To identify the Best Colleges in Arkansas 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 Arkansas anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities 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-Main Campus 63 , the University of Arkansas 61 , and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff 57 , schools that have turned their agricultural and mechanical roots into world-class STEM programs in the 21st century. Other public regional institutions, like the acclaimed University of Central Arkansas 59 and Henderson State University 59 , 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, keeping Arkansas’s most promising youth and most motivated workers in the state, building Arkansas’s future.
Arkansas is a deeply religious state, and many of its best liberal arts colleges come out a religious tradition. Christian schools come from a variety of denominations – Church of Christ ( Harding University 68 ), Methodist ( Hendrix College 69 and John Brown University 68 ), Presbyterian (the legendary University of the Ozarks 63 ), and Baptist ( Ouachita Baptist University 66 ). These colleges, many of them ranked among the very best institutions in their class, 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. Together, all of Arkansas’s best colleges and universities are providing for Arkansas’s educational needs.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Natural State.
Dating back to 1876, with the opening of a primary school, Hendrix College grew into Arkansas’s top liberal arts college step by step – adding secondary, then college education, coming under ownership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and merging with two other colleges over the course of a century and a half. Today, Hendrix is still affiliated historically with the United Methodist Church, but its liberal arts curriculum is not religious in nature and no religious belief or practice is necessary for students or faculty. Today, Hendrix is highly regarded throughout Arkansas and nationally, having been named an up-and-coming institution by U.S. News & World Report, as well as Arkansas’s only top 100 liberal arts college; Hendrix has also been acclaimed by Washington Monthly for its commitment to community engagement.
Hendrix College is dedicated to the traditional liberal arts, providing students with a foundation in the classical humanities and sciences. All students have a common freshman experience, anchored by two required, interdisciplinary courses: The Engaged Citizen, and Explorations: Liberal Arts for Life. These programs steep students in the liberal arts values that will characterize all of Hendrix’s 34 majors and interdisciplinary degrees, including critical thinking and interpretation, civic responsibility, and cooperation. Small classes, and an 11:1 student:faculty ratio, give students the access to mentorship and community that makes the liberal arts tradition special, and makes Hendrix College one of Arkansas’s best colleges.
Affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Harding University, in its current form, was founded in 1924, but the two junior colleges that merged to form Harding – Arkansas Christian College and Harper College – date back to 1915 and 1919, respectively. Over the course of the 20th century, Harding grew into Arkansas’s largest private university, overcoming the debt and struggles of its early years to not only build a much-admired campus, but to open extension campuses all over the world, including Australia, Europe, South America, and Africa. Today, Harding is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top regional institutions in the South, and has been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for its exemplary community engagement.
Harding’s student body, just under 6000 strong, is highly diverse, with students representing all 50 states and 54 nations. As a liberal arts college, Harding’s curriculum is centered on undergraduate education, with over 100 majors and numerous pre-professional programs; 21 graduate degree programs include business, nursing, education, and ministry. Almost half of Harding’s students take part in study abroad at one of the university’s many global campuses, while many more participate in community service, earning nearly 170,000 service hours and national recognition for engagement. Harding’s commitment to Christian values and biblical faith drives every aspect of life and learning, and its commitment to academic excellence keeps Harding one of the top universities in Arkansas.
John Brown University
A small, Christian liberal arts institution, John Brown University – named for Methodist evangelist John E. Brown, not the abolitionist revolutionary – was founded in 1919 as an interdenominational college. Brown believed in practical education that combined classical learning and practical training, and dedicated the college to giving underprivileged students like himself an opportunity to earn a degree. Originally a free vocational school, with students working to pay for their education, JBU gradually grew into a more conventional undergraduate educator, eventually adding graduate degrees. Today, JBU is highly respected in Arkansas, and has been ranked as high as #1 in U.S. News & World Report’s top regional liberal arts colleges for the South.
John Brown University’s curriculum is based on the classical liberal arts, with all students taking a core of foundational classes in preparation for nearly 50 majors; JBU’s general education includes the humanities and sciences, as well as Bible courses, as a Christian college. With the philosophy of John E. Brown, JBU is also a leader in professional studies for Arkansas, including engineering, biology, and comprehensive programs in Digital Media Arts (including photography and graphic design). Endowed research centers include a center for Leadership & Ethics and one dedicated to healthy relationships. With excellent student support and academic strengths unique to a Christian college, John Brown University has made its reputation as one of Arkansas’s top universities.
Arkansas State University-Main Campus
Arkansas’s second-largest university, and the flagship of the Arkansas State University System, Arkansas State University began in 1909 as one of four agricultural schools established by the state legislature to teach modern farming methods to Arkansas’s rural residents. From that simple beginning, ASU grew steadily and quickly, adding programs to become a university by 1967. Today, Arkansas State is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top public universities in the South, and offers comprehensive programs in STEM, education, health science, and much more.
Arkansas State is well on its way to recognition as a national research university, taking a significant position educating professionals, scholars, and leaders for the entire region. The university has grown quickly in the 21st century, but still retains small classes and a low student:faculty ratio to make sure students get the individualized attention and access to undergraduate research, that has made Arkansas State a force in the region. A-State’s Honors program has grown by leaps and bounds, attracting many of Arkansas’s most promising students, while the university’s research profile is also on the rise, especially through partnerships with Arkansas government and industry.
Ouachita Baptist University
Founded in 1886, Ouachita Baptist University was originally an outgrowth of the Ouachita Baptist High School, chartered by the Arkansas State Baptist Convention in Arkadelphia, AR (a town whose name means “Brotherhood of Arkansas”). Located on the former campus of the Arkansas School for the Blind, Ouachita Baptist has seen extensive growth in the 21st century, including numerous new programs and Ouachita Online. In recent years, Ouachita has begun earning national attention, growing from regional rankings to the top tier of U.S. News & World Report’s national liberal arts colleges.
As a traditional liberal arts college, Ouachita Baptist has a low 13:1 student:faculty ratio that gives students the opportunity to develop mentorship relationships with their faculty who can bring the expertise in undergraduate research and the spiritual development that are key to Ouachita’s curriculum. More than 60 majors are available, and Ouachita offers degrees at the associate’s and bachelor’s level, from business and education to the social sciences and health science. As a Baptist college, Ouachita includes religion in their core curriculum, and chapel requirements for all students; the Pruet School of Christian Studies is highly regarded in its field. Ouachita is also known for a historic and productive ROTC program that supplies more Army officers than any comparable institution. For useful education with a Christian grounding, Ouachita Baptist University is one of the best in Arkansas.
University of the Ozarks
The oldest university in the state of Arkansas, the University of the Ozarks started out in 1834 as a two-room pioneer schoolhouse. Upon moving to Clarksville in 1891, the school became a college, and began earning a strong regional reputation as a forward-thinking, academically rigorous Presbyterian institution. Ozarks was the first college in Arkansas to admit women, and the first predominantly white institution in the state to admit black students. Ozarks has long been recognized as a top-tier regional college for the South by U.S. News & World Report, as well as earning the #1 spot for best value in the region.
The University of the Ozarks has long been recognized for academic excellence, as well as for the dedication to ethics and faith central to its Presbyterian heritage. Ozarks puts its student-centered, traditional liberal arts curriculum at the heart of its education, with a well-rounded foundation of humanities and sciences leading to more than 60 majors. A student:faculty ratio of 14:1 means students are able to immerse themselves in undergraduate research and mentorship, and Ozarks shows results – a 90% success rate for graduates entering their careers, or winning acceptance into graduate school.
Henderson State University
Henderson State University was founded in 1890 as Arkadelphia Methodist College, just a few years, and in the same town, as Ouachita Baptist University. The Methodist college was renamed for its most generous benefactor, Christopher Henderson, in 1904, but the college struggled financially until the state of Arkansas bought it out. That began Henderson State’s new life as a normal school (the 2-year precursor to the teacher’s college), which rapidly expanded into a full 4-year university. Today, Henderson State is Arkansas’s designated public liberal arts college, and has been acclaimed as one of the best public institutions in the region.
As Arkansas’s only Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges member institution, Henderson State is a world-class undergraduate educator, with more than 40 majors offered by 4 schools. The majority of HSU’s 4000-strong student body is made up of undergraduates, from the Honors College and the School of Business, to the Teachers’ College, which remains one of the most productive and prestigious teachers’ education programs in the state. Henderson State has also developed online degree programs that are earning the university national attention, showing why Henderson State is one of Arkansas’s best universities.
University of Arkansas
The flagship of the University of Arkansas System, the University of Arkansas was founded in 1871 as the Arkansas Industrial University, under the Morrill Land Grant, a federal program that established agricultural and mechanical schools across the US. After much competition, the town of Fayetteville won the university, starting a century and a half of growth into one of the nation’s most beloved college towns, while the University of Arkansas grew into a leading public research university. Today, U of A stands as a top-tier national institution according to U.S. News & World Report, and is classified by the Carnegie Classification at the highest level of research activity.
As a major public research university, the University of Arkansas plays a central role in government, industry, and culture in Arkansas, with numerous schools within the university ranked among the best in the nation. The Walton College of Business, named for benefactor Sam Walton (of Wal-Mart) is noted as one of the best business schools in the world, while the School of Law is also named a top national law school. Other programs, such as the Jones School of Architecture and the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food, and Life Sciences, have been recognized for excellence. Arkansas’s professionals and leaders have come from the University of Arkansas for nearly 150 years, and U of A will continue to reign as one of Arkansas’s best universities.
University of Central Arkansas
Founded in 1907, the University of Central Arkansas was Arkansas’s first normal school, originally a 2-year program in which new schoolteachers practiced their craft in a real classroom. As the educational standard changed to 4-year education degrees, the normal school grew into a teachers’ college, then into a full state university as the school added more academic and professional programs. Today, the University of Central Arkansas is one of the state’s top regional institutions, providing professional and technical education for the people of the state; U.S. News & World Report has ranked UCA among the 75 regional institutions in the South, the only public university in Arkansas to make the list.
With its roots in Arkansas’s oldest teacher’s college, the University of Central Arkansas has long been the state’s main producer of public schoolteachers, but over the years UCA has built a wide range of top programs. The Schedler Honors College was one of the first programs of its kind, setting a precedent by establishing a rigorous program for high achievers – essentially an elite liberal arts college within a large state university. Aside from education, UCA is also a key player in Arkansas’s healthcare system, with acclaimed nursing and physical therapy programs, and its offerings just keep growing. The University of Central Arkansas is well on its way to breaking into the national stage.
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is Arkansas’s second-oldest public university, dating back to 1873. In the era of segregated schools, Arkansas had no college to educate African-American teachers for the state’s black public schools; the Branch Normal College was opened to fill that role. In 1891, when the federal government decided states with segregated schools must have a land-grant university for black students, the Branch Normal College became Arkansas’s black land-grant institution, eventually changing its name to the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College. Today, UA Pine Bluff is ranked as one of the top 50 regional universities in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report, and remains a proud historically black college.
UAPB’s roots in the land-grant system have made it a leader in STEM research and learning, including the state’s only comprehensive aquaculture studies program, and a unique partnership with the University of Arkansas that allows students to earn a dual engineering and second major degree from both institutions. Further, UAPB’s small student body of fewer than 3000 gives students the kind of supportive, student-centered atmosphere expected from a small liberal arts college, and a commitment to community engagement and service has made UAPB a fixture of Pine Bluff and the larger life of Arkansas. There’s no doubt that the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is an educational leader for Arkansas.