College Consensus rankings combine the results of the most respected college ranking systems with the averaged ratings of thousands of real student reviews from around the web to create a unique college meta-ranking. This approach offers a comprehensive and holistic perspective missing from other college rankings. Visit our about page for information on which rankings and review sites were included in this year’s consensus rankings.
The Best Colleges & Universities in Arkansas category is limited to schools in Arkansas. Schools that did not qualify for a Consensus Score were ranked by their Student Review score.
Wondering how to pay for your Arkansas college degree? Check out our list of the Top Arkansas Scholarships. If you’re interested in online learning in Arkansas, our ranking of the Best Online Colleges in Arkansas is a good place to start.
The Best Colleges in Arkansas
The best colleges and universities in Arkansas build on the state’s heritage while pointing the way to the future. Arkansas’s history of agriculture is stamped on public research institutions like Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas, schools that have turned their agricultural and mechanical roots into world-class STEM programs in the 21st century.
While Arkansas’ big research universities are tasked with setting the course for Arkansas’s future, other public regional institutions, like the acclaimed University of Central Arkansas and Henderson State University, the state’s designated public liberal arts college, are working to provide the best educational opportunity to Arkansas’s rural residents, working adults, and highest-performing high school graduates. Together, they work to keep Arkansas’s most promising youth and most motivated workers in the state and preparing them for transformative careers. These regional institutions, some of them ranked among the best regional universities in the South, make Arkansas proud of their workforce and their future.
Arkansas is a deeply religious state, and many of its best liberal arts colleges come out a religious tradition. In fact, Arkansas is home to several of the Consensus Best Christian Colleges in the US, including Harding University and John Brown University. Christian schools come from a variety of denominations – Church of Christ (Harding University), Methodist (Hendrix College and John Brown University), Presbyterian (the legendary University of the Ozarks), and Baptist (Ouachita Baptist University). These colleges, many of them ranked among the very best liberal arts colleges in the nation, fuse Christian faith with the classical humanities and sciences to provide students with the foundation for graduate schooling, professional studies, and successful careers marked by lifelong learning.
What the Future Holds for Arkansas’ Best Colleges
Life in the Natural State lived up to that nickname for most of Arkansas’ history – from the frontier days until the mid-20th century, almost all of Arkansas was wilderness and farmland, and most Arkansawyers lived very close to the land indeed. Even when Bill Clinton, former Arkansas governor, was elected to office, the state had not yet really made the most of its potential, though after WWII the state had begun focusing on manufacturing and natural resources.
Believe it or not, Arkansas’ turnaround in the late 20th century owes a lot to WalMart, which influenced the state to transform its image to a much more business-friendly economy. Even now, the fastest-growing metropolitan area is around Springfield and Fayetteville, where the discount behemoth has attracted nearly every manufacturer and distributor in the world. But Arkansas’ higher education system – especially its Big Two, the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University – has been instrumental as well in Arkansas’ transformation, proving that strong education and opportunity remains key to success even in the 21st century.
Arkansas’ investment in its most neglected communities – especially through efforts led by the higher education system, like the University of Central Arkansas’ Center for Community and Economic Development, or the University of Arkansas’ Community Design Center – will be the most critical keys to Arkansas’ future. The upswing in Arkansas’ economy from the 1990s until today heralded a new chapter in Arkansas’ story, putting a stop to the brain drain that had bedeviled the state for so long, but to truly capitalize on its potential, Arkansas’ colleges and universities cannot sit by and let the Natural State take its course – they have to lead it.
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