Illinois’s Best Public Colleges and Universities of 2021

Public colleges and universities account for almost 75 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. The best public colleges in Illinois provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Illinois’s Best Public Colleges and Universities of 2021

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 Chicago and Illinois State University, the state’s two largest public universities, however, is lower, falling 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

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

Illinois's Best Public Colleges 2021 badge
Download Badge

This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 12 public universities in Illinois; 10 of which meet our criteria. The list below of the best public universities in the state satisfies the following four conditions:

  1. It must receive direct funding from the state.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. It offers a broad range of bachelor’s degree programs.
  4. Its graduation rate must be greater than 40%.

How do we determine Illinois's best public colleges and universities?

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.

10 Best Public Colleges & Universities in Illinois

  1. #1

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    #52 institution's historical influence
    #162 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    63%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    54K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    Champaign, IL

    View profile

    What is University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign known for?

    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    University of Illinois Chicago

    #305 institution's historical influence
    #795 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/24

    Chicago, IL

    View profile

    What is University of Illinois Chicago known for?

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

    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    University of Illinois Springfield

    #1952 institution's historical influence
    #1369 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1107/22

    Springfield, IL

    View profile

    What is University of Illinois Springfield known for?

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

    • Communications
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • History
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Northern Illinois University

    #626 institution's historical influence
    #1145 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    14K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1055/22

    Dekalb, IL

    View profile

    What is Northern Illinois University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Literature
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Law
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    REQUEST INFO
  5. #5

    Illinois State University

    #765 institution's historical influence
    #834 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    68%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/23

    Normal, IL

    View profile

    What is Illinois State University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Business
    • History
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    REQUEST INFO
  6. #6

    Southern Illinois University Carbondale

    #725 institution's historical influence
    #326 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    92%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/24

    Carbondale, IL

    View profile

    What is Southern Illinois University Carbondale known for?

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

    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Law
    • History
    REQUEST INFO
  7. #7

    Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

    #1391 institution's historical influence
    #562 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/23

    Edwardsville, IL

    View profile

    What is Southern Illinois University Edwardsville known for?

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

    • Education
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Eastern Illinois University

    #1704 institution's historical influence
    #915 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/20

    Charleston, IL

    View profile

    What is Eastern Illinois University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
  9. #9

    Western Illinois University

    #971 institution's historical influence
    #642 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    Macomb, IL

    View profile

    What is Western Illinois University known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  10. #10

    Governors State University

    #2222 institution's historical influence
    #828 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    48%

    Graduation

    24%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    935/19

    University Park, IL

    View profile

    What is Governors State University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Mathematics

Find the best public college in Illinois for your interests

Resources for College-Bound Students