Best Colleges & Universities in Iowa
You may know Iowa as the “Corn State” or “Hawkeye State.” From these nicknames, you can tell that Iowa is well-known for both its corn production and its higher education opportunities. It is home to Iowa State University, the oldest land-grant university in America. Students flock to Iowa from all over the world, not only to enjoy the education but to take part in the Big 10 and Big 12 athletics programs available.
Because of the concentration of agriculture in the midwestern U.S., Iowa’s colleges and universities offer some of the most innovative agricultural degree programs. You can find any avenue of study there, however. Central College, for example, is leading in programs about environmental sustainability. Luther College is a leader in music education. Emmaus Bible College offers Christian students an education that includes religious studies.
Financially, Iowa is stepping up efforts to help students who would like to attend school from out of state by participating in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which allows students from participating states to pay nor more than 150% of the in-state tuition at another participating state’s colleges or universities. See if you could participate in this program by visiting https://www.mhec.org/programs/midwest-student-exchange-program.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is based in the University of Iowa, and the state’s institutions have produced nationally ranked collegiate wrestlers for many years. As you can see, the state that produces loads of corn and soybeans has a variety of educational avenues for students of all academic and athletic interests to pursue. So Iowa may provide you with the education for which you are searching.
Colleges and Universities in Iowa Fast Facts Fall
- Enrollment (2017) = 260,954
- Degrees awarded in Iowa (2016) = 67,521
- Average in-state public tuition (2016) = $7,098
- Median out-of-state tuition (2016) = $20,462
- Largest schools by the number of degrees awarded = 1. Kaplan University-Davenport Campus, 2. Iowa State University, 3. University of Iowa
EDsmart assesses colleges in Iowa based on data that covers four main areas:
- Cost (average net price)
- Academic quality (graduation rate)
- Student satisfaction (retention rate)
- Salary After Attending (the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid, at 10 years after entering the school)
This ranking aims to help students assess the affordability and value of top colleges in Iowa so they can make informed decisions about which college to attend.
Best Colleges in Iowa for 2019-2020
1. Iowa State University
Average Net Price: $14,331
Retention Rate: 88%
Graduation Rate: 74%
Salary After Attending: $50,700
Iowa State University is located in Ames and had a total enrollment of 34,992 students in 2018. Iowa State University consistently ranks among the top universities in the world. Its undergraduate programs in landscape architecture, agriculture and forestry, engineering, chemistry, and physics are all well regarded. The university’s world-class graduate programs in veterinary medicine, analytical chemistry, biological/agricultural engineering, physics, and higher education administration continue to be superior to those of other colleges and universities worldwide.
2. University of Iowa
Average Net Price: $15,103
Retention Rate: 87%
Graduation Rate: 73%
Salary After Attending: $51,900
The University of Iowa was founded in 1847, and it is the oldest university in Iowa. The university is regarded as one of the best colleges in IA for veterans. With more than 200 areas of study, the programs in communications, nursing, physical therapy, education, and chemistry are considered to be among the best in the nation. In addition, this university’s athletic program, most well-known for its championship wrestling team, is so impressive that one of Iowa’s state nicknames is the Hawkeye State, from the University of Iowa’s mascot.
3. University of Northern Iowa
Average Net Price: $16,496
Retention Rate: 84%
Graduation Rate: 66%
Salary After Attending: $44,600
Located in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa offers students a choice of more than 90 majors. Founded in 1876, the university had a total enrollment of nearly 12,000 students in 2018, and it has an acceptance rate of 81 percent. The school’s degree programs in education, accounting, finance, and communications are top-notch. The university is considered to be one of the safest colleges in America, and its athletic opportunities are plentiful. Students who are looking to join clubs and campus organizations can choose from more than 250 options, including the Women in STEM club, the Pre-Physician Assistant Club, the Panther Village Activities Board, Art for El Salvador, and the American Choral Directors Association.
Average Net Price: $11,862
Retention Rate: 77%
Graduation Rate: 61%
Salary After Attending: $43,100
Northwest Iowa Community College began in 1966 and is located in Sheldon. The institution is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The college has a total enrollment of around 600 undergraduate students, and it boasts an acceptance rate of 100 percent. Some of the most popular majors at the school include the liberal arts, humanities, nursing, and electrical engineering. The graduation rate at Northwest Iowa Community College is 70 percent, and the average starting salary for graduates of the institution is approximately $38,000 per year. The school boasts a good value for the cost, and it has a good record as a safe campus with a high quality of life for the student body. Visit https://nwicc.edu/ for more information.
5. Loras College
Average Net Price: $18,408
Retention Rate: 78%
Graduation Rate: 70%
Salary After Attending: $44,600
Loras College, founded in 1839, is located in Dubuque. It is the oldest post-secondary institution in the state. With an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students, this Catholic college offers undergraduate and graduate degrees with a focus on the liberal arts. The acceptance rate is roughly 95 percent. Psychology, criminal justice, and business are some of the most popular majors at the institution, and the college is one of the only schools in the country that offers a four-year engineering degree that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Loras College is also one of the best value colleges in Iowa. Students at the school enjoy a student-teacher ratio of 12:1, much better than the national average of 18:1. All students receive financial aid.
6. Emmaus Bible College
Average Net Price: $11,530
Retention Rate: 70%
Graduation Rate: 69%
Salary After Attending: $34,400
Founded in 1941, Emmaus Bible College is affiliated with the Open Brethren. The private college is situated in Dubuque, and students can choose to double major in both biblical and professional studies. The college offers programs in music, intercultural studies, teacher education, educational ministries, theology, and counseling psychology. In addition, the school offers a 3+1 transfer program for select majors. Students who participate in this program spend three years studying at Emmaus before transferring to the University of Dubuque for a single year of study. This option enables students to complete a degree that is not available at Emmaus. The 3+1 transfer program is currently available in fields such as aviation, economics, biology, chemistry, and sports management and marketing. After completing the 3+1 program, students will earn a B.S. from Emmaus College and either a B.S. or a B.A. from the University of Dubuque. As a Christian college, Emmaus prioritizes student’s spiritual development, and students can choose to participate in regular service ministries, growth groups, and chapel.
7. Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary
Average Net Price: $14,874
Retention Rate: 79%
Graduation Rate: 58%
Salary After Attending: $35,400
Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary is a private institution in Ankeny. Founded in 1921, this Christian college trains both men and women to be Christian ministers. Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees are both offered. In addition to its seminary, the college offers many undergraduate degrees. For example, students can receive bachelor’s degrees in music education, sacred music, office administration, secondary English education, and elementary education. The institution provides both two-year and four-year degrees in biblical studies. Degrees are also available in pastoral training and world missions.
8. Iowa Lakes Community College
Average Net Price: $10,576
Retention Rate: 62%
Graduation Rate: 51%
Salary After Attending: $34,000
Located in Estherville, Iowa Lakes Community College offers a variety of career and technical programs. Students can choose to enroll in the diploma, certificate, or Associate in Applied Science degree programs. Some programs, including the accounting specialist program and the business specialist program, can be completed entirely online. The college offers programs in an array of disciplines such as nursing, massage therapy, hotel and restaurant management, agribusiness, and wind energy and turbine technology. Specialized evening college courses are offered in select subjects; these programs enable students to complete their coursework without the need for any daytime classes. Iowa Lakes Community College also offers a bachelor’s degree completion program so that students in specific disciplines can transfer from a university to the community college to complete the final two years of their bachelor’s degree.
9. Buena Vista University
Average Net Price: $19,175
Retention Rate: 75%
Graduation Rate: 56%
Salary After Attending: $40,000
Located in Storm Lake, Buena Vista University is a Presbyterian college that offers more than 45 majors. The university opened its doors in 1891. The school has an acceptance rate of 64 percent, and the total student population is just under 2,000 students. The average class size ranges from 10 to 19 pupils, and the student-teacher ratio is 9:1. Elementary education, psychology, liberal arts, and humanities are particularly popular majors for students at Buena Vista. The graduation rate at the college is 60 percent, and the average starting salary for graduates is $34,500 per year.
10. Northeast Iowa Community College
Average Net Price: $9,071
Retention Rate: 64%
Graduation Rate: 41%
Salary After Attending: $33,700
Northeast Iowa Community College was founded in 1966 and is made up of two campuses, one in the town of Calmar and the other in the town of Peosta. The college offers associate’s degrees, diplomas, and certificates in 67 fields of study across nine academic departments. It boasts a student-teacher ratio of 14:1. Students at Northeast Iowa Community College can complete some associate’s degrees entirely online, and they can also take advantage of summer sessions and an honors program. Notably, students in the agriculture and dairy science programs can utilize the on-site learning opportunities at both the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and at Iowa’s Dairy Center. The total enrollment currently is just under 5,000 students and the average salary for graduates of this school is $33,900 per year. Outside of academia, the college offers several intramural sports teams for students, including a pickleball team and an ultimate frisbee team.
Further Reading: Cheapest Accredited Online College Rankings
11. Grand View University
Average Net Price: $18,354
Retention Rate: 68%
Graduation Rate: 49%
Salary After Attending: $43,200
Located in Des Moines, Grand View University is a Lutheran university that emphasizes the liberal arts. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, this private university has around 2,000 students. Some of the most popular majors at Grand View University include nursing, psychology, finance, human services, and business, and the school has an acceptance rate of 93 percent. Evening degree programs are available and the student-teacher ratio is 13:1. Grand View University consistently makes the lists of the best value colleges in Iowa.
12. Southwestern Community College
Average Net Price: $8,894
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 44%
Salary After Attending: $31,700
Located in Creston, Southwestern Community College offers programs in the arts and sciences, and it is well regarded for its programs in career and technical education. In addition to the main campus in Creston, the college has satellite campuses in Red Oak and Osceola. Students can choose from more than 400 online classes offered each semester. On-campus, students can choose from programs such as professional music, nursing, graphic design, criminal justice, and information technology systems networking. Some of the most popular fields of study at this school are the humanities, liberal arts, welding, and licensed practical nurse training. A college transfer program is available in the arts and sciences. Southwestern Community College accepts 100 percent of applicants, and it has a graduation rate of 56 percent. The average starting salary for graduates is $28,500.
13. Graceland University-Lamoni
Average Net Price: $18,181
Retention Rate: 64%
Graduation Rate: 46%
Salary After Attending: $36,200
Graceland University-Lamoni has two primary campuses. One is in Lamoni, IA, and the other is in Independence, MO. Satellite centers are located in the Iowa towns of Centerville, Cedar Rapids, as well as in Trenton, MO. More than 50 majors are available at this private university, and the most popular fields include registered nursing, elementary education, and business administration. A new bachelor’s degree in Hispanic studies launched in the fall of 2019. Students will also be able to take advantage of a new minor option in creative writing. In 2018, the student population across all campuses was just over 2,000. Uniquely, Graceland University requires all Lamoni campus students who are under the age of 23 to live in university-run housing. An elected council plans social and academic events for on-campus students, including free movie nights every Thursday. The acceptance rate at Graceland University is 56 percent.
14. Marshalltown Community College
Average Net Price: $8,573
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 36%
Salary After Attending: $31,500
Founded in 1927, Marshalltown Community College is located just to the south of Marshalltown and has a satellite campus in Grinnell. The college is part of the Iowa Valley district of community colleges, and students can choose from 55 different degree and diploma options. The average enrollment at the community college is around 2,000 students, and the student-teacher ratio is 13:1. In addition to its on-campus offerings, the college has a liberal arts degree that can be completed entirely online. Students can seamlessly transfer the credits earned from this two-year degree into many university programs, including those at Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. Unlike the majority of community colleges, Marshalltown offers on-campus living options for student residents.
15. North Iowa Area Community College
Average Net Price: $9,161
Retention Rate: 58%
Graduation Rate: 45%
Salary After Attending: $33,900
North Iowa Area Community College was founded in 1918 and is in Mason City. With an acceptance rate of 100 percent, the college offers a variety of degree and diploma options, including programs in healthcare, agriculture, the arts and sciences, business, and industrial fields. The most popular programs at the college are the arts and humanities, nursing and nursing assistant, emergency medical technician, business, and agricultural production operations. North Iowa Area Community College consistently ranks as one of the best community colleges in America. The college has a graduation rate of 60 percent, and the average starting salary for alumni is $28,500. More than 90 percent of graduates have jobs within two years of earning their degrees.
16. Purdue University Global-Cedar Rapids
Average Net Price: $17,081
Retention Rate: 100%
Graduation Rate: 30%
Salary After Attending: $33,900
Purdue University Global is a for-profit university with a campus located in Cedar Rapids. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the school offers more than 180 programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Nursing, business, and healthcare management are among the most popular majors. The student population included 223 full-time students and 247 part-time students during the 2017 academic year. With an acceptance rate of 100 percent, the graduation rate for the Cedar Rapids campus is 33 percent, and alumni go on to earn an average starting salary of $24,600. Purdue University Global offers evening degree programs for students with daytime schedule constraints. The teacher-student ratio is 19:1. Roughly 77 percent of graduates find employment within two years of graduation.
17. Iowa Central Community College
Average Net Price: $9,873
Retention Rate: 57%
Graduation Rate: 31%
Salary After Attending: $36,500
With the main campus in Fort Dodge, Iowa Central Community College was founded in 1966 and has satellite centers in Storm Lake and Webster City. The college offers more than 100 programs of study, and the student population is just over 2,800. Nursing, nursing assistant, humanities, liberal arts, and industrial electronics technician are among the most popular courses. Evening degree programs are available, and the school has a teacher-student ratio of 18:1. Several degree programs are available entirely online, and these typically require sixteen weeks of study. For example, online students can earn degrees in criminal justice, computer networking technology, human services, healthcare administration, and business. Online classes are also available to supplement on-campus degree studies. Public speaking, business math, and psychology are a few of the online classes that are regularly available. First-year students live in on-campus housing, and the college has many amenities, including an on-site nurse and on-site dental care for students. The graduation rate at Iowa Central Community College is 42 percent, and alumni have an average salary of $36,500 six years after graduation. Eighty-nine percent of alumni are employed within two years of graduation.
18. Southeastern Community College
Average Net Price: $8,344
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 33%
Salary After Attending: $28,500
Founded in 1967, Southeastern Community College has its main campuses in Burlington and Keokuk. A smaller center is located in Mount Pleasant. Currently, the total student population is just over 1,200 students, and the graduation rate is 44 percent. Some of the most popular subjects at Southeastern Community College include nursing, licensed practical nurse training, the arts and humanities, agricultural business, information technology, and emergency medical technician. Healthcare students may also be interested in the medical scribe, occupational therapy, or respiratory care programs. The school offers associate’s degrees in animation for television, social media marketing, and network administration and cybersecurity. The honors program at SCC is for students who maintain a 3.5GPA. These students are eligible to take specialized honors courses, and they have a dedicated advising team. Should an honors student choose to transfer from Southeastern Community College to a partner university, he or she can keep honors status there, too. First-year students at Southeastern live on campus, and the college provides daycare services for students with children. In terms of employment after graduation, 87 percent of alumni are working within two years of earning their degree, and the average salary six years after graduation is $28,500.
19. Kirkwood Community College
Average Net Price: $10,982
Retention Rate: 61%
Graduation Rate: 28%
Salary After Attending: $35,800
Founded in 1966, Kirkwood Community College has a main campus in Cedar Rapids and a secondary campus in Iowa City. The college has eight regional centers, including those located in Belle Plaine, Coralville, Tipton, Washington, and Williamsburg. Students at Kirkwood Community College can earn associate’s degrees in a variety of liberal arts majors such as music, political science, early childhood education, art, anthropology and cultural studies, and history. The college also offers degrees in Chinese, French, and Spanish, and applied sciences degrees are available in engineering, math, agriculture, and computer science. An accelerated program, FlexForward, is provided for adult students. The program is currently available for business management majors, and construction management and welding students will also be eligible for this program in the fall of 2020. The program offers more flexibility than some on-campus options, and it takes the student’s previous experience into account. On-campus housing is available for students who need it, and the campus has an on-site recreation center and a student health center.
20. Hawkeye Community College
Average Net Price: $11,808
Retention Rate: 69%
Graduation Rate: 23%
Salary After Attending: $36,100
Hawkeye Community College is located in Waterloo, and it has regional centers in Cedar Falls, Waverly, and Independence. It is one of the best schools in Iowa for students hoping to attend a community college. Currently, full-time student enrollment sits at just over 2,500, and an additional 3,080 students attend the college on a part-time basis. The school has a graduation rate of 34 percent. Along with the liberal arts and humanities, the most popular fields of study at Hawkeye Community College include nursing, machine and metalworking, business support services, and natural resources conservation and management. Other program options include animal science, physical therapy assistant, professional photography, veterinary assistant, and dental hygienist. The student-teacher ratio at Hawkeye is 17:1, and students can take advantage of a wide range of academic services to help them with their studies. For example, the college provides academic and transfer advising, student tutoring services, and student success specialists. Students might also want to visit the on-site career center, and make-up testing is available for eligible students. On-campus housing is available, and the school has both a dental clinic and a medical clinic for students, too. More than 90 percent of graduates are employed within two years, and the average salary six years after graduation is $36,100.
21. Western Iowa Tech Community College
Average Net Price: $8,349
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 28%
Salary After Attending: $31,500
Founded in 1966, Western Iowa Tech Community College now has five campuses. The institution’s main campus is in Sioux City, and smaller campuses are in Mapleton, Le Mars, Cherokee, and Denison. The student population consists of over 3,000 full-time students and more than 3,700 part-time students. On-campus housing is provided in three residence halls, and a student life center includes walking areas, a weight-training room, and cardio machines. Associate’s degrees and certificates are offered in many fields of study. For example, the school has an associate’s degree in surgical technology, and students can also choose from subjects such as musical instrument fabrication and repair, firefighting, cinematography, and recording technology. An honors program is available, and students may also wish to be part of the International Education Institute. Specialized courses are available for English language learners, and many programs can be completed entirely online, including those for accounting, agriculture, human resources, child development, entrepreneurship concepts, and video game design.
22. Eastern Iowa Community College District
Average Net Price: $9,262
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 36%
Salary After Attending: $29,400
The Eastern Iowa Community College District is three different community colleges: Clinton Community College, Muscatine Community College, and Scott Community College. Together, the three colleges offer programs suited for a wide range of students. Adult learners may be interested in the district’s degree plan for working adults or in the option to earn an associate’s degree exclusively with nighttime classes. Registered apprenticeships are available in the areas of culinary arts and manufacturing, and an honors program is available to those who maintain at least a 3.5GPA or who have a score of at least 1000 on the SAT. Overall, the colleges in this district offer a combined total of 20 different associate’s degrees and 32 certificates. Students at Clinton Community College can take advantage of an on-campus housing option. This is provided in single rooms or suites of two rooms.
23. Maharishi University of Management
Average Net Price: $17,942
Retention Rate: 73%
Graduation Rate: 60%
Salary After Attending: $21,400
Formerly known as Maharishi International University, this institution is located in Fairfield. The non-profit university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers on-campus and online degrees. Students can earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in subjects such as art, screenwriting, computer science, and software development. Uniquely, the school also has degree options in Vedic studies, Ayurveda wellness, and consciousness and human potential. Single rooms are available for all students in on-campus housing, and the dining hall serves organic and vegetarian options. All students and faculty members practice meditation twice per day at designated times. The undergraduate enrollment is just over 260 students, and the acceptance rate at the university is 75 percent. The most popular majors include business, pathology, physiology, and communications, and the student-teacher ratio is 11:1. Evening degree options are available in several subjects, and students are given the flexibility to design their own major for the B.A. and B.S. programs. The student body at Maharishi is very diverse, and more than 50 percent of undergraduate students are over the age of 25. With a graduation rate of 64 percent, 72 percent of alumni find employment within two years of graduation. Six years after graduation, the average salary for Maharishi graduates is $21,400.
24. Indian Hills Community College
Average Net Price: $8,591
Retention Rate: 55%
Graduation Rate: 34%
Salary After Attending: $32,100
Indian Hills Community College has campuses in Ottumwa and Centerville. Founded in 1966, the college has both residential and commuter students. Associate’s degrees, diplomas, and certificates are available in several disciplines, including radiologic technology, phlebotomy, nutrition, aviation pilot training, and commercial driver training. The institution also offers an associate’s degree in health information technology that can be completed entirely online. Online-only diploma programs are also available in medical/insurance coding, healthcare documentation, and health unit coordination. At Indian Hills, the arts are particularly well regarded. The school has a concert choir, a chamber choir, and a jazz band. Private music lessons are available in jazz, woodwinds, voice, and piano, and IHCC offers several performing arts scholarships. Several study abroad options are available for interested students.
25. Des Moines Area Community College
Average Net Price: $10,489
Retention Rate: 59%
Graduation Rate: 29%
Salary After Attending: $34,300
Des Moines Area Community College has campuses in Ankeny, Boone, Carroll, Newton, Des Moines, and West Des Moines. Founded in 1966, the institution has more than 225 programs and had over 36,000 students in credit courses in 2016. That same year, over 22,000 students participated in non-credit courses. Eight of the school’s programs can be completed entirely online, including certificates in retail management, homeland security, digital forensic investigation, and digital marketing. Online-only associate’s degrees are offered in the areas of criminal justice, accounting, psychology, liberal arts, and computer information systems. High school students can use the Career Advantage program to receive Des Moines Area Community College credits for their high school coursework, and the college also provides an honors program and study abroad options. For students with children who are up to five years old, on-campus daycare is provided during regular business hours. Bus transportation is available from the college, and students can participate in a range of clubs and athletic activities.
26. Ellsworth Community College
Average Net Price: $11,521
Retention Rate: 54%
Graduation Rate: 33%
Salary After Attending: $33,400
Founded in 1890 as Ellsworth College, Ellsworth Community College is in Iowa Falls. The college offers degrees and certificates in fields such as veterinary medicine, swine management, precision agriculture, and animal science. Students with interest in healthcare may wish to consider the institution’s programs in medical assisting, nursing, pharmacy, and physical therapy. For liberal arts students, degrees are available in art, social work, English, education, law, and psychology. In addition to its on-campus offerings, Ellsworth Community College provides numerous online-only programs. For example, programs in human services, secondary education, history, finance and banking, and accounting can be completed entirely online. Through admissions partnerships, students at the college can easily transfer their credits to Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, or the University of Iowa. The school also has a partnership with Bachelor Academy Sachsen in Germany. Through this partnership, students in agriculture programs complete two years of courses at Ellsworth before transferring to Germany to complete their final two years of study.
27. Waldorf University
Average Net Price: $19,135
Retention Rate: 55%
Graduation Rate: 26%
Salary After Attending: $37,800
Founded in 1903, Waldorf University is a for-profit university located in Forest City. Associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the private university has approximately 1,500 undergraduate students and an acceptance rate of 72 percent. The graduation rate of the university is 29 percent, and the starting salary for alumni is an average of $32,200. With a student-teacher ratio of 19:1, popular subjects at Waldorf include business, fire protection and prevention, occupational safety and health, psychology, and homeland security and disaster management. Nearly 90 percent of first-year students live on campus, and 57 percent of undergraduates are over the age of 25. Of students who graduate, 96 percent have employment within two years of graduation, and the median salary six years after graduation from Waldorf University is $37,800.
28. Iowa Western Community College
Average Net Price: $11,531
Retention Rate: 48%
Graduation Rate: 23%
Salary After Attending: $33,100
Iowa Western Community College is located in Council Bluffs and was founded in 1967. The college provides degrees and certificates in more than 80 subjects, including its flight school. Dental assisting, music technology, culinary arts, early childhood education, literature, and laser systems are among the many degree options at the college. In the area of culinary arts, students can specialize in baking and pastry or foodservice. The institution also has a certificate in songwriting and rap production, and associate’s degrees in psychology and sociology are offered entirely online. Both evening and winter-term classes are available, and students can choose to commute or live on-campus in one of the residence halls. Specialized advising is available for students who are planning to transfer to a university, and the college also offers an online library and online tutoring options. Mental health support and disability services are available as needed.