Kentucky’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 Kentucky provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Kentucky’s Best Public Colleges and Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Kentucky

Between community colleges, technical schools, and universities, Kentucky has 24 public schools. The community colleges and technical schools average $4,000 for tuition, and tuition for public universities ranges from $8,000 to $12,000. Those looking to attend private colleges can choose from 26 schools, of which 21 are religiously affiliated. The cost to attend private schools tends to be higher, reaching $42,000 in Kentucky, but there are some affordable options with tuition rates as low as $9,000.

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The largest and top-rated public university is the University of Kentucky, which has over 30,000 students and costs about $12,000. Political science, chemistry, and literature are all possible majors. Students who attend either the University of Louisville or Western Kentucky University will become part of a friendly basketball rivalry. Both of these universities also offer varying fields of study, including mathematics, communications, business, and history. In addition, Kentucky encourages graduating education students to apply for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, which awards $5,000 to $17,500 toward Federal Stafford loans to those remaining the profession.

There is something for everyone in The Bluegrass State. Kentucky is home to the famous Kentucky Derby, the Daniel Boone National Forest, and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Students wanting to study where Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali both called home have 50 higher learning institutions from which to choose.

Kentucky has it all — associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Check out the top programs and find which institution is the right one for you.

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What are Kentucky’s Colleges & Universities?

Kentucky’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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This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 8 public universities in Kentucky; 6 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 40%.

How do we determine Kentucky'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.

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Best Public Colleges & Universities in Kentucky

  1. #1

    University of Kentucky

    #199 institution's historical influence
    #541 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    96%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/25

    Lexington, KY

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    What is University of Kentucky known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • History
    • Law
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

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  2. #2

    University of Louisville

    #301 institution's historical influence
    #1277 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    16K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/25

    Louisville, KY

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    What is University of Louisville known for?

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

    • Medical
    • Law
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Business
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Western Kentucky University

    #1056 institution's historical influence
    #559 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    98%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    14K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1105/23

    Bowling Green, KY

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    What is Western Kentucky University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Communications
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  4. #4

    Eastern Kentucky University

    #1559 institution's historical influence
    #888 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    98%

    Graduation

    45%

    Student body

    12K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/23

    Richmond, KY

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    What is Eastern Kentucky University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Criminal Justice
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  5. #5

    Murray State University

    #1652 institution's historical influence
    #410 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1142/24

    Murray, KY

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    What is Murray State University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Business
    • History
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Morehead State University

    #2172 institution's historical influence
    #731 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    43%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/23

    Morehead, KY

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    What is Morehead State University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • Law
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Medical

Find the best public college in Kentucky for your interests

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