To identify the Best Colleges in Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Rhode Island
The best colleges and universities in Rhode Island are few in number, but long in quality. To prepare Rhode Island’s leaders, the state is home to one of the oldest institutions in the nation – Brown University 80 , a Colonial College and Ivy League research university – and a top-tier public research university – the University of Rhode Island 55 , the state’s official land-grant institution. Alongside these world-class universities, Rhode Island has two excellent Catholic institutions – Providence College 76 , originally an all-male college, and Salve Regina University 63 , originally an all-women’s school. Two of the nation’s most innovative business schools also call Rhode Island home; Bryant University 67 and Johnson & Wales University both began as pioneering private, for-profit business schools in Providence, RI, before expanding their programs and becoming known regionally and nationally for their variety of programs and their unique approaches to business and other fields.
At this time, only eight institutions in Rhode Island has sufficient rankings and reviews to generate a Consensus Score; as the College Consensus is dynamic, more colleges and universities may be added in the future.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Ocean State.
Founded in 1917, Providence College was originally an all-male institution intended to provide a Catholic education to Rhode Island, which lacked a Catholic college. With the support of the Diocese of Providence, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph established the school with a faculty made up entirely of Dominican friars; today, Providence College remains the only college in the US administered by the Order of Preachers. After WWII, the college experienced a major boom, establishing a nationally-recognized athletics program, hiring faculty from outside the Dominican Order, and admitting women (starting in 1970). Today, Providence College is Rhode Island’s premier small liberal arts institution, ranked #1 in the North by U.S. News & World Report.
Providence College is committed to the traditional liberal arts, with a newly-redesigned Common Core curriculum that all students must complete; titled Development of Western Civilization, the foundations curriculum culminates in a discussion-based, team-taught interdisciplinary course addressing current issues. Providence’s small class sizes and 12:1 student:faculty ratio means that students develop strong networks and gain crucial guidance and mentoring from faculty members. Nearly 50 undergraduate degree programs, as well as graduate programs in areas like education, health policy, social work, and business, give Providence students confidence entering their careers, and a 94% placement rating for graduates (93% in their chosen field) demonstrates Providence’s command of the 21st century job market.
One of the oldest universities in the US, Brown University was founded as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island in 1764. While it was founded inter-denominationally, by Baptist, Congregationalist, and Episcopal trustees (with the Baptists predominating, as there was no Baptist university in the colonies yet), Brown was the first university in the US to be open to all religions. Brown has historically had some of the most decorated faculty in the world, including numerous Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Genius Grant Fellows, and Pulitzer Prize winners. Brown is regularly ranked among the top national universities by U.S. News & World Report, consistently showing in the top 15 alongside its fellow Ivy League members.
Brown has continuously innovated in higher education, establishing the Ivy League’s first engineering school, and offering one of the first doctoral programs in the US. However, it was Brown’s New Curriculum (now simply called the Brown Curriculum) that has been the most influential. Beginning in 1969, Brown removed all required core courses, instead allowing students to develop their own curriculum. The program includes interdisciplinary freshman courses based on skills and themes rather than academic disciplines, and replaced grading with pass or no-credit options. With its freedom to explore and knit together interests, Brown’s curriculum has been one of the most important innovations of the 20th century, and spread to numerous other colleges and universities. Its central place in American higher education makes Brown one of Rhode Island’s top universities.
A small, private, business-focused institution, Bryant University has an unusual history. Founded in 1863, Bryant was originally a campus of Bryant & Stratton College, a for-profit business school with branches throughout the US. However, in 1916 the corporation sold the Rhode Island campus, which merged with a local business school, the Rhode Island Commercial School. That started Bryant down the path to incorporation as a nonprofit entity in 1949, and a growing regional reputation as one of the best business schools in Rhode Island. Originally located in Providence, the school moved to Smithfield, RI, when Earl S. Tupper – founder of Tupperware, and a graduate of Bryant – donated his estate for a new campus in 1967. Today, Bryant is ranked the #10 best regional university in the North by U.S. News & World Report.
While Bryant has two colleges – the College of Business, and the College of Arts and Sciences – the university is primarily based in business, and the majority of students are business majors. However, Bryant takes an approach to business that more closely resembles a liberal arts college than a simple career-training school; each business student is required to minor in a liberal arts field, while liberal arts majors are required to minor in business. International business students are also required to minor in a foreign language, and there are many – more than half Bryant’s students study abroad. Bryant is home to numerous specialized research centers, including institutes for entrepreneurship, innovation, and US-China business. Whatever the specialization, Bryant University has its finger on the pulse, and students get their business cred from one of Rhode Island’s best universities.
Roger Williams University
Roger Williams University began in the YMCA – not an uncommon origin, at one point in America’s higher education history. In 1919, Northeastern University (in Boston, MA) opened a branch campus at the Providence, RI, YMCA, offering night classes for working adults. The success of the venture led the YMCA to take over in 1940, building the extension campus into a 2-year junior college. As it grew from a junior college to a 4-year baccalaureate college, Roger Williams moved to its own campus in Bristol, RI, and began ambitiously building its programs and reputation. Today, Roger Williams University is ranked in the 35 best regional universities for the North by U.S. News & World Report.
Roger Williams makes the most of its heritage as a pioneer in adult education, as well as its roots in the liberal arts. With its small size (around 4000 students) and low student:faculty ratio, RWU emphasizes student support, faculty-student interaction, and hands-on learning, all built on a strong foundation in the liberal arts. But with its feet planted in adult education, Roger Williams also understands the importance of market-ready, practical education that bridges theory and practice. RWU has deep connections to the business and other sectors of Rhode Island, giving students a strong place on the job market, and the university is the home of Rhode Island’s only law school. Its perfect mix of strengths makes Roger Williams University a top choice for Rhode Island students.
Salve Regina University
Founded in 1934 by the Sisters of Mercy – an Irish Catholic order of nuns dedicated to the education and protection of women and children – Salve Regina University nevertheless did not open until more than a decade later, when Ochre Court, a 50-room mansion in Newport, RI, was donated to the school by its owner. Salve Regina grew over the 20th century into an 80 acre campus built on seven connected estates, including more than 20 historic mansions and buildings. Noted for its commitment to sustainability, community service, and historic preservation, Salve Regina is ranked in the top 40 best regional institutions in the North by U.S. News & World Report.
Salve Regina University was founded as a women’s college, and though it has been coed since 1973, the university is still more than two-thirds women. With more than 2700 students, SRU is a comprehensive university, offering degrees from the bachelor’s to the Ph.D. level in humanities and Doctor in Nursing Practice. Salve Regina is particularly known for the excellence of its nursing programs, a comprehensive program with more than 60 years of development and a variety of completion paths. Professional programs in education, social work, and business also add to SRU’s reputation for service leadership, and give plenty of reason to call Salve Regina University one of Rhode Island’s top universities.
Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University was originally founded as a private, for-profit business venture by entrepreneurs Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales in 1914. Both were teachers, and their original vision was for a small business school, first housed in their home in Providence, RI, until America’s entry into WWII a few years later left businesses understaffed, creating a prime opportunity for women. Johnson & Wales became nonprofit in 1963, and grew remarkably over the last half of the 20th century, opening campuses up and down the east coast. Today, JWU is not only a higher education success story, but a top U.S. News & World Report regional institution for the North.
Johnson & Wales has made their name largely by focusing on specialized areas other colleges and universities neglect. While it was founded as a business school, JWU found its real niche in culinary arts and hospitality, starting one of the pioneering programs in hospitality business and earning an international reputation as one of the world’s best culinary universities. Of course, business in general is still big – literally, as JWU is one of the 40 largest business schools in the nation. Experiential learning is central to Johnson & Wales’ curriculum, from internships and study abroad to its test kitchens and cooperative education opportunities. Students at Johnson & Wales learn their careers hands-on, making it a top choice for Rhode Island’s aspiring chef, restaurateurs, and managers.
University of Rhode Island
The University of Rhode Island dates back to the establishment of the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1888; that outpost set the foundations for Rhode Island’s land-grant institution, founded in 1892 as the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, a 2-year program focused on modern farming and industry. As the Morrill Land Grant Act required, the college provided practical learning, and in just over a decade had grown into a 4-year bachelor’s institution, incorporating the liberal arts into its growing engineering and applied science curriculum. Today, the University of Rhode Island is the state’s flagship public research institution, and a U.S. News & World Report top-tier national university.
As a public research university, URI is focused on providing excellent educational opportunity for Rhode Island’s people, and with its land, sea, and urban-grant heritage, that mission is especially directed toward practical, applied learning that has immediate impact on the community. For that reason, the university’s strongest programs tend to focus on the most important fields for modern life – nursing, pharmacy, engineering, business, and education, among them. Its land and sea grant research have made URI one of the nation’s most productive institutions for agricultural research, oceanography, and marine ecosystems, especially with the international journal Marine Resource Economics. The University of Rhode Island has been a first and best choice for Rhode Island students for well over a century.
Rhode Island College
Founded in 1854, Rhode Island College began as the Rhode Island State Normal School, one of the first schools in the US to adopt the French “normal” model of teacher education. Under the normal school, prospective teachers undertook a 2-year course of hands-on learning in a real classroom – no theory, just teaching, usually practicing a rote lesson and learning classroom management. Though the normal school closed just a decade later, it was revived in 1869 during the post-Civil War fervor for learning, and this time it stuck, growing into a 4-year teacher’s college, then a comprehensive undergraduate and graduate college. Today, Rhode Island’s oldest public college is still one of Rhode Island’s favorite higher ed choices.
Rhode Island College offers more than 90 undergraduate degree programs, and more than 30 graduate programs, providing a wide range of options for students. Following the mission of a regional college, RIC focuses particularly on the needs of the community, with nationally accredited schools of nursing, social work, and education giving Rhode Island’s future civil servants and healthcare professionals the best, most current training and instruction. The student body stands at around 9000, and its commitment to the needs of all students – traditional-aged high school graduates, working adults, career-changing professionals, and more – makes Rhode Island College an unsung hero of New England’s higher education story.