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30 Great Progressive Colleges in the Midwest

As modern-day society continues to change at a break-neck pace, colleges and universities must evolve to meet the needs of their students. These students will enter a much different work force than the generations before them and will need the skills to compete in a high-tech global marketplace. Our editors have researched hundreds of schools in the Midwest to locate those who have carried out their commitment to remain relevant in a rapidly changing academic and societal arena.

Rating and Ranking Methodology

Progressive Offerings
Progressive majors – 2 points
Progressive courses only – 1 point

Technology/Innovation Awards
National Award – 2 points
Regional Award – 1 point
Sustainability Program – 1 point

Progressive Teaching Methods (i.e. experiential learning, externships, web-based instruction, etc.) – 1 point
Recent Facility Renovation/Add-on – 1 point
Study Abroad Opportunities – 1 point
Flexible Track Options (distance learning, weekend/evenings, accelerated degree programs)- 1 point

“Wow” Factor – 1 point for each feature that wowed us

Great Progressive Colleges in the Midwest

The following 30 colleges have proven themselves among the most forward-thinking in the Midwest region of the United States. Their advancements in technology, contemporary course offerings, sustainability efforts, and innovative teaching methods set them apart from their more traditional counterparts, making them good choices for students who are looking for a leg up on the competition in their chosen fields. These schools are presented here according to the above rating and ranking methodology. In cases where multiple schools received the same number of points, we listed them according to their net price with the more economical school receiving the higher ranking.

#30 –Creighton University

Omaha, Nebraska


Points: 5
Enrollment: 4,065
Net Price: $28,551
Creighton University is a Jesuit university that teaches its students to appreciate community service, ethics, and justice. Education through service to the community is the university’s top priority. This gives students valuable hands-on experience and helps those in need in the community and around the world. Creighton is partnered with health clinics, legal clinics, and other organizations to make this possible. Research is also a top priority for the university. Creighton constantly works to advance knowledge in subjects such as economics, medical research, and neuroscience.

#29 –Alverno College

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Points: 5
Enrollment: 1,723
Net Price: $17,044
As one of the largest Catholic women’s colleges in the U.S., Alverno College offers an impressive range of programs and opportunities that help students achieve their goals. Communication, critical thinking, respect, global perspective, and many other values are embedded and encouraged in every discipline. The curriculum is rigorous, and students are held to high standards. Learning is ability-based, meaning that students learn from completing tasks rather than simply reading from textbooks or listening to lectures. Students demonstrate their knowledge through these tasks until they have mastered the content. As a result of this progressive teaching method, students are well-prepared for the professional world upon graduation.

#28 –Grand Valley State University

Allendale, Michigan


Points: 5
Enrollment: 21,636
Net Price: $16,370
Grand Valley State University offers several on-campus events, diversity and inclusion resources, and sustainability programs that keep students engaged outside of class. Students can choose from over 200 areas of study in a wide range of topics and learn how to actively engage with their communities during their time at GVSU. Grand Valley’s students graduate equipped with skills valued by employers. Almost all of the university’s graduates quickly find employment or pursue advanced degrees upon graduation.

#27 –University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, Illinois


Points: 5
Enrollment: 32,959
Net Price: $16,249
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is home to 18 Pulitzer Prize winners, 11 Nobel Laureates, the first graphical web browser, and alumni who make a significant impact on society. Students have access to thousands of computer terminals, 37 unit libraries, and other academic resources. There are also several cultural centers, art galleries, and recreational facilities on campus. All of these assets help students and faculty in their outreach and research projects, benefiting both students and the community.

#26 –Kansas State University

Manhattan, Kansas

Points: 5
Enrollment: 20,327
Net Price: $15,784

Kansas State University is recognized as one of the best colleges in the U.S., and it consistently works to improve its offerings for students. Respect, diversity, honesty, and positive attitudes are highly valued and encouraged. Students have many opportunities to exercise leadership, connect with peers, and complete community service projects. The university also conducts studies to improve sustainability, economic development, family stability, and child development as part of its research and extension program. Students can participate in research to enrich their education and help the community.

#25 –University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois


Points: 6
Enrollment: 5,738
Net Price: $34,352
The University of Chicago makes research and inquiry its top priority. The school has more than 140 research institutes and centers that study topics such as global health, human rights, teaching, and spacial intelligence. Students have the opportunity to connect with people around the world through the university’s overseas campuses and global programs, and over 3,000 international students are enrolled at the main campus. The university is diverse and accessible, and committed to creating an inclusive environment for all students.

#24–Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri


Points: 6
Enrollment: 7,401
Net Price: $33,374
Washington University welcomes students from diverse backgrounds and prepares them to become successful and productive members of society. The school’s students enjoy both a nurturing environment and rigorous curriculum, a combination that drives them to the top of their respective fields. There are over 3,000 research projects under way each year in topics such as plant science, medicine, innovation, and energy. Scientific research and health outreach aren’t the only ways the university gives back to the community. It also contributes to the region’s culture through its libraries, art museum, and theater.

#23 –DePaul University

Chicago, Illinois


Points: 6
Enrollment: 16,153
Net Price: $29,756
One of the nation’s largest private universities and the largest Catholic university in the U.S., DePaul University places an emphasis on teaching and learning. The university also promotes diversity on campus, welcoming students from many different backgrounds. Many students participate internships or study abroad programs. DePaul’s location in Chicago, the third largest city in the country, not only provides students with fun activities outside of class, but also enables them to make important connections after they leave the university. Most graduates quickly find jobs in their desired career path or successfully enter into graduate school after graduation.

#22 –Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio


Points: 6
Enrollment: 4,911
Net Price: $29,140
Ranked the top private research university in Ohio, Case Western University values diversity, integrity, and academic excellence. Its location in Cleveland, Ohio gives students opportunities to network and attend many cultural events. It’s also a great place for outdoor recreation. Research is a major part of the curriculum, and students can participate in studies as early as their first year. Support from philanthropists and foundations has raised millions of dollars, allowing students to explore topics such as management, energy, medicine, and music.

#21 –University of Northern Iowa

Cedar Falls, Iowa


Points: 6
Enrollment: 10,142
Net Price: $14,026

Students at the University of Northern Iowa enjoy collaboration with faculty, special events, and hands-on experience. UNI also offers programs for students who want to enrich their education by taking honors courses and studying abroad. Classes are small and professors put their students first. The more than 250 student organizations give students a chance to connect with people who share their interests. There are even student groups that actively work to help new and prospective students.

#20 –Saint Cloud State University

Saint Cloud, Minnesota

Points: 6
Enrollment: 14,377
Net Price: $13,426
Saint Cloud State University’s students study rigorous curricula and apply their studies to real-world situations. Hands-on experience and collaboration with professors are emphasized. Students have opportunities to participate in research and community engagement projects. The university has been highly ranked for its safety, efficiency, value, and transportation, and its undergraduate programs hold almost every available national accreditation. It offers over 200 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs, including some that are rare in the region, such as meteorology and geographic information systems.

#19 –Truman State University

Kirksville, Missouri

Points: 6
Enrollment: 5,910
Net Price: $12,041
Truman State University offers the high quality education usually associated with more expensive schools at a fraction of the price. Students enjoy a supportive learning environment, personal attention from professors, and a high placement rate after graduation. Classes are small, allowing students to have a more personal education and giving them many chances to interact with their classmates. A multitude of student organizations and on-campus events also give students opportunities to be involved with the community outside of class.

#18 –Marquette University

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Points: 7
Enrollment: 8,410
Net Price: $32,900

Marquette University is a Jesuit university that encourages its students to make a difference in the world and think critically. Study abroad opportunities, multicultural programs, student organizations, and community service projects supplement classroom study and are a major part of education at Marquette. There are also special honors programs and summer programs for students who are looking for additional experience. Research is another major focus of the university. Faculty and students collaborate with each other and researchers around the globe to make important discoveries and gain a better understanding of complex problems.

#17 –Northwestern University

Evanston, Illinois


Points: 7
Enrollment: 9,048
Net Price: $28,667

Northwestern University recruits students of many backgrounds who have demonstrated academic achievement. These students, National Merit Scholars and those at the top of their high school classes, enjoy innovative research, rigorous academic programs, and an active community. Both graduates and undergraduates are encouraged to participate in research, regardless of their major. There are hundreds of musical and theatre performances each year and many opportunities for recreation on campus. Students also have access to academic advisors that help them select a degree and prepare for job searching.

#16 –Macalester College

Saint Paul, Minnesota


Points: 7
Enrollment: 2,073
Net Price: $27,999
Macalester College gives students access to high-quality education, diverse community, and two major cities. Almost all of Macalester’s students study abroad, actively volunteer, or participate in internships. Several publications, including Washington Monthly, Colleges with a Conscience, and Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students have ranked Macalester highly for its diversity, community, and social awareness. Students are  expected to develop an understanding of the liberal arts and use this knowledge to make responsible choices and serve the community.

#15 –Grinnell College

Grinnell, Iowa


Points: 7
Enrollment: 1,734
Net Price: $24,896
Grinnell College is small, but it is still one of the most international liberal arts colleges in the nation. A large portion of the student population is made up of racial minorities, and over half  the college’s students study abroad. Students come from almost every state and over 60 different countries. Grinnell is among the leading institutions in sending its graduates to the Peace Corps, as well as its own Grinnell Corps. With the help of an adviser, students create their own curriculum and learn valuable skills that make them international leaders in business, medicine, public service, and science.

#14 –University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio


Points: 7
Enrollment: 24,300
Net Price: $19,739

Students at the University of Cincinnati spend time both studying in classrooms and gaining hands-on experience in their areas of study. The university aims to find a balance between these teaching methods, not neglecting either one in favor of the other. UC has consistently involved its students in cutting-edge research, and alumni have gone on to make important scientific discoveries. Students can participate in diverse experiential learning projects both in the local community and abroad, enriching their education while serving those in need.

#13 –Ohio University

Athens, Ohio

Points: 7
Enrollment: 19,613
Net Price: $16,370
Ohio University strives to foster leadership, stewardship, and knowledge in its students through research and creative activity. The school has forged partnerships with local high schools, other educational institutions, and the Smithsonian Institution for the benefit of its students, faculty, and community. Several publications, including the Center for World University Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, and Fiske Guide to Colleges, have recognized Ohio University for its student satisfaction, value, and high research activity.

#12 –Beloit College

Beloit, Wisconsin

Points: 8
Enrollment: 1,303
Net Price: $24,230
Students at Beloit College enjoy small classes, a diverse community, and the freedom to choose their own courses. Flexible curriculum and networking opportunities prepare students for life after graduation. Almost every Beloit graduate finds employment or is accepted into graduate school. Beloit has been highly ranked the National Science Foundation, U.S. News and World Report, and others for its innovation, value, and accessible professors. The university values diversity, high achievement, and interdisciplinary study, and it works to foster appreciation for these values in its students.

#11 –Milwaukee School of Engineering

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Points: 8
Enrollment: 2,596
Net Price: $22,019
The Milwaukee School of Engineering focuses heavily on research and hands-on education. Undergraduate students spend an average of 600 hours in state-of-the-art labs. In fact, MSOE has more labs on campus than traditional classrooms. The school aims to produce well-rounded, experienced graduates as well as stay at the forefront of professional education. Students regularly take on complex real-world issues and put together impressive projects, such as disease detection kits, automated systems, and systems that can repair birth defects while the baby is still in the womb.

#10 –University of Missouri – Columbia

Columbia, Missouri


Points: 8
Enrollment: 27,642
Net Price: $16,872

The University of Missouri in Columbia is constantly growing in both diversity and percentage of high-quality students. Graduation rates for the school are much higher than both the national and state averages for similar institutions. The university also serves the community through the MU Health System, a comprehensive health network that teaches future health professionals, provides patient care, and conducts research. After graduation, students are able to use their experience at MU to quickly find employment in their field.

#9 –University of Wisconsin – Madison

Madison, Wisconsin


Points: 8
Enrollment: 30,694
Net Price: $16,131
Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are encouraged to tailor their academic experience to suit their needs. Its residency halls are divided into two distinct neighborhoods that students can choose from. Activities and organizations are available for nearly all interests, and the city of Madison offers many opportunities for entertainment, recreation, and socialization. All of these traits give students the flexibility they need to feel comfortable on campus. Students also have flexibility in academics, with thousands of classes available in most subjects.

#8 –University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Minneapolis, Minnesota


Points: 8
Enrollment: 34,351
Net Price: $15,589
The University of Minnesota strives to use outreach, education, and research to address complex issues. The campus is one of the safest in the U.S. and has several ways for students to get around campus, including an underground tunnel system. Community service and research opportunities supplement classroom study and teach students to be good leaders and global citizens. Community is also encouraged through more than 800 student groups that allow students to socialize and learn from people with shared interests.

#7 –University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska


Points: 8
Enrollment: 19,979
Net Price: $15,109
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a national leader in teaching and grant-funded research. UNL makes undergraduate education a priority, giving its students plenty of opportunities to work on independent study projects, participate in special programs, and engage in debate. The school is consistently ranked highly for its value and graduation rate. The university is also committed to serving Nebraska and its citizens. Special units are created to make this possible, allowing UNL to have outreach programs in every county in the state.

#6 –Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana


Points: 8
Enrollment: 30,237
Net Price: $13,081
Purdue University offers programs in more than 211 areas of study and is well known for its competitive engineering curricula. The university has been highly influential in American aviation and aeronautics, and its programs in the fields are still among the best and most competitive in the world. The English Department has also earned recognition for creating the first Online Writing Lab, which many colleges use as a reference for academic writing. Outside of academics, students can participate in many campus-wide programs and events, as well as join any of over 900 student organizations.

#5 –Indiana University- Bloomington

Bloomington, Indiana

Points: 8
Enrollment: 36,419
Net Price: $11,573
Indiana University consistently receives recognition for its diverse academic programs, international culture, and research. Its cultural and entertainment offerings are unparalleled, with over 1,000 performances each year at its Musical Arts Center. Research is also a large part of IU education and culture. There are over 200 centers and institutes dedicated to research, and students from diverse subject areas often work on the same projects to provide multiple perspectives on a problem. Students graduate prepared to enter into a global community and pursue their desired careers.

#4 –Butler University

Indianapolis, Indiana

Points: 9
Enrollment: 4,062
Net Price: $32,742
Founded on the principle that everyone deserves a quality education regardless of gender or race, Butler University strives to give all of its students the best possible chance for success. Hands-on learning and community service are also top priorities. Students are actively involved in service projects that  better the local community give students a chance to apply their education to real-world situations. The campus is constantly improved and maintained through infrastructure enhancements. Butler hosts over 300 events in art, dance, music, and theatre every year.

#3 –Kenyon College

Gambier, Ohio


Points: 9
Enrollment: 1,662
Net Price: $26,734
Kenyon College values curiosity, open-mindedness, and creativity. It is rooted in traditional liberal arts and sciences, but also uses interdisciplinary programs to supplement its rigorous curriculum. Kenyon is highly selective and sets high standards for its students, but allows them the flexibility to explore their academic options. Small classes enable students to build relationships with professors who are mentors and work to push and inspire every student. Students also learn outside of the classroom through public projects, community service, and research.

#2 –The Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

Points: 9
Enrollment: 44,741
Net Price: $18,215
The Ohio State University is a land-grant university with several highly-ranked programs and one of the nation’s largest campuses. Ohio State gives special attention to its students during their first year on campus through First Year Experience programs that help get students connected. Campus resources are easy to access, and the university also has many initiatives promoting diversity, outreach, health, and sustainability. Students looking for fun outside of class can participate in the university’s many events or choose from over 1,000 student organizations.

#1 –University of Iowa

Iowa City, Iowa


Points: 9
Enrollment: 22,354
Net Price: $14,315
Well known for its commitment to the humanities, arts, and sciences, Iowa University offers students a high-quality and balanced education. The university boasts efficiency that has both improved graduation rates and saved the school millions of dollars, allowing it to put more funds towards teaching, service, and research. The school has also consistently worked towards progress and social justice. It was the first public university in the U.S. to admit women and men on an equal basis, the first U.S. public university to grant a law degree to an African American, and the first state university to officially recognize a gay student organization.

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Published April 2016