To identify the Best Colleges in Arizona for 2020 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 Arizona anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Wondering how to pay for your Arizona college degree? Check out our list of the Top Arizona Scholarships. If you’re interested in distance learning in Arizona, check out our ranking of the Best Online Colleges in Arizona.
University of ArizonaTucson, AZ
Arizona State University-TempeTempe, AZ
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-PrescottPrescott, AZ
With its arid climate and unforgiving mountains, the land known as the Grand Canyon State always made its inhabitants work for their living – it didn’t give anything away for free. But for those who make their home in Arizona, the rewards that the desert gives back are amazing. The struggle of making a home in the desert – homes and villages and cities and metropolises – has given the people of Arizona a strong work ethic and an appreciation for the things that make them strong: diverse people, new ideas, community. That is just as true of Arizona’s higher education system, which thrives by looking to its people for leadership.
What Makes the Best Colleges in Arizona Tick
Above all, higher education in Arizona is driven by three values that are shared, virtually unanimously, by Arizona’s best colleges: Innovation, Service, and Diversity.
When it comes to innovation, Arizona has it in spades. Arizona State University is viewed widely as the model of the 21st century university, a major urban research institution that became a leader by rethinking all of the elements of higher education – selective admissions, hyper-specialization, ivory-tower isolation – and turning them on their head. Whether it’s creating some of the most unusual degree programs in the US, Online education has also become one of ASU’s signatures, allowing the university to reach farther and do more than any competitor.
ASU isn’t the only story, though. The University of Arizona was the first college founded (1885) in what was then the Arizona Territory, many years before Arizona was even admitted as a state. Today, the pioneer spirit is still strong with UA. UA has a vision to be on the forefront of educational and research innovation, as their status in the top 25 of research expenditures nationally demonstrates. From interdisciplinary research to corporate partnerships, UA puts a premium on creating knowledge and value.
Prescott College was founded in the spirit of experiment and radical vision, with the ambitions of the Congregationalist Church and an educational conference sponsored by the Ford Foundation in 1963 to start a “Harvard of the West” based on the most current, forward-thinking educational concepts. As an experimental educational model, Prescott has pioneered many unusual and productive methods, including optional grades, narrative (rather than numeric) student evaluations, and collaborative, interdisciplinary learning.
UA is committed to sending students out into the real world for experiential learning opportunities – the 100% Engagement Initiative guarantees that all UA students will take part in internships, community service, or other hands-on learning experience during their time at UA. All of UA’s work pays off, giving graduates confidence that theirs will too. The services UA provides for students are extensive too, including one of the nation’s best campus recreation centers.
ASU, in turn, shows its devotion to service in all sorts of ways, including earning a reputation as one of the best green schools in the US. ASU is also one of the most entrepreneurial schools in the US, ranked #2 for start-ups born on campus. Students are drawn into cutting-edge research, from engineering and computer technology to healthcare and sustainability, and sent onto the job market with the confidence of knowing their experience has prepared them for the complexities of the real world of work.
As for Prescott and Arizona Christian – one of the best small colleges and best Christian colleges in the US – service is built into their DNA, a natural consequence of Prescott’s origins in experimentation and innovation, and ACU’s Christian values and faith.
UA is a top ten institution for Hispanic and Latino students, and takes pride in its deep engagement with the community of Tucson and the state in general. Arizona State, in turn, is one of the most diverse schools in the US, and has made itself so intentionally, by opening doors to students who have traditionally been marginalized, embracing interdisciplinary learning and alternative assessments, and establishing wide-ranging corporate and government partnerships that help minority students find rewarding careers after graduation. ASU’s devotion to diversity even extends to their campus living, some of the best college dorms in the US, which give students the chance to live their identity through themed housing.
NAU (one of the nation’s best mountain colleges) is one of the nation’s leading educators for Native American students – after all, nearly a quarter of Arizona is reservation land – as well as a major contributor to college degrees for Hispanic students. From a town frequently ranked as one of the most loved college towns in America, NAU’s diverse student body finds career-centered programs designed for professional success.
The Future Looks a Lot Like Arizona
What works in Arizona may not work everywhere – it’s a place that attracts a very particular kind of person – but for creative, self-motivated, and ambitious students throughout Arizona, the freedom to create their own curricula, bring their education to their own door, and tie learning to real life and activism makes higher education in Arizona not only affirmative, but revolutionary.
At this time, the College Consensus has scored only the four regionally-accredited, four-year colleges and universities in the state, but as Arizona’s still-young higher education system matures, look for the field to widen.