Iowa’s Best Public Colleges & 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 Iowa provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Iowa’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Iowa

Iowa’s largest public university, Iowa State University, serves over 30,000 students and offers extra flexibility for those pursuing a graduate-level degree or certificate through online and distance learning opportunities in more than 50 academic fields. Additionally, the home of the Hawkeyes, the University of Iowa, is also home to some of the nation’s top programs in literature, philosophy, and law. This school has also been at the forefront of higher education, starting the nation’s first co-educational medical school, as well as being the first public school to grant a law degree to a woman, Mary B. Hickey Wilkinson, in 1873.

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For students hoping to obtain their degrees at a smaller school, Iowa offers over 40 options to choose from, with tuition ranging from $4,000 at Indian Hills Community College up to $52,000 for an academic year at Grinnell College. Furthermore, nearly half of the schools in Iowa are religiously affiliated.

Iowa is often recognized for its agriculture as it produces the most pork and corn in the nation. Equally noteworthy is Iowa’s wealth of one-of-a-kind roadside attractions. From the largest wooden nickel, to the crookedest street, to the Grotto of Redemption, The Hawkeye State is full of wonders. Students in search of curiosities and oddities while earning a degree can attend one of Iowa’s public or private colleges.

Whether you’re looking to earn your associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, Iowa offers many higher education institutes to choose from. Discover more about Iowa’s top programs and career paths.


What are Iowa’s Colleges & Universities?

Iowa’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.

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

Methodology

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.


This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 4 public universities in Iowa, 3 of which satisfy 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 60%.

Best Public Colleges & Universities in Iowa

  1. #1

    University of Iowa

    Iowa City , IA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1235/25

    What is University of Iowa known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Law
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

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  2. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    75%

    Student body

    30K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1220/25

    What is Iowa State University known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Education
    • Literature
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  3. #3

    University of Northern Iowa

    Cedar Falls , IA

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1110/23

    What is University of Northern Iowa known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO

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