Virginia’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

Virginia’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in Virginia 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 Virginia 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.

Virginia’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 Virginia’s Colleges and Universities

Virginia's Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship
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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 Virginia’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.
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Virginia’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #1

    Hollins University

    Roanoke , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    62%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/26

    What is Hollins University known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Communications
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Virginia Union University

    Richmond , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    36%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    849/15

    What is Virginia Union University known for?

    Virginia Union University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Social Work
    • History
    • Education
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Hampden–Sydney College

    Hampden-Sydney , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    47%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1190/23

    What is Hampden–Sydney College known for?

    Hampden–Sydney College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • History
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Physics
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Virginia Military Institute

    Lexington , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/24

    What is Virginia Military Institute known for?

    Virginia Military Institute’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Economics
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Emory and Henry College

    Emory , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1065/21

    What is Emory and Henry College known for?

    Emory and Henry College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Communications
    • History
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Randolph–Macon College

    Ashland , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $45K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/23

    What is Randolph–Macon College known for?

    Randolph–Macon College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Chemistry
    • Communications
    • Religious Studies
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #8

    Roanoke College

    Salem , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1155/24

    What is Roanoke College known for?

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

    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Religious Studies
    • Economics
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #9

    University of Mary Washington

    Fredericksburg , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/26

    What is University of Mary Washington known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #10

    Virginia State University

    Petersburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    96%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    920/17

    What is Virginia State University known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #11

    Longwood University

    Farmville , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    67%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1055/20

    What is Longwood University known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Anthropology
    • Education
    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #12

    Hampton University

    Hampton , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $29K

    Acceptance

    36%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    4K

    What is Hampton University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Social Work
    • History
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Sociology
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #13

    Christopher Newport University

    Newport News , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    What is Christopher Newport University known for?

    Christopher Newport University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Social Work
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #14

    Norfolk State University

    Norfolk , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    39%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    950/18

    What is Norfolk State University known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Nursing
    • Political Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #15

    University of Richmond

    University of Richmond , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    31%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/31

    What is University of Richmond known for?

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

    • Law
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Anthropology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #16

    Regent University

    Virginia Beach , VA

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1105/22

    What is Regent University known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Business
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • Social Work

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #17

    William & Mary

    Williamsburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    What is William & Mary known for?

    William & Mary’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • History
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Economics
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #18

    Radford University

    Radford , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    56%

    Student body

    9K

    What is Radford University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Psychology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Economics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #19

    University of Virginia

    Charlottesville , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    23%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/32

    What is University of Virginia known for?

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

    • Law
    • Literature
    • History
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #20

    Old Dominion University

    Norfolk , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    95%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/21

    What is Old Dominion University known for?

    Old Dominion University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Education
    • Economics
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #21

    George Mason University

    Fairfax , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    31K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/27

    What is George Mason University known for?

    George Mason University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • Law
    • Earth Sciences
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1165/24

    What is Virginia Commonwealth University known for?

    Virginia Commonwealth University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Medical
    • Anthropology
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Communications
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #23

    Virginia Tech

    Blacksburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    36K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1285/28

    What is Virginia Tech known for?

    Virginia Tech’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Economics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #24

    James Madison University

    Harrisonburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    21K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1205/25

    What is James Madison University known for?

    James Madison University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Communications
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing
    • Physics
    • Economics
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #25

    Liberty University

    Lynchburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    75K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/24

    What is Liberty University known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • History
    • Criminal Justice
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Social Work
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

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Virginia’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in Virginia

Liberty University, a private Christian school in Lynchburg, is the largest school in Virginia, serving over 60,000 students. The largest public university, Virginia Tech, has a student population of about half that but offers many in-person degree programs as well as eight master’s programs and 19 certificate programs online. Students who attend Virginia Tech can pursue fields like engineering, criminal justice, education, and business.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

The majority of Virginia’s universities and colleges could be considered small schools, serving populations of less than 5,000 students. Included on this list are public schools, like Christopher Newport University in Newport News, and private schools, like Hampton University, a historically black university in Hampton. Though most of its higher education institutes charge tuition fees above the national average, Virginia offers several loan forgiveness programs for qualifying attorneys and medical, dental, behavioral health, and pharmaceutical professionals.

Virginia is perhaps most famous for its rich history — but the state is also home to many unique museums and famous landmarks. For example, those who love the classics can visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond. Those who harbor romantic dreams of espionage and intrigue might visit the CIA Museum in McLean. And, if you like your attractions random, you could check out Virginia’s 300-yard-long natural tunnel or its 29-ton spinning granite ball. While you’re here, you might consider attending one of the 78 colleges located in the state.

Learn more about Virginia’s higher education opportunities by checking out the state’s many colleges and universities.


What are Virginia’s Colleges & Universities?

Virginia’s Best Overall