Illinois has a higher learning opportunity for virtually any career goal. From rural settings to urban Chicago campus life, students can find a first-class small college education with investment-worthy tuition rates.
The following list is a ranking of the 20 best small college deals in Illinois. This selection of twenty affordable schools results from a strategic research process, focusing specifically on desirable features in pursuing a small college degree.
In order to rank Illinois top small colleges, points were given based on affordability, tuition return on investment, faculty expertise, student-to-faculty ratio, alumni engagement, published recognition, career placement services, and any additional features that added particular value to the college’s offerings.
These top 20 Illinois small colleges scored the highest among approximately 85 schools. This initial pool of 70 had a net price of under $34,000 USD and a total student enrollment of under 8,000 students. Primary sources for this data included College Navigator, Niche, and Payscale.
The schools profiled below are ranked in order of points earned. In the event of a tie in points, the schools with the lower net price are ranked higher.
Ranking the Top Small Colleges in Illinois
#20 – Augustana College
Rock Island, Illinois
Total Enrollment: 2,478
Net Price: $22,715
One of the most scenery-rich campuses in the state, Augustana College is a great option for those who enjoy learning both in and outside the traditional classroom. This college emphasizes the importance of tending to personal development while pursuing academic goals; for each enrolled student, there are approximately five counselors available for a wide range of needs. AC is known to have high regard for its alumni’s successes, frequently presenting them with awards and opportunities to network with current students. Recent data has shown a $120,000 return on investment for Augustana’s tuition, placing it in the ranks of best small college deals of Illinois.
#19 – Olivet Nazarene University
Total Enrollment: 4,892
Net Price: $20,437
Since its humble beginnings as a one-room schoolhouse, historic Olivet Nazarene University continues to show considerable growth in enrollment. ONU has over 120 available areas of study, all of which are divided into schools of education, business, arts and sciences, Christian ministry, life and health sciences, engineering, and music. This top small college deal in Illinois has a stellar reputation, consistently ranking among the best in midwestern higher education. Olivet Nazarene has received high student rankings in the area of career counseling and post-graduate advisement.
#18 – Roosevelt University
Total Enrollment: 5,352
Net Price: $23,274
Founded in 1945, Roosevelt University is a small and distinguished college with a highly diverse student body. This top small college deal in Illinois has over 116 academic degree options, all led by award-winning faculty at the top of their fields. Some of the available major areas include arts and sciences, pharmacy, business, education, professional studies, and performing arts. RU has an extensive online education program which makes it easier for full-time working adults to earn their degree with flexibility. This college has a $167,000 return on investment, and surveyed alumni gave positive feedback regarding its career counseling services.
#17 – University of Illinois at Springfield
Total Enrollment: 5,402
Net Price: $12,308
The University of Illinois at Springfield, one of the smaller schools in the U of I system, is a high-value education at an affordable cost. For nine consecutive years, US News & World Report has included this institution among its “Best Colleges,” ranking it among the top ten Midwest public universities. UI Springfield offers 29 bachelor’s and 20 master’s programs. The most popular of these majors include computer science, business administration, accountancy, criminology, biology and psychology. A top Illinois small college deal, the University of Illinois at Springfield has a return on investment that ranges from $109,000 (out-of-state) to $135,000 (out-of-state).
#16 – Illinois Institute of Technology
Total Enrollment: 7,792
Net Price: $23,371
The Illinois Institute of Technology offers a unique blend of attributes to students who are willing to think differently; this private, research-intensive university is one of the best colleges in Illinois for STEM-focused learners. Innovative, entrepreneurial minds will flourish at IIT, where degree programs emphasize the most important skills in the 21st century. From the Armour College of Engineering, which focuses on projects related to security, water, health, and energy, to the College of Architecture, which makes “global urbanism” a central part of any discussion, academic life at IIT is almost too good to be true.
#15 – Lewis University
Total Enrollment: 6,679
Net Price: $19,986
With a $150,000 tuition return on investment, Lewis University is undoubtedly one of Illinois’ best small college deals. This institution has a comprehensive liberal arts education in addition to recent degree additions including aircraft systems, data science, computer engineering, and business analytics. Over 97% of incoming undergraduates receive customized financial aid options; in one academic year alone, LU provided over $30 million in merit-based scholarships and grants. Lewis has a consistent 85% first to second year retention rate, indicating a happy campus atmosphere from day one.
#14 – Bradley University
Total Enrollment: 5,338
Net Price: $27,211
Settled on 85 suburban acres in Peoria, Bradley University is a widely respected and comprehensive liberal arts school. Recently, Great Schools at Great Prices ranked this college a “best value” Midwestern school in their annual edition. In addition to five master’s degree opportunities, Bradley’s undergraduate degrees include education and health sciences, engineering and technology, liberal arts, communications and fine arts, entrepreneurship, and business. 93% of Bradley University graduates find career-related employment, and a $330,000 calculated return on investment places it among the best small Illinois college deals.
#13 – Elmhurst College
Total Enrollment: 3,298
Net Price: $23,688
A private institution just outside Chicago, Elmhurst College is a top-ranked center of academic excellence. This small, affordable Illinois school believes that all students have unique career potential. Elmhurst students declare majors in fields including business management, speech communication, nursing, psychology, sports management, and many others. Elmhurst has a well-organized alumni networking program, and students have multiple opportunities to gain advisement with EC graduates. In order to keep tuition as low as possible, this college offers multiple academic scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities.
#12 – Dominican University
Total Enrollment: 3,696
Net Price: $18,730
One of the most affordable small schools in Illinois, Dominican University provides a world-class education at a great value. This college has challenging, well-rounded curriculum in 50+ undergraduate and 25 graduate degrees; the most popular of these degrees include business, accounting, biology, communication, public relations, elementary education, and mechanical engineering. A 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures an optimum personalized learning opportunity, and students are advised regularly on their goals in and outside the classroom. Dominican University has an 86% first to second year retention rate, and a $247,000 return on investment.
#11 – Moody Bible Institute
Total Enrollment: 3,922
Net Price: $18,575
Since 1989, Moody Bible Institute has trained students for full-time ministry roles in churches and parachurch organizations. MBI’s educational offerings include degrees in Bible, biblical studies, counseling and psychology, theology, and a five-year bachelor of music degree. This top small college deal in Illinois has expanded to online degree offerings; this expansion has made it more possible for working professionals to receive a higher education. In recent student satisfaction surveys, 100% of recent alumni reported that the faculty expertise proved beyond their expectations.
#10 – Quincy University
Total Enrollment: 1,293
Net Price: $17,186
Considered a best small college by U.S. News and World Report and College Values Online, Quincy University inspires 100% of its students to engage in community service around the world. This affordable Illinois college keeps its focus on developing both the mind and ethical conscience of its student body. Among others, QU’s top-notch academic programs include accounting, history, graphic design, marketing, criminal justice, health services, mathematics, forensics, and sports management. Over 92% of Quincy’s alumni either advance their degree or find employment within six months of graduation.
#9 – Wheaton College
Total Enrollment: 2,929
Net Price: $27,792
A Christ-centered institute of higher education, Wheaton College encourages students to pursue both their academic and spiritual goals. Respected publications including Fiske Guide to Colleges, U.S. News and World Report, and the Princeton Review have repeatedly recognized Wheaton for its affordability and quality of education. This top Illinois college deal regularly evaluates its course curriculum to ensure student success in the job market. Wheaton College is a welcoming campus community, as indicated by its 95% first to second year retention and 89% overall graduation rates. Based on the median salary of recent graduates, this college yields a $221,000 return on investment.
#8 – Millikin University
Total Enrollment: 2,152
Net Price: $21,093
Founded in 1901, Millikin University is a suburban Illinois college that specializes in a comprehensive range of academic programs. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1, MU celebrates the independent spirit of its undergraduate and graduate degree-seekers. This top Illinois small college has a unique program called “Performance Learning,” which consists of workshops and experiential opportunities designed entirely by its students. Millikin’s superior academic value has earned praise from publications including Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and the Princeton Review. Recent data has shown that 99% of Millikin University alumni are employed full time or enrolled in graduate school within six months of earning their degree.
#7 – University of St. Francis
St. Joliet, Illinois
Total Enrollment: 3,957
Net Price: $17,616
Established in 1920, the University of St. Francis is a faith-based higher education institution for a vast range of academic interests. This top Illinois small college commits to personalized learning on both professional and spiritual levels, while an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures its future graduates they have easy access to faculty expertise and counsel. Degree offerings at USF range in field areas that include arts and sciences, education, business, nursing, biology, and more. This university has an enviable $235,000 return on investment, and 100% of surveyed students stated that they would recommend USF to others.
#6 – North Park University
Total Enrollment: 3,159
Net Price: $19,158
Settled on 30 acres on Chicago’s north side, North Park University is a small liberal arts college based in the Christian faith. This college maintains a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, with an average class size of seventeen. NPU offers over 40 majors as well as minors in pre-professional programs. All majors are divided into specialized schools that include arts and sciences, theological seminary, business and nonprofit management, music, nursing and health sciences, and education. Among the best college deals in Illinois, North Park has multiple merit and talent-based scholarships available to qualified students.
#5 – Concordia University
River Forest, Illinois
Total Enrollment: 5,239
Net Price: $18,557
Founded in 1864, Concordia University is an elite higher education option just west of Chicago. This affordable Illinois college offers a broad spectrum of degrees spanning arts and sciences, education, and business. Additionally, CU has a well-respected graduate program in its college of Graduate and Innovative Programs. Concordia is known to be actively engaged in the local community; these charitable efforts have led to being added to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Each admitted student is considered for need-based financial aid, and Concordia University graduates average a $241,000 return on investment.
#4 – Aurora University
Total Enrollment: 5,423
Net Price: $18,082
Settled on a quaint campus in suburban Illinois, Aurora University is an academic community that attracts high-achieving students. This college’s primary degree offerings include professional studies, education, human performance and recreation, social work, and nursing. In addition to its classroom curriculum, AU has formed partnerships with local elementary and middle schools in an effort to expand science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; these partnerships lead to internships and eventual employment in the STEM fields. Aurora faculty is consistently accessible for advisement, and the college maintains a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio in order to facilitate mentorship.
#3 – McKendree University
Total Enrollment: 3,001
Net Price: $19,210
Rooted in Judeo-Christian ideals, McKendree University hones both the academic and leadership skills of its students. This college has a broad range of curriculum through its four specialized schools; these schools offer over 45 degree majors in arts and sciences, education, nursing and health professions, and business. Recent student satisfaction surveys have indicated positive feedback on MU’s financial aid process, career placement services, and dedication of faculty. One of Illinois’ best small college deals, alumni salary reports show an impressive $363,000 tuition return on investment.
#2 – Saint Xavier University
Total Enrollment: 3,949
Net Price: $16,355
The oldest Catholic university in Chicago, Saint Xavier University was founded in 1846 and is the most diverse college campus in the city. In addition to the schools of arts and sciences, education, continuing adult education, and management, Saint Xavier’s school of nursing is one of only seventeen centers of excellence designated by the National League of Nursing. This affordable Illinois small college evaluates all incoming students for scholarship opportunities, both need and merit-based; some of these scholarships are based on locality, arts, music, religion, and athletics.
#1 – Benedictine University
Total Enrollment: 5,954
Net Price: $20,931
One of Forbes’ “America’s Top Colleges” for five years running, Benedictine University is a private Catholic institution in suburban Chicago. BU offers 56 undergraduate majors, all of which are divided in schools of science, liberal arts, business, education, and health services. Additionally, for students seeking to further specialize in their fields, this college has fifteen graduate and four doctoral programs on campus. BU’s classes have an average size of seventeen, none of which are led by graduate assistants. A best small college deal in Illinois, Benedictine University boasts a $377,000 return on investment.
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