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

Montana’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Montana

Montana has 21 higher learning institutions, including 16 public universities and colleges. The largest is Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman. With an affordable tuition of $7,000, MSU enrolls just over 16,000 students. Students can earn their degree in fields like forestry, wildlife biology, theatre, and creative writing. The state is also home to five private schools, three of which are religiously affiliated.

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Carroll College is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college with just over 1,000 students in attendance. The tuition runs about $35,000, the most expensive in the state, and it is located on a hilltop in Helena. Students can choose from 18 schools in Montana with tuitions of $7,000 or less, making Montana an affordable state to earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. The state also offers loan repayment programs, including the Montana NHSC Student Loan Repayment Program, which grants up to $15,000 per year for two years for those in health-related fields.

Hiking through Glacier National Park, exploring the Northern Great Plains, and fishing from one of its many lakes and rivers are just some of the ways to enjoy the natural bounty that Montana has to offer. Visitors and locals can also drive Going-to-the-Sun-Road, a 52-mile highway that ventures through the National Park and crosses into Canada. No matter the outdoor hobby, prospective students are sure to love the scenic backdrop of The Treasure State as they earn their degree.

Check out the best programs Montana has to offer while enjoying the wide-open spaces of Big Sky Country.

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What are Montana’s Colleges & Universities?

Montana’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 Montana's best public colleges and universities?

The best colleges pound for pound!

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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This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 6 public universities in Montana, 4 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. It must have a graduation rate above 40%.

Best Public Colleges & Universities in Montana

  1. #1

    Montana State University

    #618 institution's historical influence
    #429 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1200/24

    Bozeman, MT

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    What is Montana State University known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Economics
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    University of Montana Western

    #6273 institution's historical influence
    #172 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $6K

    Acceptance

    52%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1005/19

    Dillon, MT

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    What is University of Montana Western known for?

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

    • Education
    • History
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    University of Montana

    #538 institution's historical influence
    #417 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    96%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/23

    Missoula, MT

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    What is University of Montana known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Business
    • History
    • Law
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Montana Technological University

    #7831 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    97%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/23

    Butte, MT

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    What is Montana Technological University known for?

    Montana Technological University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Earth Sciences
    • Physics
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

Find the best public college in Montana for your interests

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Photo By: Tim Evanson - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/9379017717/, CC BY-SA 2.0