Illinois’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

Illinois’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in Illinois 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 Illinois 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.

Illinois’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 Illinois’s Colleges and Universities

Illinois'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 Illinois’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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Illinois’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #1

    Quincy University

    Quincy , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/22

    Quincy University’s Online Degrees

    BS in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Human Services
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Writing
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  2. #3

    Monmouth College

    Monmouth , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $41K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/22

  3. #4

    Rockford University

    Rockford , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    Rockford University’s Online Degrees

    BSAS in Accounting Studies
    • Required Credits: 60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSMS in Management Studies
    • Required Credits: 60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  4. #5

    Illinois College

    Jacksonville , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    68%

    Student body

    1K

    Illinois College’s Online Degrees

    BA in Accounting
    • Required Credits: 42
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Agribusiness Management
    • Required Credits: 42
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Human Resources Management
    • Required Credits: 46
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Business Administration
    Degree Concentrations
    • Management
    • Required Credits: 42-44
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  5. #6

    McKendree University

    Lebanon , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1063/23

    McKendree University’s Online Degrees

    BBA in Accounting
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Computer Information Systems
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Cyber Defense
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Entrepreneurship
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Human Resource Management
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Management
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Marketing
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSED in Middle School Education–Mathematics
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Nursing: RN to BSN
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Psychology
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Sociology/Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Sport Management
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  6. Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1107/22

    University of Illinois Springfield’s Online Degrees

    BBA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 53-55
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Communication
    • Required Credits: 32
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Computer Science Program
    • Required Credits: 82
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in History
    • Required Credits: 33
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Human Resource Management
    • Required Credits: 53-55
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Management
    • Required Credits: 53-55
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BBA in Marketing
    • Required Credits: 53-55
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  7. #12

    Illinois Wesleyan University

    Bloomington , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1220/26

  8. #13

    Millikin University

    Decatur , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/23

    Millikin University’s Online Degrees

    BSN in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
    • Required Credits: 33
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online (with 2 in-person clinical projects)
    BS in Organizational Leadership
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  9. #14

    Governors State University

    University Park , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    48%

    Graduation

    24%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    935/19

    Governors State University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Business and Applied Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  10. #17

    North Park University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    44%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/22

    North Park University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Digital Marketing
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Nonprofit Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  11. Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1076/22

    Benedictine University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in General Professional Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Management
    Degree Concentrations
    • Digital Marketing
    • Human Resources Management
    • Marketing
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in Nursing
    • Required Credits: 34
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  12. #19

    Eastern Illinois University

    Charleston , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/20

    Eastern Illinois University’s Online Degrees

    BSB in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120 overall
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Communication Studies
    Degree Concentrations
    • Communication in Organizations
    • Required Credits: 46
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Health Communication
    • Required Credits: 120 overall
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    • Required Credits: 120 overall
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in Nursing: RN to BSN
    • Required Credits: 35
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Organizational Development
    • Required Credits: 120 overall
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Psychology
    • Required Credits: 36-39
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  13. #21

    Roosevelt University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    42%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/24

    Roosevelt University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Organizational Leadership
    • Required Credits: 147
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Health Science Administration
    • Required Credits: 131-135
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Psychology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  14. Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    Western Illinois University’s Online Degrees

    BSN in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
    • Required Credits: 125
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Accountancy
    Degree Concentrations
    • Management Accounting
    • Taxation
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Economics
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Political Science
    Degree Concentrations
    • General and Public Administration
    • Public Policy
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Anthropology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Sociology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Communication Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Fire Protection Services
    Degree Concentrations
    • Fire Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Geographic Information Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Human Resource Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Marketing
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Supply Chain Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Accountancy
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Anthropology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Communication
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA/BB in Economics
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Fire Protection Services
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in General Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Geographic Information Science
    Degree Concentrations
    • Geoenvironment and Planning
    • Geospatial Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Human Resource Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BB in Marketing
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in Nursing
    Degree Concentrations
    • Pre-Licensure
    • RN–BSN Completion
    • Required Credits: 125
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Political Science
    Degree Concentrations
    • General
    • American Government
    • International Relations/Comparative Politics
    • Pre-Law
    • Public Administration/Public Policy
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Sociology
    Degree Concentrations
    • General
    • Deviance and Criminology
    • Environment and Community
    • Social Inequality
    • Social Institutions
    • Sociological Social Psychology
    • Sociology of Health and Illness
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  15. #23

    University of Chicago

    Chicago , IL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1535/34

  16. #24

    Aurora University

    Aurora , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $27K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1047/20

    What is Aurora University known for?

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    Aurora University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Business Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Cybersecurity
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in General Studies
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Psychology
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  17. Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    97%

    Graduation

    22%

    Student body

    6K

    National Louis University’s Online Degrees

    BA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BABS in Communications
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Computer Sciences
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Healthcare Leadership
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Human Services
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Management
    • Required Credits: 120-128
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
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Illinois’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in Illinois

Prospective students searching for colleges in Illinois have plenty of excellent schools to choose from. Illinois offers over 130 higher education institutes throughout the state. Thanks to an expansive public university system and several top private institutions, students can select from an extremely wide array of brick-and-mortar and online colleges in Illinois.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the state’s two largest public universities in Illinois. Students can access a full spectrum of undergraduate and graduate degrees for in-state tuition rates of $13,000 to $15,000 respectively. Both public universities also offer a full selection of online degree programs.

It’s also worth noting that Illinois residents who pursue online degrees at public colleges in Illinois will qualify for in-state tuition rates. Out of state students will generally pay more whether pursuing on-campus or online degrees.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

More than half of the colleges in Illinois are actually private schools. Among these private colleges and universities, the most notable are DePaul University, Northwestern University, and Loyola University Chicago. Tuition from these three private schools can be costly, ranging from $44,000 to $55,000. However, each of these private schools boasts a high graduation rate and excellent professors.

Illinois is also home to many small private schools, including Benedictine University and National Louis University.

Popular disciplines in Illinois include disciplines like criminal justice, social work, nursing, education, religious studies, communications, and medicine. Both traditional and online students have a wide range of options in each of these subject areas.

Degree completion programs are also widely available for lapsed students who have already accumulated some college credits. This is an especially popular online degree option among working professionals in Illinois.

Additionally, Illinois offers several loan forgiveness-based financial aid programs for qualifying students pursuing careers as teachers, public defenders or prosecutors, or nurses.

From the skyscrapers in Chicago to the vast prairie lands in the north, Illinois is a place where city meets country. Students can grab a Chicago-style hotdog on the way to a Cubs game, explore the ancient sandstone cliffs in the Shawnee National Forest, or admire an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, all while attending one of The Prairie State’s universities or colleges.

The higher education institutes in Illinois have also produced many prominent alumni, including Stephen Colbert, Phillip Glass, and Kurt Vonnegut. Students hoping to walk the same streets as these well-known individuals can check out some of the state’s top programs and universities.


What are Illinois’s Colleges & Universities?

Illinois’s Best Overall