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
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 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.
Back to Top

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

    What is Quincy University known for?

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

    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Knox College

    Galesburg , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1220/27

    What is Knox College known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Education
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Monmouth College

    Monmouth , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $41K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/22

    What is Monmouth College known for?

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

    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
    • History
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Rockford University

    Rockford , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    What is Rockford University known for?

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

    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • History
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Illinois College

    Jacksonville , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    68%

    Student body

    1K

    What is Illinois College known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • History
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    McKendree University

    Lebanon , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1063/23

    What is McKendree University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Criminal Justice
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Lake Forest College

    Lake Forest , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    58%

    Graduation

    75%

    Student body

    2K

    What is Lake Forest College known for?

    Lake Forest College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Anthropology
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Chicago State University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    46%

    Graduation

    16%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    951/17

    What is Chicago State University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1107/22

    What is University of Illinois Springfield known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Communications
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Medical
    • Law
    • Sociology
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1295/29

    What is Illinois Institute of Technology known for?

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

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Law
    • Business
    • Social Work
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #12

    Illinois Wesleyan University

    Bloomington , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1220/26

    What is Illinois Wesleyan University known for?

    Illinois Wesleyan University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Anthropology
    • Nursing
    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • History
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Religious Studies

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #13

    Millikin University

    Decatur , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/23

    What is Millikin University known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Philosophy
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Social Work
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #14

    Governors State University

    University Park , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    48%

    Graduation

    24%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    935/19

    What is Governors State University known for?

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

    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Sociology
    • Social Work
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #15

    Augustana College

    Rock Island , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $46K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    77%

    Student body

    3K

    What is Augustana College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Physics
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Earth Sciences
    • Anthropology
    • Economics
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #16

    North Central College

    Naperville , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $42K

    Acceptance

    53%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/24

    What is North Central College known for?

    North Central College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • History
    • Business
    • Anthropology
    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #17

    North Park University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    44%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/22

    What is North Park University known for?

    North Park University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Social Work
    • Communications
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #18

    Benedictine University

    Lisle , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1076/22

    What is Benedictine University known for?

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

    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #19

    Eastern Illinois University

    Charleston , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/20

    What is Eastern Illinois University known for?

    Eastern Illinois University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Business
    • History
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Nursing
    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #20

    Bradley University

    Peoria , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    What is Bradley University known for?

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

    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #21

    Roosevelt University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    42%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/24

    What is Roosevelt University known for?

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

    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #22

    Western Illinois University

    Macomb , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    What is Western Illinois University known for?

    Western Illinois University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Earth Sciences
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #23

    University of Chicago

    Chicago , IL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1535/34

    What is University of Chicago known for?

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

    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Philosophy
    • Social Work
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #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:

    • Social Work
    • Nursing
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Education
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #25

    National Louis University

    Chicago , IL

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    97%

    Graduation

    22%

    Student body

    6K

    What is National Louis University known for?

    National Louis University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Sociology
    • Business
    • Social Work
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

Back to Top

Illinois’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

Back to Top

Colleges and Universities in Illinois

Illinois offers over 130 higher education institutes throughout the state. More than half of those schools are private, including the well-known DePaul University, Northwestern University, and Loyola University Chicago. While tuition at these three private schools can be costly, ranging from $44,000 to $55,000, graduation rates are high. Tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the state’s two largest public universities, falls in the range of $13,000 to $15,000.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

While some of these universities have large student populations, Illinois is also home to many small schools, including Benedictine University and National Louis University. Students choosing to study at one at an Illinois college can pursue degrees in areas like criminal justice, social work, nursing, education, religious studies, communications, and medicine. Additionally, Illinois offers several loan forgiveness program 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, Hugh Hefner, 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