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Below you will find a list of the Top 50 affordable colleges and universities in the Western United States, commonly agreed to comprise Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington. To start, we first compiled a list of all the regionally accredited institutions in the region, and then we zeroed in on schools meeting our definition of affordable. We then assigned points to each school based on their performance in each category; the 25 schools in each division (public and private) with the highest scores made this list. The University of California at Berkeley combines elite academic status with a strong history of community service and activism.
Washington State University is situated at the heart of the Palouse Scenic Byway running along the Idaho border.
Top students attend Oregon State University for its recognized advancements in conservation biology, nuclear engineering, climate change, public health, marine sciences, and forestry.
The University of Oregon enjoys status as a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite group of leading research schools. The University of California – San Diego is one of the most selective of the UC schools, with a high median ACT score.
A short walk from downtown Bellingham sits Western Washington University, listed as one of Kiplinger’s Best Values in 2013. The University of Arizona was founded in the desert in 1885 before Arizona was even a state. Imagine attending classes on a campus situated directly on the Pacific Ocean, walking to class while the bells of Storke Tower chime in the background.
Students at UC Santa Cruz are proud of their unusual mascot, the Banana Slug, and their 2,000-acre campus on the north side of Monterey Bay.
UCLA is a top institution by almost any measure, and its in-state price tag makes it an exceptional value for those admitted to this highly selective school.
Colorado State University is nestled at the foot of the Rockies in Fort Collins, a town named the 4th healthiest mid-sized city in a 2013 Gallup survey and the 4th best place to live by Money Magazine in 2010. Humboldt State University is the northernmost school in the California State University system, located on the Redwood Coast. Students might choose Arizona State University for its reputation for innovative education practices, or maybe because it has a high number of student entrepreneurs. Along the edge of the Rockies lies the architecturally acclaimed campus of CU Boulder, which includes two museums, a planetarium, and the Sommers-Bausch Observatory. The University of Utah keeps its students happy, as evidenced by its 88% freshman retention rate.
The Cowboys and Cowgirls of the University of Wyoming celebrate their extreme Wyoming pride by wearing their brown and gold colors on Pride Fridays. The fastest growing school in the UC system, UC Riverside is updating its campus for a planned enrollment increase from 21,000 to 25,000 by 2020. The University of Hawaii – Manoa sits just outside Honolulu on the island of Oahu, which students can traverse for free on the public bus system – and campus housing will provide a storage locker for your surfboard! San Jose State University is not only the oldest CSU school but also the oldest public university on the West Coast.
While San Diego State University expects a lot from its students, it also holds itself to a high standard. The University of Washington is committed to making education accessible; its Husky Promise guarantees scholarships and grants to qualified students to help cover tuition costs. The CSU Long Beach campus sits on a hilltop near the Pacific and is filled with 3,200 flowering peach trees given to the university by Long Beach residents.
Warner Pacific College is a small, urban liberal arts school that provides students the perfect place to challenge themselves and try new things. The University of La Verne is one of the more highly ranked schools on this list, and for good reason. Although Concordia is a private, Christian institution, it is open to students of any faith who are looking for a traditional liberal arts education. Grand Canyon is another Christian university, and it puts an emphasis on infusing education with Christian values, hard work, and ethics in the workplace. Reed College is a small, residential college in Portland that has long since maintained a reputation as one of the most intellectually stimulating institutions in the country.
Thomas Aquinas is an incredibly unique Catholic institution that takes a quite unusual approach to education. We’ve all heard of Stanford, and it’s no surprise that this institution holds the #1 spot on our list for quality.
Saint Martin’s is a religious institution rooted in the Benedictine traditions of hospitality, service, and intellectual and spiritual growth.
Northwest Nazarene is a small Christian university that was rated a “College of Distinction” in the 2013-14 school year. Although Alliant’s principle location is in Alhambra, the school actually has seven campuses throughout the state in addition to three international locations. If you’re interested in a scenic, distraction-free setting for your postsecondary study, take a look at Northwest University. The College of Idaho, the state’s oldest private institution, has a great track record of educating students in a close-knit community characterized by small class sizes and outstanding professors.
Rocky Mountain College is another institution that produces enough satisfied, successful students that it’s on Forbes’ list in the 602nd spot. The vision for Pomona College grew out of the desire to build a school out West that would imitate the greatest Ivy League institutions of the Northeast. The University of Great Falls is a Catholic university located between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks in Montana. All schools in this region were analyzed and ranked separately according to public and private institutions. For the purposes of this article, “affordable” refers to having a net price (total cost of attendance minus the average financial aid package) below $22,000 –  roughly the typical price tag of a year of college. They are listed in descending order according to their net price, but we also included their quality ranking so you can see for yourself just how much value each institution offers.
The Byway is home to natural areas like the 200-foot Palouse Falls, named in 2014 as the official state waterfall.
Thanks in part to its research prowess, UO has many highly ranked programs, including architecture, education, physics, and geological sciences. Often ranked as a “best value” university, NAU offers a substantial reduction in out-of-state tuition to residents of 14 western states through the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program. Within a college system, admitted applicants are assigned to one of six colleges, based on stated preference and availability, where they will live for two years of their studies. WWU touts its commitment to faculty availability, with a student-faculty ratio of 20:1 and only 2% of classes taught by TAs.
CSU has received top rankings for its sustainability efforts and was recently chosen to receive special Smart cars for research. Humboldt prides itself on being a smaller school (8,000 students) at which students and faculty truly get to know each other.
Perhaps it’s because students enjoy close attention from professors, as 90% of graduating students report having worked closely with professors on projects, internships, and more. Students can get engaged with the university through more than 500 student organizations and can bond with friends at the Redfest and Grand Kerfuffle concert festivals. This may be one reason why Times Higher Education in 2013 once again ranked UC Irvine 1st in the nation and 5th in the world for universities less than 50 years old.
The university is located 50 miles east of Los Angeles near Box Spring Mountain on 1,200 acres. Campus covers 19 city blocks of downtown San Jose, which is now the 10th largest city in the U.S. Also committed to its quality of education, the school enjoys a 93% freshman return rate and an 82% six-year graduation rate. Here as you walk to class, you might pass pieces of the campus sculpture collection, the Japanese Garden, or the chiming Carlson Bloc Bell Tower. As a religious institution, there is an added emphasis on community, faith, and the ways to bring diverse groups together.
It has a freshmen retention rate of 86%, undoubtedly because students are too busy exploring the more than 100 campus organizations and academic programs to consider leaving! The school is generous in its attempts to reduce the financial burdens on students, and the average award package for freshmen is $10,000. GCU has seven distinct colleges that together offer over 100 majors in areas like Accounting, Psychology, and Digital Design.
Relax amongst the palm trees and the nearby waves as you grow both intellectually and spiritually. As if proving this, the school maintains an incredibly high freshmen retention rate of 92% and a 6-year graduation rate of 82%. There are no majors and no minors; everyone grows together in a liberal arts program that includes study of the most notorious philosophers, mathematicians, authors, historians, scientists, and theologians throughout history. It scores high marks in all of the categories we assessed, and has a freshmen retention rate of 99%, a 6-year graduation rate of 96%, and a student-to-faculty ratio of an almost unbelievable 5:1. SMU encourages students to learn through dedicated inquiry and self-examination, and the school offers nearly 50 majors and minors to support your journey. Located in the greater Sacramento area, WJU is ideally situated between all the advantages of a bustling downtown and pristine lakes, rolling hills, and the El Dorado National Forest.
The beautiful 90-acre campus in Nampa is the school’s main center, but you’ll also find locations in Boise, Idaho Falls, and Twin Falls.

All Alliant’s programs focus on preparing students to enter professions that require highly advanced and specialized skills.
The campus lies on 56 acres of semi-wooded land overlooking Lake Washington and the majestic Olympic Mountains. Signs of superior student satisfaction include a freshmen retention rate of 83%, a nearly 70% 6-year graduation rate, and a spot on Forbes’ list of “America’s Best Colleges.” Opportunities to get involved on campus include campus ministries, multicultural and international affairs, wellness services, and an outdoor program that includes activities like rock climbing and kayaking. That might be near the bottom of the list, but keep in mind the number of schools that didn’t make it at all! The founders were largely successful, and today Pomona is one of the region’s premier liberal arts colleges.
The small campus consists of just ten buildings but more than makes up for the lack of acreage with tree-studded walkways and 1960’s architecture. At this point, we then collected a large amount of data on eight quality indicators: 6-year graduation rate, freshmen retention rate, student-to-faculty ratio, percentage of classes entrusted to graduate assistants, average entrance ACT score, number of campus organizations, number of academic programs, and Forbes ranking. From engineering, to physical sciences, to anthropology, analysis by the National Research Council found that Berkeley has the greatest number of top ranked graduate programs in the U.S. Pullman itself has been named a top college town and one of the safest communities in Washington. Davis is on many “best towns” lists and is also on many lists as the most bike-friendly city in the country.
You’ll enjoy plenty of faculty interaction with a student-faculty ratio of 19:1 and a median class size of 20. Students enjoy a low student-faculty ratio of 19:1, more than 150 undergraduate majors to consider, and 350 student organizations to join.
Each college has its own dining facilities and traditions, as well as differing general education requirements, offering benefits of a small liberal arts school within a large research university. Students are encouraged to customize their educational experience, through options such as the Fairhaven College interdisciplinary experience. Across its 100+ academic programs, the university encourages every student to graduate with real world experience and supports this goal through internships, research, and more. UCSB is home to 100 research units and 11 national institutes and centers like the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Students belong to one of ten residential colleges at UC Santa Cruz, where they can take advantage of unique learning opportunities.
Faculty includes Nobel Prize winners and Fulbright Scholars, and they are very accessible thanks to a low 17:1 student-faculty ratio.
Several of its academic programs are also top ranked, including the vet school and programs in occupational therapy, agriculture, and journalism. Maybe they know that ASU’s more than 100 programs were judged by a Wall Street Journal analysis to be in the top five for producing graduates most qualified for employment.
You can help grow organic produce in the Edible Campus Gardens and then visit one of the three top Utah attractions right on campus: the Natural History Museum, Red Butte Gardens, and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Several of the school’s academic programs earn high praise as well, including engineering, physical sciences, business, and anthropology. You can study in well-reputed programs in agriculture and natural resources, business, and education, to name a few of the colleges that house 85 undergraduate majors.
UC Riverside is appealing to applicants both because of its reputation for being ethnically diverse and because of a desirable 19:1 student-faculty ratio. The proximity to Silicon Valley companies gives students atypical access for internships and research projects, and SJSU is the top producer of graduates for business, engineering, and computer science jobs in Silicon Valley.
Top quality students with high ACT scores enjoy an extremely low student-faculty ratio of 10:1. The student-to-faculty ratio is a cozy 11:1 and the number of student organizations and academic programs is on the lower side in order to encourage maximum interaction among students.
In addition to a variety of traditional modes of study, La Verne also offers accelerated programs for adults in seventeen different majors, from business to psychology. Because Concordia keeps its population small, at around $1,400, it can also afford to keep the average class size at 20 or fewer students.
This institution also offers a number of master’s degrees and some unique programs, such as Business Intelligence, Disaster Preparedness, Addiction, Worship Arts, and Big Data Analytics.
Chaminade prides itself on providing an education that includes close interaction between students and teachers, multicultural awareness and understanding, a supportive campus atmosphere, a vibrant campus life, and programs that will prepare you for professional life. The school is incredibly selective and the average ACT score of incoming students is above a 31.
There are also no textbooks or lectures; instead, you will read the original texts of everyone from Aristotle to Shakespeare and learn through dynamic classroom discussion.
The school is one of the most selective in the country and the average ACT score of incoming students is over 32 – that’s nearing a perfect score! When you’re not in class you can cheer one of 13 athletic teams, check out the intramural sports teams (including dodgeball, flag football, ping pong, kickball, ultimate Frisbee, and bowling), or join any student organization from the Arab Student Association to the Veterans Club. The school offers undergraduate and graduate programs as well as accelerated adult and online programs. In addition, programs are available online and in conjunction with institutions in ten other countries.
Most of the school’s academic majors are at the graduate level, but undergraduate students will find degrees available in many basic areas, such as Business Administration, Psychology, Political Science, and Criminal Justice. Although you will definitely feel one with nature, you can also make the short drive to Seattle for lots of entertainment and dining options. True to how most people think of Montana, RMC’s campus is park-like, with evergreen trees, perennials, and shrubs at every turn.
With just 1,600 students equally split between men and women, Pomona maintains a small student-to-teacher ratio of just 8:1. The school has fourteen athletic teams in the NAIA that include basketball, golf, and even rodeo!
We included the Forbes ranking because, more than other sources that write on education, it assesses schools based on measures of student “output” and satisfaction (read more here).
After your classes with top-notch faculty (no TA classes here) that currently include eight Nobel Laureates, you can dine in the FSM Cafe to attend an event celebrating Berkeley’s role in the Free Speech Movement of 1964. Among WSU’s 200 fields of study, the vet school, pharmacy school, and communication school all research at the forefront of their fields, and the nursing school produces more new nurses for Washington State than does any other school. Outdoor-bound students might opt to study at the Adventure Leadership Institute to become qualified to lead expeditions and outdoor challenge experiences.
The university is known for its focus on sustainability, including the West Village area, which contains experimental homes designed for zero net energy living. Outside the Portland campus, students study marine life on the coast through the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.
NAU’s Student Learning Centers foster student success through free tutoring, free Supplemental Instruction sessions for difficult courses, and a Peer Jacks mentoring program for out-of-state students. WWU has operated on the leading edge of green sciences since it founded the Huxley College of the Environment in 1969. The National Science Foundation ranks UA 29th in the nation in research expenditures, and many academic departments have earned top achievements thanks to this research focus. The university’s academic departments also present unique learning, in top-rated programs and research centers in areas like linguistics or marine mammal research. The university is consistently found in Top 25 lists nationally and globally, and it dubs itself the “most applied-to university in the nation.” Host to 290 research centers and the world’s largest university media archive, UCLA was awarded more than $1 billion in research grants in 2011. Colorado State’s more than $300 million in annual research funding puts it at the forefront of areas such as infectious disease, cancer research, and atmospheric science. You can frequently find Humboldt on lists of top regional universities, due in part to this classroom intimacy but also due to its great achievements in research and academia through centers like the Humboldt Earthquake Education Center and the Institute for Redwood Ecology. Since Phoenix gets more than its share of sunlight, ASU has installed more than 78,000 solar panels in 86 systems across its four campuses, generating 23.5MW of power and shading thousands of parking spots! Here on Earth students can choose to help out in the first student-run recycling center or attend a CU football game knowing that the zero-waste home football game initiative will recycle and compost as much stadium waste as possible.
If you’re interested in cutting-edge technology, investigate the Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games. At an elevation of 7,220 feet and just 25 minutes from the Snowy Range Mountains, you’ll have easy access to outdoor recreation. Top fields of study include Chemistry, Environmental Engineering, Philosophy, Education, and Business. Some other of SJSU’s top-rated programs include Design, Creative Arts, Communicative Disorders, Social Work, and Occupational Therapy. Students can choose from 700 clubs and opt for such diverse recreation activities as climbing walls, wilderness medical training, a golf driving range, and bowling at the HUB.
The school isn’t particularly selective, but once students are accepted they are encouraged to find their passion in study.
You can choose to major in a typical field, like Biology, Business, English, or Music, or you can choose from one of Concordia’s many theological majors, such as Pastoral Ministry, Youth Ministry, or Outreach. Chaminade also offers the “Four Year Guarantee,” which is an agreement that the school will pay the rest of your tuition if you don’t graduate in four years. If you are accepted, you’ll enjoy a student-to-faculty ratio of only 10:1, 130 campus organizations, and more than 40 bachelor of arts degrees. Students who choose TAC are almost always satisfied with their experience, and the school boasts a freshmen retention rate of 84% and a graduation rate of 80%. If you do get in, though, you’ll enjoy more than 600 student organizations and nearly 70 academic programs.

Saint Martin’s also hosts the Benedictine Leaders Program, a day-long conference that includes education sessions and an information panel. The freshmen retention rate is 82% and the student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1, ensuring that you’ll have lots of opportunities to communicate with professors. Choose from over 60 areas of study in all the traditional areas of the liberal arts and sciences as well as theology and pre-professional programs. All five of Alliant’s schools are founded on a belief in four pillars of education: professional practice, applied research and scholarship, multicultural and international competence, and community engagement.
The school puts a particular emphasis on the value extracurricular activities can add to an education and so provides a plethora of opportunities for students to join campus ministries, sports teams, theatre troupes, community service organizations, choruses and bands, and of course student clubs. If you’re not an athlete there’s still plenty to do, such as becoming a student ambassador, cheering on teams as a member of the “Argo Army,” or joining the Outdoor Club. With more than 400 student organizations you’re sure to find camaraderie, which helps drive OSU’s freshman retention rate to an impressive 83%.
Founded as an agricultural school in 1908, UC Davis has been ranked #1 in the world for agriculture and forestry by QS World University Rankings. The Global Learning Initiative ensures that your coursework gives you a global perspective across courses to ready you for the global economy post-graduation.
Students of marine sciences and earth sciences can study through the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which operates four research vessels and in 2013 logged 767 days at sea. Student initiative led to the launch in 2005 of a quarterly fee (up to $7 per student) to enable the university to purchase renewable energy and fund student-driven energy projects.
UA boasts the largest optics program in the country, a lead position in planning and architecture for arid climates, and a top ranking astronomy program. Students who can bear to leave the idyllic campus may study abroad in one of 200 programs in 40 countries. Its engineering school is frequently listed as a top 10 program, and the School of Theater, Film, and Television has produced 29 Academy Award winners. Outside the classroom, students stay busy through more than 500 student organizations and attend 11,000 individual appointments with career advisors.
Undergrads have unusual access at Humboldt to facilities like Fickle Hill Observatory and research vessels of the Department of Oceanography. It’s no wonder that the school that turned itself into a “living solar laboratory” has an engineering program ranked in the top ten percent by U.S.
More than 1,200 undergrads annually are involved in worldwide faculty research, and with a student-faculty ratio of 18:1 it’s easy to get to know professors. Choose the U, which in 2009 topped a list of research universities by creating 19 spinoff companies based on U technology. With only 19 students per faculty member and no classes taught by TAs, you’ll get plenty of faculty attention at UC Irvine. Outside magazine calls UW a top “adventure college,” and you can even earn UW credit for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) courses. Campus housing options include ten Special Interest communities that students may opt into based on their academic programs or personal interests.
Some of its programs with high acclaim include oceanography, marine biology, library and information science, and international business.
SJSU is a leader in graduating minority students, supported by its Educational Opportunity Program, which aids disadvantaged students who qualify for admission.
SDSU also receives praise for strong diversity, service to underrepresented students, and an LGBT-friendly environment. Academics and research are also outstanding; for 40 years the UW has been in one of the top two spots for public universities receiving the most federal research funds. 88% of freshmen return for their second year, and CSULB is a top awarder of degrees to minority students. As an example of this, they have created the “First Year Learning Communities,” which help students develop social support, strong study skills, and a comfortable sense of community. Most of the campus life is centered on spiritual programs, but you can also join groups like Concordia Business Leaders, the Healthcare Administration Club, or the Multicultural Club. Reed also made it into the top 10% on Forbes’ list of “America’s Greatest Colleges” at #65. It makes perfect sense that Forbes, a source that ranks schools on measures of “output” and student satisfaction, gave Stanford the #1 spot on its list. The student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1 and only qualified professors, not graduate assistants, teach classes.
In addition to joining numerous clubs, you can also cheer on ten sports teams, including basketball, soccer, and volleyball teams. As the #2 school on this list, Pomona’s graduation and freshmen retention rates rival Stanford’s, at 96% and 97%, respectively. UGF offers 40 undergraduate degrees, eight graduate degrees, and four distance learning programs. News and World Report has repeatedly praised WSU for its pan-university writing discipline.
Fourth in the nation in using renewable energy, OSU and the town of Corvallis are well known for environmental responsibility.
The school’s distinguished faculty, one for every 17 students, now span four colleges and six professional schools, with a veterinary teaching hospital that treats 45,000 animals each year. For a more local change of scenery, make your way to the McKenzie River to enjoy the mountain bike trail rated #1 by Bike Magazine, and stop for a rest at the breathtaking Tamolitch Blue Pool.
And of interest to those studying beyond our own globe, NAU’s astronomy program entered into a partnership in 2014 giving it significant access to the famed Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered. You can keep busy all year through 596 student clubs and celebrate the end of the school year with the annual Watermelon Drop from Urey Hall. When they’re not saving the planet, students might relax playing one of more than 30 intramural sports, participating in 200+ clubs, or laughing with the Dead Parrots Society comedy improve troupe. In 2020, UA will lead a first-ever mission to obtain samples from a nearby asteroid to help explain the beginnings of our solar system.
Professors also show their commitment to students by issuing narrative evaluations in addition to grades. The Los Angeles location has additional perks, too; the annual Bruin Bash festival often hosts star performers like Jay-Z.
An 84% freshman retention rate indicates that students feel satisfied with their experience at Colorado State. Humboldt has a reputation for environmental awareness, and students take a Graduation Pledge to consider social and environmental impact when finding a career.
Thanks to its efforts to keep students engaged, CU enjoys the highest graduation rates for public universities in the State. Some top programs include the College of Engineering and the #1 ranked Entertainment Arts and Engineering program. If one of your interests is music, be sure not to miss Riverside’s multiple music festivals, such as Heat, Spring Splash, and Block Party. Faculty and administrators make small classes and superior teaching quality priorities, which helps drive its freshman retention rate to 83%. Top rated fields of study include international business, engineering, speech pathology, and psychology. It licenses more than 350 technologies, more than any other university, and launched 17 startups in 2013 based on such technologies.
Long Beach is often ranked as a top regional and best value school, including a recent top 10 rating for Best Value by Time magazine. As for academics, there is a definite trend toward religious majors, but you still get to choose from all the more typical majors as well. When you work out, feel free to use one of the 22 exercise machines at Dixon Recreation Center that actually help to power the university’s electrical grid! It’s easy to see why Newsweek ranks UC Davis as the 10th Happiest College Campus in the nation. Beyond the sciences, UA has much to offer as well, including the Center for Creative Photography founded in part by Ansel Adams. The U makes it easy for you to customize your college experience through MUSE (My Utah Signature Experience), a portal which connects students to internships and other opportunities based on their areas of interest. Its Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden is the nation’s only one situated in a tropical rainforest. 89% of freshmen return for a second year, though they might also opt for one of 300+ international programs that rank SDSU a top 25 school for study abroad. Areas of study among the school’s more than 100 degree programs with high acclaim include Social Work, Health Care Administration, Fine Arts, and Political Science. In your spare time stop by and visit the grizzlies at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center. UC Santa Cruz was apparently a favorite of the Grateful Dead, which donated its entire memorabilia collection to the school; they’re housing it in a room they call Dead Central.
As a student you’ll enjoy the schedule of Aztec Night events like Templo del Sol, an initiation rite for new students, Campus Carnival, and Midnight Study Breaks during finals weeks.

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