaboration. The 13:1 student:faculty ratio makes for strong mentoring as well. Nebraska Wesleyan’s online programs – including bachelor’s degree-completion and graduate programs including the MBA and MSN – have become notably well-ranked in recent years as well, combining strong educational standards with convenience, affordability, and student support. NWU has earned its reputation as one of the top universities in Nebraska.
University of Nebraska at Kearney
When the Nebraska legislature saw the need in the western part of the state for a normal school – the precursor to the teacher’s college, providing hands-on career training for public school teachers – they chose Kearney, which donated 20 acres of land. This was the beginning of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, which grew into a teacher’s college, a state college, and eventually a full university. A mid-sized university with a small graduate student body, UNK is on an ambitious mission to become one of the leading regional universities in Nebraska and the Midwest, and they’re well on their way with the newly opened Medical Center Health Science Education Complex.
Not surprisingly, UNK is still a state leader in teacher education, providing almost a quarter of all Nebraska’s teachers, and even more principals. But UNK isn’t all teachers; with more than 120 majors and some of the state’s leading pre-professional programs, Kearney is working to produce leaders for Nebraska’s government, business, nonprofits, and healthcare system. UNK has also earned national recognition for the adult and online education programs; their eCampus has been named one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 public regional online educators, with more than 30 undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and certificates available fully online. UN-Kearney is making a name for itself as a top Nebraska college.
Nebraska’s only Presbyterian college, Hastings College was founded by settlers who had come to Nebraska from the East, and hoped to provide an Eastern-style liberal arts education foundation for future generations. Starting in downtown Hastings, NE, Hastings College now sits on a 120-acre campus in central Nebraska, giving students a little small town life and a little taste of rural Nebraska. Hastings College is highly respected throughout Nebraska, and has been ranked one of the best regional colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review, as well as one of the best values in the region by Money and Barron’s.
Hastings has developed a strong reputation for undergraduate research and support, with a 14:1 student:faculty ratio and many opportunities for experiential learning, from working alongside faculty on research, to internships, service learning, and the unique January term, which allows students to take an accelerated, specialized course. Hasting’s traditional liberal arts core – developing critical thought and adaptability with courses in the humanities and sciences – has strong results; 97% of graduate report finding work or being accepted into graduate school within six months. Hastings takes the title of one of Nebraska’s best colleges easily.
Wayne State College
Like UN-Kearney, Wayne State College dates its founding to a state-sponsored normal school in 1910, but that was founded on the back of an older, private teacher training school bought by the state. So, in one way or another, Wayne State College has been educating Nebraskans since 1891, from a small normal school to a 3500-student, public liberal arts college with more than 90 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Wayne State has been widely recognized as a regional leader, named in the Midwest’s top 25 public regional colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the top college in Nebraska by Washington Monthly, and one of the best colleges nationwide for community service (honored by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll).
Though it is still ranked as a college, Wayne State is becoming known for several strong graduate programs, especially in education (its original focus), business, and management. Of course, with its history as a public liberal arts college, Wayne State is dedicated to educating strong, critical, and analytical leaders by fusing the humanities and sciences with 21st century professional development. Wayne State is extending its reach by partnering with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (for Rural Health and Public Health) and with the University of Nebraska (for Rural Law). Wayne State is known as a best value for its low tuition, and that affordability, combined with excellence, helps Wayne State take its rightful place among the top colleges in Nebraska.
Part of the world-renowned Concordia University system – a group of ten institutions associated with the Lutheran Church – Concordia University-Nebraska was founded in 1894 as a German-English teacher education school, preparing teachers for the Lutheran schools educating the area’s German immigrants. While its strong German character dropped away during WWI – for obvious reasons – Concordia Nebraska expanded to a college, became the first Lutheran college to admit women, and became the first Concordia to be accredited by the NCATE for teacher education. Concordia-Nebraska is ranked a top 40 regional university for the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report.
With a student body of just over 2600, Concordia-Nebraska is in the sweet spot for a liberal arts college – large enough for a vibrant, diverse campus culture, but small enough for a 13:1 student:faculty ratio, close relationships between students and faculty, and strong student support. All of those qualities have real advantages; 98% of graduates find work in their field, or move on to graduate school, within a year. Concordia-Nebraska also keeps its Lutheran heritage deep, building a Christ-centered community and infusing faith into its traditional liberal arts curriculum. Open to all, Concordia-University is a model of Nebraska’s top universities.
College of Saint Mary
Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic order that originated in Ireland and dedicated its calling to women’s education, the College of Saint Mary’s first mission was training teachers for the region’s Catholic schools. From that small and practical need, the College of Saint Mary grew, particularly after moving to its own dedicated campus in 1955, which gave the college the inspiration, and the room, to grow into a full 4-year college. Today, the College of Saint Mary is ranked in the top 100 regional colleges for the Midwest for U.S. News & World Report, and is quickly developing a reputation beyond Omaha and Nebraska for excellence in areas like health care, business, and, of course, teacher education.
One of Saint Mary’s strongest characteristics is its incredibly low 10:1 student:faculty ratio, which gives students an excellent opportunity to build relationships with their instructors. Strong connections between students and teachers is the cornerstone of liberal arts education, along with critical thought and analytical skills, and the College of Saint Mary infuses liberal arts knowledge into all of their curriculum, including their highly respected professional programs in nursing, occupational therapy, and business. With just over 1000 students, the College of Saint Mary remains dedicated to providing opportunity, support, and second chances for Nebraska’s women, earning its place among the best colleges in Nebraska.
Founded in 1871, Doane University is the oldest Nebraska college in operation, but it was planned as far back as 1854, before the Nebraska Territory had even achieved statehood. The Congregationalist Church had intended to bring its unique brand of Christian higher education to the frontier, just as it had established some of the first Ivy League and liberal arts colleges of New England and the northeast, but Doane was the first attempt that held true. One hundred and fifty-odd years later, Doane University is ranked as one of the top 25 regional colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report, but is best known for its generous student support – Doane graduates have one of the lowest student debt rates in the nation.
Doane University is known for going above and beyond to benefit students and graduates. All students are awarded a $1000 stipend for study abroad, internships, or other research endeavors, while a three-year guarantee for several of the university’s top majors ensures that dedicated, full-time students can complete their degree in only three years, saving even more on their tuition. Doane’s 11:1 student:faculty ratio provides the support of a small liberal arts college for a student body of just over 1000. Incredibly, 90% of Doane graduates who apply to graduate school are accepted into their first choice – far above the national average, and a sure sign that Doane is one of the best universities in Nebraska.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Nebraska’s flagship public research institution, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was founded in 1869 under the Morrill Land Grant Act, a revolution in higher education in which the federal government granted land for states to build cutting-edge agriculture and mechanical schools. Just two years admitted into the union, Nebraska’s land-grant university was a key part of turning a frontier territory into a modernized state, developing key innovations in farming, ecology, and engineering. In the 21st century, Nebraska is central to research, learning, and culture for the state, and is ranked as one of the most influential public research universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.
UNL’s student body numbers well over 25,000, and Nebraska’s selective acceptance rate means that the university takes some of the state’s most motivated, accomplished students. Though it is a major, comprehensive research university, with the highest Carnegie Classification, UNL takes great care in providing undergraduate research opportunities with programs like the Undergraduate Creative Activities & Research Experiences. UNL was also the first public graduate and doctoral university in the frontier, and the alma mater of generations of Nebraska’s political leaders, educators, and scholars. The top Nebraska universities all take their cues from the University of Nebraska.
One of the most prestigious Seventh-Day Adventist institutions in the nation, Union College, in Lincoln, NE, was founded in 1891. It was an important step in the Adventist church finding a central location to establish itself in the Midwest, and Union College grew alongside the city of Lincoln into an influential Midwestern liberal arts college. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the second-largest religious educator in the world (after the Catholic Church), and Union College is ranked ranked one of the top regional liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Union is also highly ranked for affordability and value, giving students an excellent educational opportunity that pays off in the long and short run.
As a traditional liberal arts college, Union College combines the classical humanities and sciences with a Christ-centered, faith-based worldview. Union offers students an 11:1 student:faculty ratio and small classes (mostly under 15 students) for the close mentorship and research opportunities that a small liberal arts college can provide. Plus, Union’s student support and financial support rank among the highest in the nation – one of the highest rates of alumni support, and more than 98% of students receiving scholarships and grants, means that Union graduates have one of the lowest loan default rates in the US. That’s proof positive that Union is one of the very best Nebraska colleges.