Washington’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

Washington’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in Washington 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 Washington 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.

Washington’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 Washington’s Colleges and Universities

Washington'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 Washington’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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Washington’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #2

    Whitman College

    Walla Walla , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    54%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/30

    What is Whitman College known for?

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

    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Sociology
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Biology
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #3

    Walla Walla University

    College Place , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    2K

    What is Walla Walla University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Sociology
    • Religious Studies
    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #4

    University of Puget Sound

    Tacoma , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    77%

    Student body

    3K

    What is University of Puget Sound known for?

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

    • Physics
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Religious Studies

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/26

    What is Pacific Lutheran University known for?

    Pacific Lutheran University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Earth Sciences
    • Literature
    • Religious Studies
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Anthropology
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #6

    Seattle Pacific University

    Seattle , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1135/22

    What is Seattle Pacific University known for?

    Seattle Pacific University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #7

    Seattle University

    Seattle , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1235/27

    What is Seattle University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Law
    • Engineering
    • Religious Studies
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Education
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #8

    Gonzaga University

    Spokane , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1280/27

    What is Gonzaga University known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Law
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1025/20

    What is Eastern Washington University known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #10

    Western Washington University

    Bellingham , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    68%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    What is Western Washington University known for?

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

    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #11

    Central Washington University

    Ellensburg , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/20

    What is Central Washington University known for?

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

    • Earth Sciences
    • Anthropology
    • Social Work
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #12

    Washington State University

    Pullman , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/23

    What is Washington State University known for?

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

    • Criminal Justice
    • Communications
    • Earth Sciences
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #13

    University of Washington

    Seattle , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/30

    What is University of Washington known for?

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

    • Earth Sciences
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Social Work
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Anthropology
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #14

    Olympic College

    Bremerton , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    30%

    Student body

    5K

    What is Olympic College known for?

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

    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Physics
    • Sociology
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #15

    Spokane Community College

    Spokane , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    30%

    Student body

    6K

    What is Spokane Community College known for?

    Spokane Community College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    26%

    Student body

    4K

    What is Spokane Falls Community College known for?

    Spokane Falls Community College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Social Work
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Nursing
    • Physics
  16. #17

    Green River College

    Auburn , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    38%

    Student body

    8K

    What is Green River College known for?

    Green River College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Sociology
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #18

    Wenatchee Valley College

    Wenatchee , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    34%

    Student body

    3K

    What is Wenatchee Valley College known for?

    Wenatchee Valley College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Criminal Justice
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #19

    City University of Seattle

    Seattle , WA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Student body

    1K

    What is City University of Seattle known for?

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

    • Education
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Social Work
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #20

    Centralia College

    Centralia , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $5K

    Graduation

    42%

    Student body

    2K

    What is Centralia College known for?

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

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Criminal Justice
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. Tuition + fees

    $5K

    Graduation

    39%

    Student body

    3K

    What is Lake Washington Institute of Technology known for?

    Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Social Work
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Nursing
    • Business
    • Education
  21. Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/20

    What is University of Washington Tacoma known for?

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

    • Social Work
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Nursing
    • History
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #23

    Whatcom Community College

    Bellingham , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $5K

    Graduation

    42%

    Student body

    3K

    What is Whatcom Community College known for?

    Whatcom Community College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Social Work
    • Education
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Criminal Justice
    • Medical
    • Business
  23. #24

    Bellingham Technical College

    Bellingham , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    What is Bellingham Technical College known for?

    Bellingham Technical College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Education
    • Medical
  24. #25

    Charter College

    Vancouver , WA

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    7K

    What is Charter College known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
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Washington’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in Washington

Of the 40 public options, the University of Washington in Seattle is the largest. Roughly 40,000 students attend classes in fields like nursing, education, biology, and computer science. This public research institution is also affordable, charging about $11,000 for tuition. In fact, none of the public schools in Washington exceed $12,000 in price. This includes community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year universities, making Washington a uniquely affordable place to earn your associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

Washington also has 24 private institutions. Of those, nine are religious. The most widely known of these, Catholic university Gonzaga enrolls roughly 7,000 students, at a cost of $40,000, in areas such as religious studies, engineering, and law. Central Washington University (CWU) is a smaller public school, serving just over 12,000 students, and has a tuition of $8,000. With 15% of its population being Hispanic, CWU is now recognized as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution. Washington health professions also have the opportunity to receive funding for loan repayment through Washington’s Health Professional Loan Repayment Program.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, Washington offers ocean beaches and lush forests. In fact, over half the state is covered in forests, earning Washington its nickname as The Evergreen State. Viewers atop the Space Needle in Seattle can take in the sights of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, and both the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges. In addition, prospective students can choose from over 60 higher education institutions in the state.

Check out the top higher education programs and find an affordable degree in Washington.


What are Washington’s Colleges & Universities?

Washington’s Best Overall