Colleges in the US by State

Colleges in the US By State


Where you go to college can often be as important as which one you choose. There are colleges and universities of all sizes in each state in the US, all offering their own ways of life. Are you imagining weekends studying while stretched out on a nearby beach? Or are you fantasizing about endless events and opportunities that accompany living in the heart of a big city?   

Where you choose to attend school can also affect your opportunities after graduation. Going to college in areas where your intended career is flourishing often means you’ll have a number of internship opportunities. Plus, if you like the area and have an “in” from internships, it can lead to a full-time job. 

There are two types of colleges in the US, degree-granting and non-degree granting. Non-degree-granting institutions typically focus on conferring certificates or diplomas, often in technical or vocational areas of study. Degree-granting institutions offer, at minimum, an associate’s degree.

Both types of colleges can be “Title IV” institutions. 

Labeling a school “Title IV” refers to the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) which covers the administration of the United State federal student financial aid programs. In other words, colleges that are “Title IV” means that students can take part in programs like Federal Work-Study Programs and receive government loans (like Federal Perkins Loans). 

Title IV is only a portion of the HEA, which was signed into legislature on November 8th, 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson. It was part of a domestic set of programs called the “Great Society,” whose goal was the total elimination of poverty and racial injustice. 

Just like there are two types of higher education institutions in the US, there are also two types of private colleges — for-profit and nonprofit. 

When a college or university is a “for-profit institution,” it means that it’s run primarily like a business, involving a shareholder or shareholders and/or investors. They may also be subsidiaries of larger corporations. As the name implies, the goal of these institutions is, generally, to make a profit, i.e. money. 

For-profit institutions have made headlines in the past dozen years for high rates of debt creation, as well as promising career-advancement that never comes to fruition. While it’s important to know this about for-profits, it’s also important to remember that not all for-profits are bad. Some offer accessible, flexible degree programs — but it’s crucial that you do your research and make sure the for-profit is reputable before deciding to attend. 

The average cost of attending a for-profit institution in 2017-2018 was $17,000, far exceeding the average yearly cost of the average 4-year public school at $9,000. However, that dollar amount is less than what’s spent on the average 4-year private institution, which is $34,600. 

Here at Appily, we focus heavily on outcomes — what’s the graduation rate, do students see increased income after graduation, average debt. Unfortunately, despite the cost, the outcomes for for-profit institutions simply don’t pan out. 

  • Only 21% of students graduate within 6 years from for-profit institutions, in comparison to 66% of students from nonprofit colleges and universities. 
  • More than 80% of graduates from for-profit took out student loans, compared with 66-68% from public and private schools, respectively. 
  • Data from experts show that for-profit degrees do not offer the same salary increase as those from public and private nonprofit colleges. 

Nonprofit institutions, on the other hand, have no focus on making a profit. Instead, non-profit organizations are dedicated to furthering a cause or advocating for a point of view — in this case, they’re sole goal is to provide higher education. One of the inherent benefits of attending a nonprofit college is that their goal is to serve students interests.

Nonprofit colleges and universities are publicly owned and have no shareholders or owners. They’re managed by a (typically) unpaid board of trustees. They’re also more likely to have substantial financial aid packages and scholarships. 

Are College Accreditations Important?

In the US, there are no federal regulations on academic quality and standards for higher education — in other words, there’s nothing telling colleges and universities that they have to provide quality education. 

In response to that, independent accreditation bodies formed with the sole goal of verifying the merit of the education at colleges and universities. Both public and private colleges must be accredited for students to receive federal financial aid through the FAFSA form (side note: always fill out the FAFSA! It’s free!).

Accrediting bodies come in a few different forms: regional, national, and programmatic. All regional accrediting agencies must be approved by the US Secretary of Education, and each cover different portions of the country. 

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and federally authorized sovereign nations. 
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
    • Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and some geographical areas outside of the United States. 
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    • Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and some programs offered internationally. 
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
    • Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and some programs offered internationally, along with the accreditation of programs offered via distance education within these institutions.
  • Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC)
    • Florida, Georgia,  Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Latin America, and other Commission approved international sites, including the accreditation of programs offered via distance and correspondence education within these institutions. 
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
    • WASC has the ability to accredit institutions offering baccalaureate degrees or higher in the Pacific Basin (along with some institutions that offer programs outside the US), as well as in California and Hawaii. 

Programmatic Accreditation

For some majors, there’s also programmatic accreditation, which means that not only does the school need to be regionally accredited, the specific program of education needs separate accreditation, as well. 

Programmatic accreditation ensures that the academic quality is up to established standards through peer review. Keep in mind that not all majors or professions require these specialized accreditations to graduate, but make sure to know the ins and outs of accreditation in your intended field so you can choose a school that has top-notch education standards. 

For instance, for those who want to become licensed Registered Nurses, they must pass the NCLEX exam, as well as earn their degree. To take the NCLEX exam, though, students must have graduated from schools with the appropriate programmatic accreditation, like those accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). 

In total, there are more than 40 specialized accrediting agencies in six categories. 

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Education Training
  • Legal
  • Community and Social Services
  • Healthcare

To see what accreditations your college or intended college has, you can search for it on the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs provided by the US Department of Education. 

How Many Colleges are There in the United States?

In the United States alone, there are more than 6,500 postsecondary Title IV institutions. Of these institutions, 2,189 of them are Title IV non-degree-granting. The rest are degree-granting, with 1,485 being 2-year colleges and 2,828 being 4-year colleges. 

How Many Public Universities in the US? 

Of the more than 6,500 colleges, only 1,955 of them are considered public universities. Of those 1,955, a total of 1,626 of them are degree-granting. 

Public universities are typically founded and operated by the state government. All 50 states have at least one public university, with the largest states featuring as many as 30. Most public universities started off as teaching training institutions, eventually expanding to offer comprehensive education in multiple areas of study.

Thanks to the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Acts, public institutions became more commonplace, so long as they taught practical fields. Signed by Abraham Lincoln,  “Land Grant” institutions still exist to this day and have developed, mostly, into large public universities. The very first to accept provisions from the land grant was the Iowa State University, followed by many others such as Clemson University, Rutgers, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

Some exceptions to this include Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tuskegee University, which are private land-grant universities. 

The idea of a land grant expanded — public institutions are now funded by sea grants, space grants, and sun grants, too. 

It’s unsurprising that the state with the most public universities is California — as the second most populous state as well as the state with the largest public higher education system — is the state with the most public institutions. It’s closely followed by Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania.

How Many Private Universities in the US?

There are 4,547 private universities in the United States, with a majority functioning as for-profit institutions (2,721). 

When it comes to 2-year degree-granting institutions, a majority of private universities are for-profit. Of the 609, only 99 are nonprofit. With 4-year private institutions, the number is weighted oppositely — 1,590 private 4-year colleges and universities are nonprofit, with only 488 operating on a for-profit model. 

Before enrolling at a private institution, make sure you know what kind of private institution it is — nonprofit or for-profit — and do some cost evaluations using Net Price calculators to get an accurate picture of tuition. 

List of Colleges by State: What States Have the Most Colleges?

The number of colleges per state is typically correlative to the number of people in the state. For instance, Alaska has the least number of colleges, with only 3 public and 2 private for a total of 5 institutions. 

Respectively, states with the highest population often have the most institutions, which are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois, with Pennsylvania and Ohio trailing close behind. True to this correlation, California has the largest population and the most institutions, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois. 

Explore Colleges By State With Appily

Searching through colleges by state can be a great help to many types of students! If you’re looking to find a public institution in your state to take advantage of in-state tuition, we have a list for you. If you’re looking to head to an area where your future career is thriving — check out the options in that area. 

With more than 7,000 degree-granting Title IV institutions in the US, it can be difficult to determine where to start. Beginning by perusing colleges and universities based on states you’re interested in can jumpstart your search! 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many colleges are in the US? 

There are some 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States today. The number fluctuates every year based on closures, mergers, and more, but rest assured, there are plenty of options to choose from. 

What are the best colleges in the US?

The best colleges in the US are (usually) considered the Ivy League Schools (unsurprisingly). The Ivy League Schools, most commonly referred to as “The Ivies,” are a series of institutions that all participate in the same American collegiate athletic conference. 

However, the term “Ivies” has evolved to refer to more than that. It’s indicative of eight private academic institutions associated with selective admissions and academic excellence. The eight schools are: 

  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Harvard University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University

That said, the Ivies are just a few among hundreds of other excellent colleges. There’s also a group deemed “the Public Ivies,” which are also selective, also known for academic excellence but are a bit more affordable. They typically accept more students, too! 

  • College of William & Mary 
  • Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
  • University of California
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia

All of these institutions are highly rated and typically rank very highly in the best-colleges list every year. For 2020, the top 10 colleges and universities are as follows: 

  1. Princeton University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Columbia University
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. Yale University
  6. Stanford University
  7. University of Chicago
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Northwestern University
  10. Duke University

Regardless of rankings, though, the best colleges for you will be ones that match your wants and needs — academically, geographically, and socially. For more information on building a best colleges list specifically for you, check out this article on Reach, Safety, and Match schools. 

Or, search all colleges in the US here

How many students live in the US?

There are 76 million students living in the United States, making up nearly 24% of the population in the entire country.

What scholarships can you get for attending college in the US? 

There are thousands of scholarships available to students attending colleges in the US. Appily aggregates scholarship data from all over the country and gathers it all in one place! You take a look at our scholarship database here.