California’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

California’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in California 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 California 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.

California’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 California’s Colleges and Universities

California's Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship
Download Badge

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 California’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.
Back to Top

California’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #2

    Pacific Union College

    Angwin , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/21

    What is Pacific Union College known for?

    Pacific Union College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Social Work
    • Biology
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Communications
    • Sociology
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1545/35

    What is California Institute of Technology known for?

    California Institute of Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Biology
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #4

    Claremont McKenna College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    13%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    What is Claremont McKenna College known for?

    Claremont McKenna College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #5

    Scripps College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    35%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1411/31

    What is Scripps College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Economics
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #7

    Woodbury University

    Burbank , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $43K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/22

    What is Woodbury University known for?

    Woodbury University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #8

    Westmont College

    Santa Barbara , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/25

    What is Westmont College known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Anthropology
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #9

    Whittier College

    Whittier , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1129/23

    What is Whittier College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Education
    • Chemistry
    • Law
    • Business
    • Religious Studies
    • History
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #10

    Occidental College

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    41%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1390/30

    What is Occidental College known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Economics
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Physics
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    74%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/22

    What is Dominican University of California known for?

    Dominican University of California’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #12

    Pomona College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1465/33

    What is Pomona College known for?

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

    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Religious Studies
    • Communications
    • Anthropology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #13

    La Sierra University

    Riverside , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    What is La Sierra University known for?

    La Sierra University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Social Work
    • Psychology
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #14

    University of Redlands

    Redlands , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    What is University of Redlands known for?

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

    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/25

    What is Saint Mary's College of California known for?

    Saint Mary's College of California’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #16

    Biola University

    La Mirada , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $44K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    What is Biola University known for?

    Biola University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Anthropology
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Education
    • History
    • Business
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #17

    Point Loma Nazarene University

    San Diego , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1225/26

    What is Point Loma Nazarene University known for?

    Point Loma Nazarene University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Social Work
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #18

    Sonoma State University

    Rohnert Park , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/20

    What is Sonoma State University known for?

    Sonoma State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Philosophy
    • Anthropology
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/21

    What is California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt known for?

    California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • Physics
    • Sociology
    • Social Work
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #20

    Pepperdine University

    Malibu , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    What is Pepperdine University known for?

    Pepperdine University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Law
    • Communications
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #21

    Santa Clara University

    Santa Clara , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1360/30

    What is Santa Clara University known for?

    Santa Clara University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #22

    University of the Pacific

    Stockton , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1240/27

    What is University of the Pacific known for?

    University of the Pacific ’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Earth Sciences
    • History
    • Education
    • Communications
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #23

    University of La Verne

    La Verne , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $46K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/21

    What is University of La Verne known for?

    University of La Verne’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Anthropology
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #24

    Foothill College

    Los Altos Hills , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $2K

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    9K

    What is Foothill College known for?

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

    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #25

    University of San Francisco

    San Francisco , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1230/26

    What is University of San Francisco known for?

    University of San Francisco’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • Communications
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

Back to Top

California’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

Back to Top

Colleges and Universities in California

California’s higher education institutes span across the entire state, allowing students to study by the beach, in the forest, in small towns, and in large cities. There are over 30 high quality online degrees programs that would literally allow you to study from anywhere in California, or the world. The largest university, the University of California, Los Angeles, serves nearly 44,000 students and offers a tuition rate around $13,000. This isn’t the only school with a large student body though. California is home to 23 colleges and universities with student populations of over 20,000 students.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

However, more than half of the state’s schools serve smaller student populations, offering plenty of options for students who crave a more intimate campus experience. Additionally, California boasts 50 religiously affiliated schools. Many of these schools have high graduation rates, though tuition costs can range greatly, from $8,000 at Bethesda University up to $54,000 at Pepperdine University.

Additionally, many of California’s colleges and universities boast influential faculty and alumni, including Neil Armstrong, Jerry Lewis, and Weird Al Yankovic. In addition to famous alumni and professors, California’s schools are also home to some of the country’s top degree programs, including nursing, business, religious studies, education, literature, and law.

Though Hollywood has given an inside look into California’s most popular landmarks and attractions, these one-of-a-kind places aren’t the only reason people flock to The Golden State. With hundreds of colleges and universities to choose from, students have countless opportunities to further their education in California.

To learn more about earning your degree in California, check out some of the state’s top programs and career paths.


What are California’s Colleges & Universities?

California’s Best Overall