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The 25 Best Colleges in Texas for 2017

As everyone knows, Texas is a very big state, and colleges in Texas can be just as big. Thousands of students choose to attend colleges or universities in Texas every year. The Lone Star State ranks near the top of the list in terms of the number of colleges and universities and the number of students enrolled. Even community colleges in Texas are grand.

There are many good reasons to choose to attend colleges in Texas. Students enjoy the mild winters and warm springs, as well as the diversity of landscapes and people the state has to offer. In addition to being national leader in business, technology, agriculture, aerospace, and biomedicine, Texas also has the advantage of being one of the safest and most affordable states to live in.

For the Top 25 Colleges in Texas for 2017, we used the same methodology used in our inaugural 2016 edition of The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America. In our attempt to create a college ranking system that takes into account what really matters to students and their parents, we’ve gone beyond investigating standard indicators of academic quality and student satisfaction used by other major ranking systems to also consider indicators of the economic value of a school and the quality of life offered by the city or town in which it is located.

At the top of this year’s ranking is Rice University, which has long been recognized as one of the premier universities in Texas and the world, as have the schools in the second and third spots, Trinity University and the University of Texas at Austin (though we imagine a few people might take issue with UT-Austin being ranked higher than Texas A&M).

Many exemplary religious schools have made the list, and they cross various Christian denominations from Baptist to Lutheran to Catholic. Those wanting to add a spiritual component to their education will have no trouble finding a school in Texas. The big metropolises are well-represented, with a wide variety of colleges and universities in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Students who want to stay connected to vibrant and dynamic population centers have some amazing choices in the best colleges in Texas.

We believe our ranking of the top colleges and universities in Texas provides prospective students an excellent starting point for investigating the best colleges and universities in the Lone Star State. We measured each school across a dozen (12) different data points to come up with an overall score for each school. You can read a more detailed explanation of our Texas ranking methodology and data sources by clicking here.

First, we offer a few notes to help you navigate the rankings list. Underneath the school’s name is a brief introduction to the school, as well as a little information about the city or town in which it is located. Below that is the school’s classification, setting, population and student-to-faculty ratio. By clicking on the magnifying glass icon next to the student-to-teacher ratio, the profile will expand to display additional information on the school and city or town.

The Schools

Detailed Ranking Methodology

A college education is among the largest and most important investments of time, effort, and money most Americans will make in their lifetime. The schools in our ranking were put through a rigorous selection process and then objectively evaluated across 12 unique data points in four different categories: economic value, quality of life, academic quality, and student satisfaction. Subjective decisions were limited to which data points to consider and the weight given to each one.

In order to be included in our rankings pool, a school had to be a regionally accredited four-year, bachelor’s degree-granting liberal arts college or university in Texas with at least 500 students, a 25th percentile score of 480 in SAT critical reading and math, and an acceptance rate at or below 80%. This ensured that all Texas colleges and universities considered were of significant size and demonstrated some level of selectivity in its admissions process.

 

Ranking Criteria and Weights

Economic Value (35%)

  1. Real cost (15%)
  2. Median starting salary of graduates (10%)
  3. Median mid-career salary of graduates (10%)

Quality of Life (30%)

  1. Cost of living index of city/town (15%)
  2. Median age of city/town residents (5%)
  3. Median household income of city/town residents (5%)
  4. Percentage of city/town residents with bachelor’s degree or higher (5%)

Academic Quality (20%)

  1. Acceptance rate (10%)
  2. Student-to-faculty ratio (10%)

Student Satisfaction (15%)

  1. Enrollment rate (5%)
  2. Freshman to sophomore retention rate (5%)
  3. Six-year graduation rate (5%)

Economic Value

1. Real Cost

As the cost of a college education continues to climb and the overall economy struggles, keeping costs and student loan debt low is more important to students (and their parents) than ever. With that in mind, The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas for having lower real costs, which we calculated by taking the estimated undergraduate student tuition and fees and subtracting the average amount of freshman financial aid. Because the average amount of financial aid packages tracks the tuition costs of the majority of the student body, for public schools that draw most of their students from in-state, we subtracted the average aid amount from in-state tuition costs.

Data on tuition, fees, and aid was taken from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is the core postsecondary education data collection program of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education. After the data was compiled and average aid was subtracted from estimated tuition and fees to get the real cost, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking of the top colleges in Texas.

2. Median Starting Salary of Graduates

In order to get a sense of the value of a degree from a given college, it is important to consider the likely economic payoff. Students (and their parents) want to know that after all the blood, sweat, tears, and cash, there’s a well-paying job to look forward to. And so, The Best Colleges awarded Texas colleges and universities with higher starting salaries for recent graduates.

We collected data on the median starting salary of college graduates (1-4 years post-graduation) from the 2016-2017 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the top schools in Texas.

3. Median Mid-Career Salary of Graduates

How much one makes several years into a career is just as important as what one makes immediately after graduation, and this may indicate more about the knowledge and skills actually learned at a school since recent graduates are often hired more on the basis of the reputation of their alma mater than their actual knowledge and skill. Therefore, The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with higher mid-career salaries for graduates.

We collected data on the median mid-career salary of college graduates (10-19 years post-graduation) from the 2016-2017 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.

Quality of Life

4. Cost of Living Index

Especially during tough economic times like these, many students (and their parents) want to live in a place where they can make a dollar stretch. The Best Colleges measured the buying power of a student’s dollar in a given location by the cost-of-living index (COLI), a theoretical price index which measures the relative cost of living in a place base on the relative costs of goods and services. Schools were awarded for being in locations in Texas with a lower COLI.

The COLI of each city/town came from City-Data.com, a private company which collects and analyzes data on thousands of cities and towns across the U.S. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.

5. Median Age of Population

Assuming most students prefer to live with and around other young people and appreciate the social and cultural opportunities that tend to accompany younger populations, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with more youthful populations.

Data on the median age of a city/town’s population was taken from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of top schools in Texas.

6. Median Household Income

On the assumption that most students prefer to live in areas populated by economically successful people, which often correlates with greater social, cultural and economic opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with higher amounts of income wealth.

Data on the median household income of a city/town’s population was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of top colleges and universities in Texas.

7. Percentage of Population with College Degrees

On the assumption that students prefer to live in places with well-educated populations, which often correlates with greater tolerance and more interesting social opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with a greater percentage of residents with college degrees.

Data on the percentage of a town/city’s residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool of Texas colleges, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.

Academic Quality

8. Acceptance Rate

The quality of a college education is largely determined by the academic quality and competitiveness of the student body. Generally speaking, the more stringent and selective a college is in its admissions process, the better the quality of students. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with lower acceptance rates.

Data on acceptance rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.

9. Student-to-Faculty Ratio

On the assumption that smaller class sizes and fewer students per professor means the possibility for more individualized attention and greater access to faculty during and after class, The Best Colleges awarded colleges in Texas with lower student-to-faculty ratios.

The most recent available data on student-to-faculty ratios was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the top colleges in Texas.

Student Satisfaction

10. Enrollment Rate

In general students are happier and more satisfied at a school where they really want to be. Thus The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with higher enrollment rates, which measure the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. Generally, a higher enrollment rate indicates a school is more desirable to students who apply.

The most recent available data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the top schools in Texas.

11. Retention Rate

The freshman to sophomore retention rate measures the percentage of students who return to a school after their freshman year. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded colleges in Texas with higher retention rates.

Data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.

12. Six-Year Graduation Rate

The six-year graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate from a school within six years of enrolling. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded schools in Texas with higher graduation rates.

Data on graduation rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.

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