Arizona’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

Arizona’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in Arizona if you reward schools for making the best use of their limited resources? Academic Stewardship asks how effectively schools manage their financial and human resources to gain the influence that makes them academically excellent. Schools that are exemplary in Academic Stewardship are doing everything in their power to help students and faculty achieve their full potential.

Colleges and universities in Arizona deserve to be recognized when they do more with less. It’s impressive when a large wealthy school can spend money lavishly on expensive buildings and programs. But it’s even more impressive when a small school with limited means is able to train and inspire students that the larger wealthier schools tend to ignore.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities reported in late 2021 that almost 75 percent of higher-education professionals at US colleges and universities felt financial constraints prevented their schools from effectively attracting students. Distracted by the size and amenities of larger schools, prospective students tended especially to be overawed by the big research universities.

Arizona’s smaller colleges, especially its liberal arts colleges, need effective ways of communicating their value to a world that celebrates “bigger is better” and “you need the best.” Unfortunately, most college ranking companies, such as U.S. News & World Report, define “best” in a way that devalues schools with smaller budgets and fewer students even when these schools do remarkable work in advancing their students’ education. By and large, college rankings penalize schools that serve underserved populations.

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell, who for years now has criticized conventional college rankings for misrepresenting what’s good and valuable in education, we decided to construct a new ranking metric that highlights those schools that do more with less. That metric—called the Academic Stewardship metric—takes away both the size and the wealth advantage of schools, and focuses instead on how well schools use the resources available to them to advance the education of their students.

How We Measure the Academic Stewardship of Arizona’s Colleges and Universities

Arizona's Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship
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As a metric, Academic Stewardship is defined by a precise mathematical formula, which can be found in our Academic Stewardship white paper. Measuring the Academic Stewardship of Arizona’s colleges requires measuring two forms of stewardship: 1) Stewardship of financial resources (using the money they have responsibility without waste) and 2) Stewardship of human resources (doing their best to help students, faculty, and administration to flourish). Together, these two types of stewardship form what we call  Academic Stewardship. If you want to learn more about the factors involved in Academic Stewardship, click the more button below.

  1. Stewardship of financial resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of financial resources, we factored in its undergraduate size, budget, endowments and reserves, as well as tuition and fees. All these data are available from the National Center for Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. In addition, we factored in a school’s financial responsibility as gauged by the Federal Student Aid Office at the US Department of Education through its financial responsibility composite scores.
  2. Stewardship of human resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of human resources, we used our InfluenceRanking engine to track the influence of the school’s faculty and alumni but also to control for size of the undergraduate student body. We’ve found that measuring a school’s influence based on the contributions of faculty and alumni make in their fields of study but then also controlling for size of the undergraduate population is the single best indicator of academic excellence. We call this Concentrated Influence. Schools that rank highly in Concentrated Influence are schools that, given their available human resources, invest heavily in their students and faculty, and the results are demonstrable.
    • We measure the influence of colleges and universities based on the publications and citations of the schools’ faculty and alumni who are teaching in and working in areas related to their degrees. To do this, we take publicly available databases, such as Semantic Scholar, Crossref, and Wikipedia and use these to measure the influence of academics in their disciplines. Having measured the influence of persons, we then identify the schools that they’re affiliated with, adding up the influence scores of the faculty and alumni to measure the influence of the schools and their disciplinary programs. Finally, we control these influence scores by size of undergraduate student body so that schools do not score high in influence simply because of a size advantage. We lay out these methodological considerations on our methodology page.
  3. Academic Stewardship: Having measured a school’s stewardship of financial and human resources in the two previous points, we now divide the second measure by the first to define the Academic Stewardship metric. This metric spotlights smaller schools, with fewer financial resources and people, that invest wisely and do proportionately better in building influence than large wealthy schools. Many of these smaller, less wealthy schools are incentivized to make better use of their resources but would never get recognized in conventional school rankings, which directly or indirectly put a premium on the wealth of schools.

Academic Stewardship as so defined is connected to keeping tuition and other costs down, but it should not be confused with affordability or frugality. The schools that this metric ranks as exemplary academic stewards tend to be all over the map when it comes to tuition and other costs. At issue is the influence of schools given the financial and human resources they have on hand. If a school is going to charge more for tuition, then that needs to be reflected in the school having proportionately greater influence.

Why Academic Stewardship Matters to Students and Their Families

The benefits of attending a school with strong academic stewardship include:

  • A clear reason for why students are at the school in the first place. Without the distraction of amenities and luxuries, these schools are at once unpretentious but also passionately committed to their educational mission. The schools in this ranking are financially efficient and academically rigorous. By avoiding frills, these schools take the most direct path to accomplishing their mission of educating students.
  • Valuing character over prestige and self-indulgence. A school that’s a good steward of its resources doesn’t instill shame in its students over what they are missing (such as elite cuisine) but rather pride in what they have and making the most of it. These schools exhibit a culture of good stewardship, which tends to build good character in the students that attend these schools.
  • Avoiding the spoiled-student syndrome. It’s easy to think that offering students endless options and opportunities will enrich their time at school in every way. But spoiling people—whether in business, sports, or academics—has the opposite effect, causing people to take their advantages for granted and in the end achieving less than they might otherwise, a point well-documented in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. Schools exhibiting academic stewardship avoid this pitfall.
  • The best schools vs. the schools that help students to be their best. Students at schools demonstrating outstanding academic stewardship aren’t so much concerned about being at the “best” school, whatever that may mean, as about being at a school that helps them to be their best. These schools pay attention to their students, hoping that any glory goes to them rather than to the school. Small schools, and especially liberal arts colleges, help themselves by communicating this advantage to prospective students.
  • Emphasizing development over talent and achievement. Schools like Harvard and Stanford have their pick of academic talent, and their students have a long record of achievement even before they apply to such elite schools. But if a school doesn’t have the resources of a Harvard or Stanford, how does it build a great team of students? In that case, it must focus on student development. Colleges exemplifying academic stewardship emphasize student growth and development, ensuring that the schools are doing everything in their power to help students reach their full potential and thereby become their best selves.
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Arizona’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #2

    Northern Arizona University

    Flagstaff , AZ
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    82%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    27K

    What is Northern Arizona University known for?

    Northern Arizona University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Anthropology
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #4

    Diné College

    Tsaile , AZ

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    20%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is Diné College known for?

    Diné College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Engineering
  3. Tuition + fees

    $39K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    3K

    What is Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott known for?

    Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
  4. #7

    Grand Canyon University

    Phoenix , AZ
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    88K

    What is Grand Canyon University known for?

    Grand Canyon University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #8

    National Paralegal College

    Phoenix , AZ

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Graduation

    36%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is National Paralegal College known for?

    National Paralegal College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
  6. Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is International Baptist College known for?
  7. #10

    Arizona Christian University

    Glendale , AZ
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/18

    What is Arizona Christian University known for?

    Arizona Christian University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is Southwest University of Visual Arts known for?
  9. Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    40%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is University of Advancing Technology known for?

    University of Advancing Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Engineering
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Arizona’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in Arizona

Students hoping to attend college in Arizona can choose from associate to doctoral degree programs spanning across the state. The state’s largest university, the University of Arizona located in Tucson, offers a competitive tuition rate, at $12,000, for its 39,000 students. However, Arizona’s most affordable schools, such as the tribally-owned Diné College, offer tuition as low as $1,000. Private schools make up about one third of the higher education institutes in Arizona; and offer a comprehensive range of degrees from fine arts to naturopathic medicine. Arizona’s public universities and colleges, such as Northern Arizona University located in Flagstaff, offer students a variety of study concentrations, including mathematics, education, political science, and psychology.If flexibility is what you need, Arizona has 14 colleges and universities offering online degrees.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

Additionally, Arizona is home to three religiously affiliated schools: Arizona Christian University, Phoenix Seminary, and International Baptist College. While tuition varies greatly among these three schools, each school provides unique degree programs, such as music ministry at International Baptist College, for students interested in combining their faith and education.

Year-round sunshine, the Grand Canyon, award-winning restaurants, and several professional sports teams — what more could a student ask for? With more than 30 colleges and universities to choose from, Arizona allows students to get their degrees while cashing in on some of life’s greatest pleasures.

Whether students are interested in obtaining an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, Arizona offers plenty of colleges and universities for students to choose from.


What are Arizona’s Colleges & Universities?

Arizona’s Best Overall