North Carolina’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

North Carolina’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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.

North Carolina’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 North Carolina’s Colleges and Universities

North Carolina'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 North Carolina’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

North Carolina’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #1

    Shaw University

    Raleigh , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $16K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    19%

    Student body

    1K

    What is Shaw University known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Education
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Communications
    • Sociology
    • Biology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Livingstone College

    Salisbury , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    28%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    845/15

    What is Livingstone College known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Religious Studies
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Guilford College

    Greensboro , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $41K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/20

    What is Guilford College known for?

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

    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Political Science
    • Physics
    • History
    • Education
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Meredith College

    Raleigh , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $41K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/21

    What is Meredith College known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Economics
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Catawba College

    Salisbury , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Acceptance

    52%

    Graduation

    56%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1025/20

    What is Catawba College known for?

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

    • Economics
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Education
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Johnson C. Smith University

    Charlotte , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    49%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    881/16

    What is Johnson C. Smith University known for?

    Johnson C. Smith University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Sociology
    • Biology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Davidson College

    Davidson , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    Acceptance

    20%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1397/31

    What is Davidson College known for?

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

    • Anthropology
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Queens University of Charlotte

    Charlotte , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $39K

    Acceptance

    68%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/24

    What is Queens University of Charlotte known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Business
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Religious Studies
    • History
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    62%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/24

    What is University of North Carolina at Asheville known for?

    University of North Carolina at Asheville’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    970/18

    What is North Carolina Central University known for?

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

    • Criminal Justice
    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #11

    Winston-Salem State University

    Winston-Salem , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $6K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    960/17

    What is Winston-Salem State University known for?

    Winston-Salem State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Chemistry
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Campbell University

    Buies Creek , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $38K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    56%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1130/22

    What is Campbell University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Chemistry
    • Education
    • Economics
    • History
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #13

    High Point University

    High Point , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1175/25

    What is High Point University known for?

    High Point University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Economics
    • Anthropology
    • Religious Studies
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • History
    • Communications
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #14

    Duke University

    Durham , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    8%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1525/34

    What is Duke University known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Literature
    • Anthropology
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    Western Carolina University

    Cullowhee , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Acceptance

    48%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1110/22

    What is Western Carolina University known for?

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

    • Anthropology
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Criminal Justice
    • Biology
    • History
    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • Social Work

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    12K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/19

    What is North Carolina A&T State University known for?

    North Carolina A&T State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • Nursing
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    18K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1095/22

    What is University of North Carolina at Greensboro known for?

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Education
    • History
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Mathematics
    • Nursing
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    25%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1405/30

    What is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill known for?

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Communications
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #20

    Elon University

    Elon , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $39K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1240/27

    What is Elon University known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/25

    What is Appalachian State University known for?

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

    • Earth Sciences
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Physics
    • Education
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1205/24

    What is University of North Carolina at Charlotte known for?

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Anthropology
    • Computer Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Physics
    • History
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #24

    East Carolina University

    Greenville , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    24K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/22

    What is East Carolina University known for?

    East Carolina University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • History
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Education
    • Communications
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #25

    William Peace University

    Raleigh , NC

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    38%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    What is William Peace University known for?

    William Peace University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Business
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Medical
    • Anthropology

    Most Influential Alumni

Back to Top

North Carolina’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

Back to Top

Colleges and Universities in North Carolina

Among these schools are over 60 public colleges and universities, including the state’s largest school, North Carolina State University, which serves almost 30,000 students. Tuition costs average about $9,000, just below the national average, and students also have the option to enroll in over 1,000 online courses. Another notable public school is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is one of the country’s oldest universities.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

The 25,000 students who attend UNC will walk the same halls as Francis Collins, Thomas Wolfe, and former president James K. Polk. North Carolina’s private schools have also made a name for themselves, including the well-known Duke University located in Durham. Here, students can earn degrees in some of the top programs, like nursing, political science, and business. Additionally, students can attend one of the many small schools which serve less than 5,000 students, like Campbell University in Buies Creek, or a religiously affiliated school, like Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City.

From its coastal beaches to its lush forests, it’s no wonder the Wright Brothers dreamed of taking flight over North Carolina. This state is rich with history, scenic views, and famous people who once called it home, like John Coltrane and Nicholas Sparks. Students hoping to earn their associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree also have the option of choosing from over 100 schools in the Tar Heel State.

Whether you prefer ocean views or wooded forests, North Carolina has something for everyone. Discover more about the state’s higher learning options.


What are North Carolina’s Colleges & Universities?

North Carolina’s Best Overall