Best Colleges & Universities in Rhode Island


It is easy to overlook a state as small as Rhode Island, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in academic choices. The east coast is known for its prestigious academia. Rhode Island is no exception, so its opportunities are worth a look.

Even though Rhode Island has fewer than 20 accredited colleges and universities, there are plenty of programs of study from which to choose. The University of Rhode Island is known for its research programs in environmental and natural resource economics. One of the nation’s most esteemed fine arts programs is at the Rhode Island School of Design. Brown University, Rhode Island’s oldest four-year college, is an Ivy League institution that was founded before the American Revolution.

As for the cost of attending colleges and universities in Rhode Island, the state has partnered with other nearby states to help students with discounted tuition. The New England Board of Higher Education’s Tuition Break Program is called the New England Regional Student Program (RSP). The goal of this program is to enable residents of 6 New England states, including Rhode Island, to attend out-of-state New England public colleges and universities with lower tuition requirements.

College and university options in Rhode Island are easy to find. There is sure to be a program right up your alley. Give the small state of Rhode Island more than a small look when you are choosing where to attend the college or university of your dreams.

Colleges and Universities in Rhode Island Fast Facts

  • Fall enrollment (2017) = 82,766
  • Degrees awarded in Rhode Island (2016) = 21,315
  • Median in-state public tuition (2016) = $9,123
  • Median out-of-state tuition (2016) = $22,949
  • Largest schools by the number of degrees awarded = 1. University of Rhode Island, 2. Johnson & Wales University-Providence, 3. Brown University


EDsmart assesses colleges in Rhode Island 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)

All data was gathered from the U.S. Dept of Education websites College Scorecard and College Navigator.

This ranking aims to help students assess the affordability and value of top colleges in Rhode Island so they can make informed decisions about which college to attend.

Best Colleges and Universities in Rhode Island

1. Brown University

Score: 100

Average Net Price: $31,685
Retention Rate: 98%
Graduation Rate: 97%
Salary After Attending: $150,000

The core values of academic training at Brown University are innovation and impact. Founded in 1764, the prominent Ivy League research college remains one of the best colleges in Rhode Island for high-achieving individuals striving to make their mark. Answering the call to define and improve challenges the world is facing inspires community leaders to enter the complex fields of medicine, business, law, the arts, and more through Brown University. With an open curriculum, students are encouraged to create their own educational courses. The school’s undergraduate and graduate programming instill the freedom to explore over 80 majors from Egyptology to medical research. Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education remains one of the most prestigious courses in medical training in the U.S.

Brown University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. In 2019, Brown University ranked #6 for Best Undergraduate Teaching according to US News and ranked #1 for Best Professors in America at

2. University of Rhode Island

Score: 98.4

Average Net Price: $20,334
Retention Rate: 84%
Graduation Rate: 65%
Salary After Attending: $72,693

Students wanting to mix small-town living and big-city adventures will find a perfect combination of cultures at the University of Rhode Island. The main 1,200-acre campus known as Kingston Campus is located only 30 miles away from Providence and a short drive to Newport, Boston, and New York City. The other campuses spread out along the region of the coastal state. These include a multidisciplinary campus, a nursing education center in downtown Providence, and a top-of-the-line graduate school of oceanography overlooking Narragansett Bay. Across the University of Rhode Island’s sprawling locations, their degree program offers 80 undergraduate majors with 100 minors. Master’s programs include the School of Education, the College of Business Administration and College of Engineering. With almost 100 campus organizations and 20 fraternities and sororities, there is no shortage of opportunities for students to network and make the most out of college with their peers.

The University of Rhode Island is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

3. Salve Regina University

Score: 97.6

Average Net Price: $31,816
Retention Rate: 83%
Graduation Rate: 70%
Salary After Attending: $69,477

Salve Regina University was founded by Sisters of Mercy in Newport, Rhode Island in the Providence area. Accepting students from all walks of life and beliefs, the coeducational university aims to prepare students to seek wisdom, promote universal justice, and impart a love of learning. Considered one of the most beautiful colleges in the U.S., its oceanfront property sits on 80 acres of Gilded Age estates where students study and live together. Prospective students can apply to the school’s 58 undergraduate and graduate programs, or 25 certificate programs. The school also offers over 200 study abroad programs in 45 countries. With enrollment capping at approximately 2,000 students, class sizes are relatively small, with one professor teaching a group of about 20 students. Extracurricular activities include community service initiatives and a full athletics program. The backbone of Salve Regina University relies on Mercy values, integrating service, community, and spirituality into every element the university has to offer.

Salve Regina is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

4. Providence College

Score: 97.6

Average Net Price: $38,990
Retention Rate: 92%
Graduation Rate: 82%
Salary After Attending: $68,219

Providence College is the only college in the United States operated by Dominican Friars. The group is a province of preachers sharing the truth about God and opposing heresy. Dedicated to enriching spiritual life on campus, Providence College instills a tight-knit community with over 100 clubs and organizations for students to join. As an elite private Catholic institution, the campus ministry welcomes new and returning students for worship, prayer, and mass. 95% of the student population lives on campus, typically in single-sex-based residences or within a short walking distance. Undergraduates are required to complete the core curriculum, a two-year-long program studying the development of western civilization. Overall majors and minors include 50 other degrees ranging from dance and theatre to social work and engineering. Students aspiring to expand their horizons beyond the United States can apply to the campus’s selection of 300 study abroad programs.

Providence College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

5. Bryant University

Score: 97.0

Average Net Price: $38,050
Retention Rate: 90%
Graduation Rate: 79%
Salary After Attending: $63,005

Offering programs to their College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Business, Bryant University contains limitless combinations of study with nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate courses available. Bryant University fosters an interdisciplinary combination of creative thinking and practical application into its curriculum, leading alumni to successfully intern and gain employment at the world’s biggest corporations and organizations. From collaborating with non-profit organizations to engaging in dynamic coursework out of the classroom, students are prepared with real-world skills to succeed. The campus includes multiple athletic centers, lecture halls, and community-building activities to create a close-knit community of friendly and values-driven relationships. Admittance remains competitive, with an average rate of 73% of students accepted into programs.

Bryant University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the AACSB International. The Association accredits the College of Business at Bryant University as an Advanced Collegiate School of Business. 

6. Rhode Island School of Design

Score: 96.8

Average Net Price: $42,484
Retention Rate: 94%
Graduation Rate: 90%
Salary After Attending: $50,439

Celebrating a rich history of economic and artistic development since the Industrial Revolution, the Rhode Island School of Design is one of the best colleges in RI for aspiring artists and designers. Unlike other selections of colleges listed here that offer more extensive degree programs, this school caters to creative minds who aim to strengthen their craft. The campus flourishes with venues full of opportunities for students to strengthen their interests, such as a nature lab and an art museum with rotating exhibits. Well-roundedness is vital in this school’s ideology. Besides exploring the arts, food, and architecture of local culture to influence their design skills, students are encouraged to take part in typical intramural sports. Approximately 2,500 students from around the world pursue their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 21 art-related areas at this school. Non-students can also enjoy the benefits of joining the RISD Continuing Education program for non-credit courses, lectures, and workshops all year long.

RISD is accredited by two organizations, the New England Commission of Higher Education and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

7. Rhode Island College

Score: 96.6

Average Net Price: $10,523
Retention Rate: 74%
Graduation Rate: 52%
Salary After Attending: $65,797

With over 100 academic majors available to pursue, there is no limit to the paths Rhode Island College students can tread. Dedicated to providing students with a background in research, learning, and personal growth, the leading regional public college prides itself on developing students to the best of their abilities before graduation. The school’s diverse group of professors strives to create learning experiences with students in an atmosphere that is comfortable and engaging. Its national leading programs include nursing, accounting, social work, and performing arts. The university has five campuses: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, and the School of Social Work. The college is a popular location for commuters who love to engage with the local culture and city.

Rhode Island College is accredited to several agencies, including the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. and the New England Commission of Higher Education.

8. Roger Williams University

Score: 96.6

Average Net Price: $36,152
Retention Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 60%
Salary After Attending: $68,618

From architecture students using their own studio space to business school students accessing state-of-the-art software, Roger Williams University is one of the most innovative colleges in Rhode Island. Every avenue of study in the university’s 45 majors is designed to help students gain real-world experience. With smaller class sizes and in-depth courses created by faculty members, students garner personalized attention from their professors. Experiential learning connects individuals with local organizations and businesses in the effort to provide students with a genuine hands-on approach inside the classrooms. The school’s Spiegel Center for Global and International Programs includes opportunities to study abroad in over 30 countries. Attending Roger Williams University is not all work and no play. Over 70 clubs and organizations and 23 varsity sports keep the student body engaged in celebrating school spirit, engaging in local farms, and enjoying the beautiful seaside landscape that overlooks Mount Hope Bay.

Roger Williams University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

9. Johnson & Wales University-Providence

Score: 96.0

Average Net Price: $26,880
Retention Rate: 74%
Graduation Rate: 60%
Salary After Attending: $56,641

Whether you want to become a five-time Michelin star chef or a renowned fashion designer, Johnson & Wales University is a private career-oriented college with pathways to suit your tastes. Its leading programs offer degrees in arts and sciences, business, culinary arts, health, and wellness, among other fields. The school integrates work experience with leadership opportunities to inspire students in their chosen creative pursuits. For over 100 years, the university has blended experiential education in its courses, such as providing industry-specific labs with expertise from real company leaders. Over 50% of the university’s students live on campus, with housing options ranging from suites to apartment-style living. Besides general extracurricular clubs and organizations, the school also hosts social events, including comedians, bands, world-class speakers, and varsity sports competing at the NCAA Division III level.

Johnson & Wales University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. This accreditation includes the university’s four campuses in Providence, RI, North Miami, FL, Denver, CO, Charlotte, NC, and its online programs.

10. Community College of Rhode Island

Score: 95.8

Average Net Price: $5,826
Retention Rate: 66%
Graduation Rate: 20%
Salary After Attending: $59,193

Building a bridge between attending four-year universities and beginning vocational careers, the Community College of Rhode Island provides academic transfer programs and career-oriented training. Founded in 1964, this once modest college of 325 students now enrolls 18,000 students, offering services for full- and part-time students, recent high school graduates, and adult learners. It is Rhode Island’s only public associate degree-granting institution. It awards graduates with degrees such as Associate in Arts (A.A.), Associate in Science (A.S.), Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.), Associate in Applied Science in Technical Studies (A.A.S.-T.S.), and the Associate in Fine Arts (A.F.A.). The college has five locations around Rhode Island in Westerly, Newport, Providence, Lincoln, and Warwick. Activities such as sports and clubs are limited compared to major universities. All students, faculty, and staff have free membership to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art. For students embarking on their college journey for the first time, or continuing their education, Community College of Rhode Island is one of the best schools in Rhode Island.

Community College of Rhode Island is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Leave a response

Leave a Response