The Best Colleges & Universities in Texas for 2014

As everyone knows, Texas is a very big state. Thousands of students choose to attend college or university 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.

There are many good reasons to choose to go to school 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.

Top Online SchoolsFor our first annual edition of The Best Colleges 10 Best Colleges and Universities in Texas we used the same methodology used in our inaugural 2011-2012 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 it is located in.

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, longtime rivals Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin (though we imagine a few people might take issue with A&M being ranked higher than UT-Austin). Rounding out the top five are Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Dallas--like A&M and UT-Austin, these are large state schools that have strong reputations within the state.

The second half of the list is where things get a little more interesting. All the schools in the bottom half of the list are private and religiously affiliated. Trinity University is a Presbyterian affiliated school that probably deserves more attention from students around the country. And while people outside of Texas have probably heard of the Baptist-affiliated Baylor University and the obviously Methodist-affiliated Southern Methodist University due to their nationally ranked sports programs, probably very few have heard of Abilene Christian University (Church of Christ) or LeTourneau University (nondenominational).

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.

A few notes to help navigate the rankings list. Underneath the school's name is a brief introduction to the school, as well as a little bit about the city or town where 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. By clicking the "expand all" or "collapse all" buttons at the top of the rankings list, the entire list can be expanded or collapsed.

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Rice University

A small research university known for its programs in the applied sciences, the school also has a strong commitment to undergraduate education, operating on a residential college system with a student-enforced Honor Code that allows for all tests and exams to be taken home and completed unsupervised at the student's convenience.

Students on the large wooded campus near the Houston, TX museum district have easy access to the amenities of the big and relatively low cost city.

Private Research University Large City 5,576 8:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $33,771
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2000-2300
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Houston, Texas

  • Median age: 30.9
  • Median household income: $42,945
  • Cost of living index: 93.0
  • College degreed: 27.0%

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Texas A&M University

The oldest public university in Texas shows it has a heart as big as its massive campus and student body, offering a full-need, no-loan financial aid package to qualified Texas student from families making less than $60K a year.

A youthful and highly educated town, College Station, TX offers country flavor in a conservative atmosphere and an exceptionally low cost of living.

Public Research University Fringe Rural 48,702 19:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $8,387/$22,817
  • Acceptance Rate: 69%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1610-1950
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 24-30

College Station, Texas

  • Median age: 21.9
  • Median household income: $24,525
  • Cost of living index: 91.6
  • College degreed: 58.1%

3

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University of Texas at Austin

One of the original "Public Ivies", the biggest university in Texas has the largest endowment of any other public university in the nation, allowing it to offer outstanding research opportunities, in addition to being generous with the financial aid.

Billed as "The Live Music Capital of the World," Austin, TX is a youthful and active city with a reasonable cost of living and an eclectic personality.

Public Research University Large City 50,995 17:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $9,418/$31,218
  • Acceptance Rate: 47%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1630-2020
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 25-31

Austin, Texas

  • Median age: 29.6
  • Median household income: $50,132
  • Cost of living index: 94.8
  • College degreed: 40.4%

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Texas Tech University

The flagship university of the Texas Tech University System boasts one of the largest contiguous campuses in the country and a generous financial aid program that promises to cover all tuition and fees with scholarships and grants for Texas students from families making less than $40,000 a year.

Known as "Hub City", Lubbock, TX is the economic, education, and healthcare hub of the South Plains region and offers students a remarkably low cost of living.

Public Research University Midsize City 31,637 23:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $6,970/$14,410
  • Acceptance Rate: 72%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1470-1760
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 22-27

Lubbock, Texas

  • Median age: 29.7
  • Median household income: $38,602
  • Cost of living index: 85.1
  • College degreed: 26.6%

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University of Texas at Dallas

Known for a willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries through its several multi/interdisciplinary degree programs, this university is making an effort to overcome class boundaries as well through its Tuition Promise Program, which covers tuition and fees through scholarships and grants for Texas students from families making less than $25,000 a year.

Richardson, TX is an affluent and well educated inner suburb of Dallas which manages to keep cost of living low for students.

Public Research University Small City 17,128 20:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $9,886/$22,170
  • Acceptance Rate: 50%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1130-1370
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 25-30

Richardson, Texas

  • Median age: 35.8
  • Median household income: $60,059
  • Cost of living index: 95.1
  • College degreed: 47.7%

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Trinity University

This academically rigorous university with a Presbyterian heritage offers a close-knit student body and a campus on top of a hill overlooking downtown San Antonio.

The home of the Alamo, San Antonio, TX is a the second largest city in Texas, offering students a number of cultural and entertainment possibilities in addition to a low cost of living.

Private Master's University Large City 2,498 9:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $30,015
  • Acceptance Rate: 63%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1170-1370
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 27-31

San Antonio, Texas

  • Median age: 31.7
  • Median household income: $42,513
  • Cost of living index: 88.1
  • College degreed: 21.6%

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Baylor University

This private Baptist university with large ambitions and a rising national reputation is making an effort to provide a more affordable education through The President's Scholarship Initiative, a fundraising campaign initiated by the school's new president aiming for $100 million in new scholarship money by 2013.

The home of Dr. Pepper, Waco, TX is a relatively youthful and inexpensive city north of Austin and south of Dallas on the I-35 corridor.

Private Research University Midsize Town 14,900 14:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $29,884
  • Acceptance Rate: 48%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1640-1960
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 24-29

Waco, Texas

  • Median age: 27.9
  • Median household income: $30,232
  • Cost of living index: 85.9
  • College degreed: 18.6%

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Southern Methodist University

A private Methodist university with strengths in business and management, the Cox School of Business is widely considered one of the best in the country.

Known as "The Big D", Dallas, TX is one of the biggest cities in Texas and a center of business and commerce for the state.
Private Research University Large City 10,938 12:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $37,230
  • Acceptance Rate: 54%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1700-2010
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 35-30

Dallas, Texas

  • Median age: 30.5
  • Median household income: $38,829
  • Cost of living index: 94.4
  • College degreed: 27.7%

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Abilene Christian University

This private university affiliated with the Churches of Christ has ambitions as large as the West Central Texas plains that surround it, publicly declaring its intent to become the premier university for training global Christian leaders.

Home to three private universities, Abilene, TX is a midsize university town with a low cost of living.

Private Master's University Midsize City 4,728 15:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $22,760
  • Acceptance Rate: 53%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1010-1130
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 22-28

Abilene, Texas

  • Median age: 31.1
  • Median household income: $41,957
  • Cost of living index: 83.3
  • College degreed: 22.0%

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LeTourneau University

This former technical college retains strengths in engineering and technology but has grown into a nationally recognized comprehensive Christian university with degrees in the liberal arts, education, and business among others.

Longview, TX is a small East Texas town with a low cost of living and the distinction of being the boyhood home of actors Matthew McConaughey and Forest Whitaker.

Private Master's University Small City 3,169 23:1

Additional Information

  • Tuition & Fees: $21,980
  • Acceptance Rate: 59%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1490-1920
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 22-29

Longview, Texas

  • Median age: 34.0
  • Median household income: $41,500
  • Cost of living index: 84.1
  • College degreed: 20.6%

 

 

 

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 Best Colleges ranking of the 10 Best Colleges and Universities in Texas of 2011-2012 was designed to help guide undergraduate students and their parents in making a wise investment.

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 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 eighty percent. This ensured that all Texas colleges and universities considered were of significant size and demonstrated some level of selectivity in its admissions process.

Rankings 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%)
-4. Cost of Living Index of city/town (15%)
-5. Median age of city/town residents (5%)
-6. Median household income of city/town residents (5%)
-7. Percentage of city/town residents with bachelor's degree or higher (5%)

Academic Quality (20%)
-8. Acceptance rate (10%)
-9. Student-to-faculty ratio (10%)

Student Satisfaction (15%)
-10. Enrollment rate (5%)
-11. Freshman to sophomore retention rate (5%)
-12. 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 for 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 good 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 2013-2014 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). And so 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 2011-2012 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) are concerned 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 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 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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