8 Best Colleges in Rhode Island

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It might be the smallest state in land mass, but don’t make the mistake of thinking Rhode Island’s contribution to higher education is small.

With elite private colleges and prestigious public schools, this state has a lot to offer for students interested in all manner of subjects: from the liberal arts to business to pre-professional programs.

With college costs increasing year-by-year, many people are wondering whether going to college is even worth it anymore. We can’t answer that question for each individual, of course, but we can offer some helpful information. One of the most striking statistics about post-secondary education and the economy comes from a study conducted by Georgetown University. This study found that more than 99 percent of new jobs created since the Great Recession went to individuals with at least some college education – and oftentimes, much more than just “some.”

Related: Best Online Universities in Rhode Island.

So if that’s the extra push you needed to move forward with your college research, dig into this ranking. It’s a listing of the best schools that Rhode Island has to offer, and what makes them distinct.

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Best Colleges in Rhode Island Badge

What are the best colleges in Rhode Island?

But how did we get our list? This ranking of the best colleges in Rhode Island is designed to save you the agony of combing through long tables of data – we did that work for you. In doing so, we looked for three central things: institutional excellence, student satisfaction, and return on investment. These three criteria each combined a bevy of data points, so that you can get a sense of the quality of education on offer, the likelihood of thriving on campus, and the preparation you’ll receive for the job market. Data comes from IPEDS, Payscale, US News & World Report, individual college websites, and various student ranking sites.

Rankings 

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Brown University
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Brown University was founded in 1764 in Providence, Rhode Island. Since then, Brown has developed into the 7th oldest higher education institution in the United States and of the 9 colonial colleges established before the American Revolution. Today, this research university is the most eccentric and liberal of all Ivy League schools. At the 146-acre campus, students are encouraged to explore, take risks and develop their own multidisciplinary study in over 70 concentrations.

    Features

    Brown University offers 70 concentrations for over 6,500 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 7-to-1. Nearly 71% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, all undergraduates at Brown are required to live on campus for their first 6 semesters. Brown University offers over 400 student organizations and the opportunity to watch NCAA Division I sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Biology & Biological Sciences
    • Economics
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Neuroscience

    Notables

    Brown University might be known for its eccentricities. However, it is still a highly competitive school – less than 10% of the total applicants are accepted. Once you are in, the competition continues in all concentrations. Brown is known for their 8-year Liberal Medical Education undergraduate and medical degree program as well as their engineering programs that encourages students to take risks and explore ways to solve problems.

  2. Providence College
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Providence College was founded in 1917 in Providence, Rhode Island, through the joint efforts of the roman Catholic Diocese of providence and the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. Today, Providence College has a campus of 105 acres and the only college or university in North America run by the Dominican Friars.

    Features

    Providence College offers 49 majors and 36 minors for over 3,800 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 12-to-1. The average class size is 20 students. Nearly 51% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, over 75% of undergraduates live on campus. Providence offers over 100 student organizations. Providence College participates in NCAA Division I sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Marketing
    • Finance
    • Biology
    • Accountancy
    • Management

    Notables

    Providence College has the same motto as Harvard University: Veritas (Latin for “truth”). The Dominican Friars and the Catholic church welcome all belief systems into their college. The Friars believe that reason will support faith. To this end, students are encouraged to engage the world either through research projects with faculty (25% students participate) or out-of-classroom fieldwork experience (75% participate).

  3. Bryant University
    Location

    Smithfield, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Bryant University was founded in 1863 in Smithfield, Rhode Island by founders Henry Bryant, Ezra Mason, and Henry Stratton. Bryant University was separated from Bryant Stratton Business College in 1867 by William Warner to expand the curriculum into the Liberal arts. Today, Bryant University sits on 428-acres located 12 miles from Providence, Rhode Island, and 50 miles from Boston, Massachusetts.

    Features

    Bryant University offers 100 majors for over 3,400 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 13-to-1. The average class size is 24 students. Nearly 25% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, student can access over 30 student organizations. Bryant University participates in NCAA Division I sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Accounting
    • Marketing
    • Business Administration
    • International Business/Trade/Commerce

    Notables

    Bryant University’s undergraduate business program is one of the top 10 business programs according to College Factual, U. S. News & World Report, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Prior to graduation, all Bryant students will have completed at least one major and minor. After graduation, 99% of all 2016 graduates were either gainfully employed with an average first-year salary of $57,000 or enrolled in a graduate program within six months of graduation.

  4. Salve Regina University
    Location

    Newport, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Salve Regina University was founded in 1934 in Newport, Rhode Island, founded by the Catholic order of the Sisters of Mercy. Today, Salve Regina University is an 88-acre oceanfront campus with historical buildings and mansions and a Arboretum. The university keeps the traditions of the Sisters of Mercy alive by encouraging students to find ways to create a world that is harmonious, just and merciful.

    Features

    Salve Regina University offers 46 majors for over 2,100 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 13-to-1. Nearly 49% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, student can access over 50 student organizations. Salve Regina University participates in NCAA III sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Nursing
    • Business
    • Marketing
    • Criminal Justice
    • Psychology

    Notables

    Salve Regina University has over 1,200 mature trees from over 100 unique species of trees on campus. Some are local to the area, while others are more exotic. The Morton Arboretum ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program has listed Salve Regina’s Arboretum as a Level II. They have a full plan in place for the sustainability of the current and future trees on the campus.

  5. University of Rhode Island
    Location

    Kingston, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    University of Rhode Island was founded in 1892 in Kingston, Rhode Island, to be the state’s agricultural land-grant school on the old Oliver Watson farm, circa 1796. Today, the University of Rhode Island is one of the state’s largest employers with four locations dedicated to understanding the environment on land, on water and by air.

    Features

    University of Rhode Island offers 80 undergraduate degrees for 14,680 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 16-to-1. Nearly 40% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, student can access over 140 student organizations – including Greek Life Chapters. University of Rhode Island participates in NCAA Division I sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Kinesiology & Exercise Science
    • Human Development & Family Studies

    Notables

    The Kingston campus has 1,245 acres and located six miles from Rhodes Island’s coastal beaches and 30 miles from Providence, Rhode Island. There are three other smaller campuses throughout the state: Feinstein Campus in Providence; 153-acre Narragansett Bay campus and W. Alton Jones campus with 2,300 acres of forest, streams, ponds and a 75-acre lake.

  6. Roger Williams University
    Location

    Bristol, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Roger Williams University (RWU) started in 1919 in Bristol, Rhode Island as a branch campus of Northeastern University. In 1940, the YMCA Board of Directors ran the school until 1956 when it became a two-year college. Officially, Roger Williams University was founded in 1956. Today, it is a full university located in a suburban area on a 140-acre campus that overlooks Mount Hope Bay.

    Features

    Roger Williams University offers 40 majors for over 4,000 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 14-to-1. Nearly 53% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, 75% live on campus. Students can access over 80 student organizations. Roger Williams University participates in NCAA Division III sports. Top majors include:

    • Business
    • Homeland Security & Related Protective Services
    • Biological & Biomedical Sciences
    • Psychology

    Notables

    Roger Williams University is named after Roger Williams. Williams founded the “State of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations” with a focus of freedom of conscience, social justice and a lively experiment in nurturing the growth of vibrant, open societies. Roger Williams was the first major figure in colonial America to talk about the need for democracy, religious freedom and understanding of Native Cultures. The University continues that legacy by ingraining diverse ideas, intellectual achievement and civic responsibility into their curriculum and students.

  7. Johnson & Wales University-Providence
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Johnson & Wales University-Providence was founded in 1914 in Providence, Rhode Island by Gertrude I. Johnson and Mary T. Wales. Today, Johnson & Wales University – Providence campus is just one location of a 4-campus regional university. The Providence campus has 126 acres located 3-hours from New York City; but, only 45 minutes from Boston, Cape Cod and Newport.

    Features

    Johnson & Wales University-Providence offers over 40 majors for over 8,700 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 21-to-1. Nearly 50% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, student can access over 100 student organizations – including Greek Life Chapters, donate over 240,000 community service hours per year or participate in NCAA Division III sports. Top majors include:

    • Foodservices Systems Administration
    • Parks, Recreation & Leisure Facilities
    • Hotel & Motel Administration
    • Business
    • Culinary Arts & Chef Training

    Notables

    Providence, Rhode Island, was founded in 1636 – one of the oldest in the United States. The city was built incorporating the natural resources of the Providence River and Narragansett Bay. Today, the city is a perfect blend of history, innovation, college community and business center. A cultural hotspot with fantastic food, opportunities and over 30,000 college students attending various colleges and universities in the area.

  8. Rhode Island College
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Rhode Island College was founded in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1854 as a school to train teachers and the first public institution in Rhode Island. Since its founding, RIC has been rated the 2nd safest college campus in New England, The School of Nursing is in the top 15% of the nursing programs and their athletic program is in the top 30%. The 180-acre campus is one hour from Boston, three hours from New York City.

    Features

    Rhode Island College offers 90 majors for 7,500 undergraduate students. Inside the classroom, the student-faculty ratio is 15-to-1. The average class size is 20 students. Nearly 48% of the classes have less than 20 students. Outside the classroom, student can access over 70 student organizations. Only 15% live on campus. Rhode Island College participates in NCAA Division III sports teams. Top majors include:

    • Health Professions
    • Education
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Public Administration & Social Service Professions

    Notables

    Rhode Island College is recognized by the US Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School. To obtain this status, they must show they are or have reduced environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of the campus community and provide environmental education by incorporating it into all programs.

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