50 Most Innovative Small Colleges in America for 2022

Contents

In this ranking, we highlight the 50 most innovative small colleges in the U.S.

With rapidly changing technologies and a global marketplace that demands current and applicable skills, today’s college students need a different kind of education than the ones their parents received.

To ensure that a small college experience will provide big results for a future career, we evaluated hundreds of liberal arts colleges to find the top schools that are up to the task of meeting the changing needs of today’s undergraduate students and tomorrow’s leaders.

Methodology: Best Small Colleges Ranking

  • 2 points: recognition from U.S. News & World Report (related to innovation)
  • 2 points: progressive majors
  • 2 points: innovative instructional methods (i.e. experiential learning, web-based instruction, etc.)
  • 1 point: flexible track options (distance learning, weekend/evenings, accelerated degree programs)
  • 1 point: technology focus
  • 1 point: innovative school groups/clubs
  • 1 point: community connections
  • 1 point: wow factor: one point awarded for each unique feature or program that “wowed” us, such as low student to faculty ratio or low student body population

Ranking the Most Innovative Small Colleges

We chose 50 schools as the most innovative small colleges based on their size (i.e. less than 5,000 total students) and commitment to ongoing innovation, as defined above.

In the event of a tie, we ranked the school with the lowest tuition higher on the list. We collected tuition data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator.

#50 – Washington and Lee University

Lexington, Virginia
Points: 6
Student population: 2,183
College Website

A logo of Washington and Lee University for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Progressive areas of study make Washington and Lee University a most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $57,285

Washington and Lee University offers students a liberal arts education that embraces technology, multiculturalism, and interdisciplinary thinking.

This small private university also offers a close-knit community and low student to faculty ratio. Classes are kept small intentionally.

Among undergraduate majors and minors, you can choose from many progressive areas of study like:

  • East Asian studies
  • education policy
  • entrepreneurship
  • film and visual culture

The school ranks with U.S. News & World Report. For example, it ranks #11 in best national private liberal arts colleges and #9 in best value schools.

#49 – Claremont McKenna College – Claremont Colleges

Claremont, California
Points: 6
Student population: 1,264
College Website

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A top liberal arts college with progressive majors – Claremont McKenna College!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $56,475

Claremont McKenna College (also part of the Claremont colleges) is a specialized school that combines a core liberal arts curriculum with leadership preparation.

You choose one of many majors, including:

  • government
  • international relations
  • public policy

In addition to a major, you can choose to complete a “sequence,” which is a combination of courses selected. Sequences cover topics like:

  • Asian American studies
  • Human rights, genocide, and holocaust studies
  • Leadership

Lastly, U.S. News & World report ranks the school #26 in most innovative colleges.

#48 – Lafayette College

Easton, Pennsylvania
Points: 6
Student population: 2,514
College Website

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An innovative small college that embraces creativity! Lafayette College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $55,742

Lafayette College is driven by the motto “Why not?” By inviting students to ask this question of themselves as they study, learn, and dream, the college inspires leaders who aren’t afraid to embrace creativity and innovation.

You can choose majors from 51 different areas of study, including:

  • environmental studies
  • film and media studies
  • neuroscience
  • religion

You can also create your own program with the help of your professors. By doing so, you get to explore your passions. This is why the school is considered one of the best colleges for experiential learning.

Lastly, the school ranks #38 in best national private liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#47 – Pomona College

Claremont, California
Points: 6
Student population: 1,475
College Website

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Partnerships across the globe! Pomona College is an innovative small institution.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $54,774

Pomona College is considered one of the best small colleges.

It centers its approach to learning around blending a small, personalized educational experience with a large range of resources typically found at bigger universities.

The nearby city of Los Angeles offers progressive, community-based learning opportunities spanning public policy, environmental sustainability, and art history.

For undergrads seeking international higher learning, the school has formed program partnerships with 32 countries across six continents.

In addition to all that the school offers, it ranks 12th in most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#46 – Johnson C. Smith University

Charlotte, North Carolina
Points: 6
Student population: 1,306
College Website

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An innovative HBC emphasizing community service – Johnson C. Smith University.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $18,784

Johnson C. Smith University is a private, historically black liberal arts college that emphasizes diversity and community service.

It ranks among small colleges for its programs and unique majors. Subjects include:

  • computer science and engineering
  • criminology
  • public health
  • sport management

It also has a graduate degree program in social work (MSW).

JCSU’s foster care initiative supports children in foster care and helps them set and achieve academic and career goals. The White House has selected the school to participate in the innovative Blue Ocean Strategy, an initiative designed to increase student retention and graduation.

Finally, the school ranks among top liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#45 – Carleton College

Northfield, Minnesota
Points: 7
Student population: 1,940
College Website

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Carleton College offers unique disciplines to study and community engagement, making it a most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $59,352

Carleton College is a small liberal arts school that offers a wide range of academic programs and majors. Some of the school’s unique disciplines include:

  • cinema and media studies
  • cross cultural studies
  • French and Francophone studies
  • music performance
  • theater arts

Academic innovation is a core mission for the school, as demonstrated by its various initiatives. These include Carleton Interdisciplinary Science and Math Initiative, the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, and the Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning, and Knowledge (QuIRK).

The school also ranks #5 in most innovative colleges with U.S. News & World Report.

#44 – Middlebury College

Middlebury, Vermont
Points: 7
Student population: 2,669
College Website

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Interesting majors! Middlebury College – a most innovative small school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $58,316

Middlebury College is one of the top small colleges that has long been renowned for its innovative international programs and large selection of courses and majors.

The college offers over 850 courses and plenty of majors in special interest areas. If you plan to study a science, you get access to world-class labs and resources.

Other undergraduate programs include:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • dance
  • film and media studies
  • global health

Lastly, the school ranks with U.S. News & World Report #16 in most innovative colleges in the country.

#43 – Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
Points: 7
Student population: 1,437
College Website

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Ranked and accredited! Swarthmore College is a top most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $54,456

Located in a small town 11 miles from Philadelphia, Swarthmore College offers an academic experience that is collaborative, progressive, and limitless in scope of study.

Its 600+ courses are taught in settings where students have a voice and are encouraged to be leaders in discussions. This school is part of a tri college consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford College liberal arts colleges, and it participates in cross-registration with the University of Pennsylvania. As part of the tri college consortium, the school commits funding for students participating in independent creative projects in areas of focus that include:

  • computer science
  • engineering
  • natural sciences
  • social action

Because of the above, Haverford is known for being one of the most unique colleges. It also ranks #42 in most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#42 – Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts
Points: 7
Student population: 1,987
College Website

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Small class sizes with big innovation techniques! Williams College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $50,450

Like Swarthmore College, Williams College offers more than 50 areas of study in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. It also offers standout programs like:

  • computer science
  • environmental policy
  • geosciences
  • global studies

No matter what area of study you choose, you can enjoy small classrooms with low student to faculty ratios.

In addition, the school has more than 250 opportunities for students to study off campus, including the Williams-Exeter Programme, which takes students to Oxford University.

Lastly, the school ranks #1 in best value and #1 in best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#41 – Wofford College

Spartanburg, South Carolina
Points: 7
Student population: 1,764
College Website

A logo of Wofford College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Study Chinese or international affairs at Wofford College – a most innovative small school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $47,650

Wofford College is one of the best small colleges. It operates on its original campus, which is recognized as a national arboretum.

The school’s dedication to multicultural and international studies can be seen through its robust study-abroad program. Since 2007, close to 2,300 Wofford students have studied in 70 different countries on seven different continents. Thus, the school consistently ranks among the top 10 in the nation in the Institute of International Education Open Doors Survey.

What else makes it one of the most unique colleges are the majors, minors, and concentrations. You can specialize your studies in areas like;

  • business economics
  • Chinese
  • environmental studies
  • intercultural studies

#40 – Berea College

Berea, Kentucky
Points: 7
Student population: 1,432
College Website

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Ranked as a top innovative college – Berea College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $45,092

Berea College is unique in the fact that it charges no tuition. Instead, all enrolled students must work at least 10 hours per week in service of the campus. The school was founded on the principles of learning, labor, and service, and its mission is to equip students with real-world skills that help them to succeed after graduation.

Students can choose between one of 28 different undergraduate majors, or they may create their own major. For example, you can major in:

  • ecological design
  • film and video studies
  • sustainable environmental studies

Lastly, Berea ranks #2 in most innovative schools with U.S. News & World Report.

#39 – Anderson University

Anderson, South Carolina
Points: 7
Student population: 3,848
College Website

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Unique majors and plentiful concentration options – Anderson University.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $29,980

Anderson University is listed among innovative small colleges due to its diverse programs.

Though the school is small, it offers eight colleges. These include:

  • arts and sciences
  • arts
  • business
  • Christian studies
  • criminal justice
  • education
  • interior design
  • nursing

It also offers graduate programs that include master’s degrees in education, ministry, and music.

In all, the school has 59 majors to choose from, along with 38 concentrations and 46 minors. Top majors include cybersecurity, interior design, and kinesiology.

#38 – Carson-Newman University

Jefferson City, Tennessee
Points: 7
Student population: 2,911
College Website

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Ranked with U.S. News & World Report – Carson Newman, a top innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $29,500

Carson-Newman University is a small, private, Christian liberal arts college whose mission is centered in its five programs known as the “Steeples of Excellence.”

These programs reflect the school’s goal to produce educated, committed contributors to society. These steeples include the:

  • Appalachian Center
  • Louis and Mary Charlotte Ball Institute for Church Music
  • Center for Baptist Studies
  • Center for Global Education
  • The Wellness Center

In addition to its large number of majors and degrees, the school is recognized for its international partnerships with global organizations worldwide.

The school ranks with U.S. News & World Report as the 299th-391st best national university.

#37 – New College of Florida

Sarasota, Florida
Points: 7
Student population: 675
College Website

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Innovative philosophies set New College of Florida apart from other small colleges.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $6,916 (in-state)

New College of Florida is recognized among top project based colleges.

Its innovative philosophy allows students to chart their own courses of study. In doing so, you gain independence and feel empowered. You can select classes from three main areas.

  • Humanities
  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences

Popular majors include:

  • computer science
  • creative writing
  • museum studies
  • public policy

Finally, NCF ranks #23 in most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#36 – Haverford College

Haverford, Pennsylvania
Points: 8
Student population: 1,307
College Website

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Small and highly innovative – Haverford College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $59,162

Haverford College is a small college located a few miles from central Philadelphia.

Its innovation is found in its nationally recognized academic centers. For example, these centers offer funding and scholarships to creative and innovative students. You can get funding for projects and research.

Students also have an unusual amount of involvement with college operations. You take part in hiring decisions, chairing administration committees, dealing with events, and more.

In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school #16 in best national liberal arts and #23 in best value schools.

#35 – Scripps College

Claremont, California
Points: 8
Student population: 958
College Website

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Ranked and accredited! Scripps College is a most innovative small college in the U.S.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $57,188

Scripps College is an all-female liberal arts school that is small and innovative. It prepares students to think critically and challenge themselves intellectually.

The school is also home to the only art conservation program on the West coast and features 30 studio art courses.

Unique majors include:

  • art conservation
  • computer science
  • media studies
  • science management
  • writing and rhetoric

Scripps is a leader in hands on colleges, where you can explore your interests.

Lastly, the school ranks #30 in best national liberal arts colleges and #86 in best value schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#34 – University of Richmond

Richmond, Virginia
Points: 8
Student population: 4,056
College Website

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Individualized experiences make the University of Richmond a top innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $56,860

When it comes to small colleges known for innovation, University of Richmond ranks high.

At the school, all programs and curriculum are tailored to be rigorous enough for each individual student experience. Programs and courses also combine liberal arts with business, law, leadership, and more.

You also get to choose from one of many unique majors and minors. These include:

  • Africana studies (launching in 2022)
  • cognitive science
  • computer science
  • German and international business
  • theatre

Lastly, the school ranks #16 in most innovative colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#33 – Bowdoin College

Brunswick, Maine
Points: 8
Student population: 1,777
College Website

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Research projects, internships, and international study make Bowdoin College a top school for innovation.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $56,350

Bowdoin College offers flexible options for completing an undergraduate education. Options include:

  • double majors
  • coordinate majors
  • interdisciplinary majors
  • student-designed programs

Progressive areas of study also cover subjects in earth and oceanographic science, environmental studies, romance languages and literatures, and urban studies.

You have the option to complete research projects, internships, community service projects, and even study-abroad opportunities.

Finally, the school is recognized by U.S. News & World Report. In fact, recent rankings include #42 in most innovative schools, #10 in best undergraduate teaching programs, and #6 in best national liberal arts colleges.

#32 – Davidson College

Davidson, North Carolina
Points: 8
Student population: 1,983
College Website

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Davidson College offers a unique testing protocol that makes it an innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $55,175

With over 31 majors and 40 interdisciplinary minors to choose from, Davidson College prides itself on investing in the best that academia has to offer.

One of the distinct benefits of attending Davidson is taking part in its “Honor Code.” Once signed by each student, this agreement provides a unique set of freedoms that include:

  • non-proctored final exams
  • take-home tests

There are also other privileges that demonstrate a sense of confidence in its students. This unusual level of trust is in part what makes the school a strong academic community.

Lastly, the college ranks #26 in most innovative colleges and #13 in best national liberal arts schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#31 – Babson College

Wellesley, Massachusetts
Points: 8
Student population: 3,340
College Website

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Ranked and accredited! Babson College – a top ranked innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $54,144

Babson College is a small college that seeks to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit of all its students.

The school’s entrepreneurial thought practice combines experimentation and creativity with sound business principles to create well-rounded innovators and leaders.

Its diverse student body comes from over 40 different countries who speak more than 30 different languages.

In addition, sustainability is a core value of the school. In fact, it strives to reach a state of carbon neutrality by 2050.

What also makes this business school unique is the integration of the school’s business principles with the liberal arts and sciences. From day one, you explore a rich and diverse curriculum with over 25 concentrations to choose from.

#30 – Marlboro College at Emerson College

Marlboro, Vermont
Points: 8
Student population: 3,708 (undergraduates)
College Website

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Marlboro College offers an alliance with Emerson College as a top innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $51,148

Marlboro College entered into a historic alliance with Emerson College in 2020 that carries on the legacy of this small school and its commitment to the liberal arts.

Instead of traditional degree paths, you complete a personalized, interdisciplinary plan of concentration that results in a major work of scholarship.

The college honors the tradition of self-study. Its alliance with Emerson brought about a new four-year, self-designed interdisciplinary major that was always a hallmark of the original Marlboro school. As a result, the school ranks among top project-based colleges.

#29 – High Point University

High Point, North Carolina
Points: 8
Student population: 4,628 (undergraduates)
College Website

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Rankings and awards put High Point University on the list of top innovative small colleges.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $38,080

High Point University is one of the top small colleges on our list. It is innovative in its academic areas and diverse learning options.

It offers over 50 new academic, residential, and athletic facilities. It also offers state-of-the-art resources that give students an individualized educational experience.

In addition, there are over 60 first-year seminars for first-year students. In this seminars, you study unique and progressive subject areas.

Lastly, HPU ranks #1 in best regional colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report.

#28 – Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas
Points: 8
Student population: 3,494 (undergraduates)
College Website

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Cutting-edge technology and engaging classrooms make Abilene Christian a top innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $37,800

From modern classrooms to cutting-edge technology, Abilene Christian University is listed among top small colleges.

Recently, the school has also been short-listed among “Apple Distinguished Schools.”

In addition, it offers unique majors and focus areas. Some of the sciences at ACU have become recognized through research publications. In fact, physics faculty and undergrads have co-authored four of the top 20 research papers in the field over the last decade.

Lastly, the school has also received recognition from major publications as a top regional school in the West.

#27 – Catawba College

Salisbury, North Carolina
Points: 8
Student population: 1,371
College Website

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Ranked and accredited! Catawba College – a most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $31,436

Catawba College is a private liberal arts college that offers over 70 academic fields of study. Its unique programs include several pre-professional programs.

You can also study subjects like:

  • digital media production
  • English – public and professional writing
  • environmental and outdoor education
  • public administration
  • sustainable planning and leadership

You also have the option to work alongside professors and create your own individualized major.

Among its many awards, the school has also received a #8 ranking in best regional colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report.

#26 – Amherst College

Amherst, Massachusetts
Points: 9
Student population: 1,745
College Website

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Their innovative open curriculum structure makes Amherst a top choice for innovative small colleges.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $60,890

Amherst College is a small liberal arts college noted for its innovation.

The college engages its student body with open curriculum, whereby undergrads and faculty advisers work together to design a highly individualized degree track. The result is a personalized degree.

You also get to involve yourself in a vibrant and diverse community that is free to express itself creatively.

Its state-of-the-art venue, known as the Powerhouse, provides a student-operated space to participate in many activities. It’s here that you can display art, present your work, or just visit with friends.

Lastly, the school ranks #42 in most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report. It also ranks #2 in best national liberal arts colleges.

#25 – Bates College

Lewiston, Maine
Points: 9
Student population: 1,876
College Website

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Ranked and intentionally small – Bates College is a leader in innovation.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $57,353

Bates College is a small school with big academic achievements.

Its tenured faculty have the highest degrees in their field. This is a level of expertise that each student can draw from, given the school’s low student-to-faculty ratio.

Its academic calendar structure (two semesters and one “short term”) allows you to focus on an individual subject of your choice. This independent project may be in:

  • fieldwork
  • international travel
  • internships
  • social service

You can also focus on any number of other subjects.

Lastly, Bates ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Its ranking include #12 in most innovative schools and #25 in best national liberal arts colleges.

#24 – Kenyon College

Gambier, Ohio
Points: 9
Student population: 1,615
College Website

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A top-ranked innovative small college – Kenyon College!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $55,020

Kenyon College is a private liberal arts college located 45 miles from Ohio’s state capital of Columbus.

Its innovation comes from its diverse student body and equally diverse programs. You can choose from 50 majors.

Additionally, you can study away from campus by choosing from over 150 different programs in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.

Another unique space on campus is the Kenyon Farm. It’s a place where the student body works and learns about a sustainable lifestyle.

Lastly, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school #26 in most innovative colleges and #30 in best national liberal arts colleges.

#23 – Hampshire College

Amherst, Massachusetts
Points: 9
Student population: 522
College Website

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No off-the-shelf majors at Hampshire College!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $51,768

Hampshire College is an innovative school where you receive no “off-the-shelf” majors. Instead, you are encouraged to create your own programs of study based on personal interests and career goals.

Also, instead of traditional departments for English, history, and science, there are unique buildings that house:

  • Cognitive science
  • Natural science
  • Social and critical inquiry

Rather than grades, you receive a narrative evaluation. You also receive meaningful feedback that is personal to you and your studies.

Finally, the school ranks #23 in most innovative schools with U.S. News & World Report.

#22 – Roanoke College

Salem, Virginia
Points: 9
Student population: 1,920
College Website

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Private, small, and unique! Roanoke College is a top most innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $47,020

Roanoke College is a small liberal arts school known for its innovation.

It offers a low student to faculty ratio and diverse academic majors.

Course offerings include studies in:

  • biology education
  • computer science
  • creative writing
  • data science
  • health and exercise science
  • literary studies

Among its many attractions, the school has expanded its diverse list of student clubs and organizations to over 100.

Additionally, the school ranks with U.S. News and World Report.

#21 – Merrimack College

North Andover, Massachusetts
Points: 9
Student population: 4,202 (undergraduates)
College Website

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Merrimack College offers over 100 unique career-focused programs!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $45,074

For several years running, Merrimack College has ranked among top regional colleges and most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report. In fact, recent rankings include it as the third most innovative school in the country.

Why is it innovative? There are over 100 academic, career-focused programs for the student body to choose from. There are also versatile areas of study and a diverse set of groups to join, including:

  • compass program
  • honors program
  • writers house
  • Mucci capital markets lab

The school also offers a diverse student body representing people from 38 states and 47 countries. Classes are intentionally kept small and offer a student to faculty ratio of 16 to one.

#20 – Valparaiso University

Valparaiso, Indiana
Points: 9
Student population: 3,122
College Website

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Ranked, accredited, and innovative – Valparaiso University!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $43,286

Valparaiso University is a small college known for its integration of liberal arts and professional studies. Undergraduates can pursue majors from a large list of over 70 fields of study in its series of five colleges:

  • arts and sciences
  • business
  • engineering
  • nursing and health professions
  • Christ college

The school has formed partnerships with over 25 study-abroad programs across five continents to further enhance academic growth.

The school also ranks with U.S. News & World Report as the 172nd best national and 43rd best value school.

#19 – Alverno College

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Points: 9
Student population: 1,876
College Website

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Innovative teaching methods make Alverno College a top innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $30,658

Alverno College is a women’s Catholic school that emphasizes innovative teaching methods. The school’s unique ability-based curriculum emphasizes eight core abilities. These include:

  • communication
  • analysis
  • problem solving
  • valuing
  • social interaction
  • developing a global perspective
  • effective citizenship
  • aesthetic engagement

Instead of traditional grades, you receive a narrative transcript of your progress. This removes stress and pressure on students without sacrificing academic growth.

You can also choose from a diverse group of majors to study, including:

  • art education
  • creative practices in art
  • computer science
  • film studies
  • freshwater sciences dual degree
  • public health

The school’s innovative approach to teaching and learning has been lauded by national publications, including U.S. News & World Report and Time Magazine.

#18 – John Brown University

Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Points: 9
Student population: 2,343
College Website

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40 professional undergraduate programs! John Brown University, a most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $28,288

Recently ranked #10 in best regional colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report, John Brown University is a small and innovative school.

It offers over 40 undergraduate programs and graduate degrees in counseling, education, and business.

JBU is recognized for its innovation and advancements in:

  • academics
  • new faculty
  • student life
  • technology

One of these advancements is a widely expanded offering of online degree opportunities. In fact, global access and online course selections have made this school stand out among other online colleges like Purdue University Global.

Some of the most popular online programs at JBU include:

  • graphic design
  • nursing
  • psychology

#17 – College of the Ozarks

Point Lookout, Missouri
Points: 9
Student population: 1,489
College Website

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Ranked high with U.S. News & World Report, College of the Ozarks is recognized as an innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $19,960

The College of the Ozarks is referred to as “Hard Work U.” It is ranked among best small colleges due to its value and innovation.

In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks it #1 in best regional colleges in the Midwest and #1 in best value schools.

Instead of tuition, all students work campus jobs in exchange for the cost of their education. This allows you to graduate without the burden of student loan debt.

The school combines Christian values, patriotic principles, and a strong work ethic to prepare student success.

#16 – Colgate University

Hamilton, New York
Points: 10
Student population: 3,054
College Website

A logo of Colgate University for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Progressive majors make Colgate a top small college in innovation.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $60,015

Colgate University is a selective liberal arts college that offers an expansive list of minors and majors for the undergraduate student body.

At this small college, you can choose from a long list of progressive majors, including:

  • environmental biology
  • environmental economics
  • LGBTQ studies
  • international relations

The school also has a robust off-campus study program, ranked first by the Institute of International Education in terms of the percentage of students participating. It is the school’s mission to create a vibrant learning space and an intellectually challenging study for all Colgate students.

In addition to all it offers, Colgate ranks #17 in best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#15 – Colby College

Waterville, Maine
Points: 10
Student population: 2,155
College Website

A logo of Colby College for our ranking of 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Colby College earns a spot on our list of most innovative small colleges.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $59,430

Colby College is an innovative and small college with a diverse student body from over 70 countries.

Majors and minors are equally diverse. Unique areas of study include:

  • cinema studies
  • classics
  • computer science
  • East Asian studies
  • environmental policy
  • neuroscience
  • theater and dance

One of its most respected initiatives, the “January Program,” provides an immersive and independent study sessions that are not available during academic semesters.

In addition, the school ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Its current rankings include:

  • #36 in most innovative schools
  • #17 in best national liberal arts colleges

#14 – Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, California
Points: 10
Student population: 854
College Website

A logo of Harvey Mudd for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Ranked as an innovative small college – Harvey Mudd!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $58,660

Harvey Mudd is a small college with big innovation measures. Its vision follows six major themes:

  • innovation, leadership, and impact
  • focus on experiential and interdisciplinary learning
  • unsurpassed excellence and diversity
  • nurturing and developing the whole person
  • global engagement and informed societal contributions
  • improvement of infrastructure and resources

By focusing on the above, the school offers students diverse and engaging studies. It also offers preparation for careers beyond the classroom.

In addition, the school ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Its rankings include #28 in best national liberal arts colleges and #6 in most innovative schools.

#13 – Grinnell College

Grinnell, Iowa
Points: 10
Student population: 1,493
College Website

A logo of Grinnell College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
International leaders with a commitment to community service – Grinnell College graduates!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $56,580

Grinnell College is a small school recognized for its innovative practices.

It produces graduates that have become international leaders in fields such as:

  • engineering
  • medicine
  • music
  • public service
  • science

It also has a high percentage of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees.

In addition to strong academics, the school has one of the strongest commitments to community service. For instance, the “Grinnell Corps” is one such program. It is a postgraduate opportunity in Asia, Africa, and North America that promotes service and leadership.

Lastly, the school ranks with U.S. News & World Report as the 12th most innovative college in the country.

#12 – Pitzer College

Claremont, California
Points: 10
Student population: 922
College Website

A logo of Pitzer College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Study unique programs like organismal biology and science management – Pitzer College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $55,878

Pitzer College is a highly selective liberal arts college that is both small and innovative.

It focuses on the tenants of social justice, intercultural understanding, and environmental sensitivity.

Alongside a wide range of traditional majors, the school offers several progressive degree paths. These include:

  • environmental analysis
  • international political economy
  • Spanish and Portuguese

The school also promotes a strong student connection with activities and opportunities that bring community together.

Lastly, Pitzer ranks with U.S. News & World Report. These rankings include:

  • #35 in best national liberal arts colleges
  • #42 in most innovative schools
  • #88 in best value schools

#11 – Allegheny College

Meadville, Pennsylvania
Points: 10
Student population: 1,667
College Website

A logo of Allegheny College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
High rankings put Allegheny on the map as a most innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $50,980

Allegheny College is a small college with a diverse study body from over 45 countries. It is also innovative in its unique majors and class offerings.

The school encourages your liberal arts experience to embody “unusual combinations” of fields of study. You can major in:

  • Arabic
  • Black studies
  • communication and cultural studies
  • energy and society
  • Spanish

You can also minor in overlapping subjects like creative writing, dance, and environmental science.

Pre-professional programs are also available in areas of law and policy, pre-health, and pre-legal.

Lastly, the school has received several rankings with U.S. News and World Report. These include #85 in best national liberal arts colleges and #23 in most innovative schools.

#10 – Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo, Michigan
Points: 11
Student population: 1,451
College Website

A logo of Kalamazoo College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Numerous international programs at Kalamazoo College!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $52,530

Kalamazoo College is a small school that ranks high on our list for innovation.

Its overarching mission, known as the “K-Plan,” is to build an educational experience focused on combining the following:

  • liberal arts and sciences
  • experiential learning
  • global engagement

During your senior year, you develop an individual project of your own design. The project is based on your major, but can also bring in other subjects you’re interested in researching.

In addition, you participate in many international study programs that span six continents. In fact, more than 85% of students immerse themselves in international programs.

Lastly, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school#71 in best national liberal arts colleges and #39 in best value schools.

#9 – Prescott College

Prescott, Arizona
Points: 11
Student population: 970
College Website

A logo of Prescott College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Stand-out majors abound at Prescott College, a top most innovative small institution.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $33,669

Prescott College is a small and innovative school that emphasizes collaboration over competition.

It focuses on pressing world issues such as:

  • social justice
  • the environment
  • multiculturalism

The student body can opt to receive either traditional grades or narrative evaluations as they progress through courses that are built on the philosophy of experiential learning.

Stand-out majors include adventure education, environmental studies, and social justice studies.

In addition, the school offers a strong sense of community through service projects.

Lastly, the school ranks with U.S. News & World Report among the top regional colleges in the West.

#8 – Wesleyan University

Middletown, Connecticut
Points: 12
Student population: 3,053
College Website

A logo of Wesleyan University for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Over 200 clubs for students at Wesleyan, an innovative small college.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $59,686

Wesleyan University is a ranked and innovative top small college.

Its high standard of academia and progressive goals for its graduates make it stand out among most liberal arts colleges.

What makes the school innovative, in addition to academics, are the resources offered on campus. From a six-story science center to state-of-the-art athletic facilities, the school is modern in both technology and advancement.

You can access more than 1,000 courses in 46 departments. You can also participate in over 200 clubs and organizations that reflect the diverse interests of your peers.

Lastly, Wesleyan ranks #17 in best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

#7 – Hamilton College

Clinton, New York
Points: 12
Student population: 1,902
College Website

A logo of Hamilton College for our ranking on the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Sustainable projects and progressive programs at Hamilton College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $58,510

Recognized as one of America’s first top liberal arts colleges, Hamilton College is known for its progressive approach to higher learning.

At this school, you learn how to:

  • create
  • ethically work
  • think independently
  • work as a team

The school also prepares you for life after graduation. It is highly invested in the advancement of its undergraduates, sponsoring over 220 research studies and internships in a single summer.

One of the school’s most progressive programs is in its “Sustainability” department, where students engage in study of up to 11 subject areas of environmental protection.

Other popular study areas include:

  • anthropology
  • cinema and media studies
  • environmental studies
  • geoarchaeology
  • world politics

#6 – The Evergreen State College

Olympia, Washington
Points: 12
Student population: 2,281
College Website

A logo of Evergreen State College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
A national leader in environmental education, the Evergreen State College is a most innovative school.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $8,325 (in-state tuition)

The Evergreen State College is a national leader in environmental education.

Its diverse group of students immerse themselves in just one class at a time. This helps improve and maximize learning.

You can choose from over 45 fields of study, including unique disciplines like:

  • African American studies
  • climate and environmental justice
  • ethnic studies
  • marine science
  • music and performing arts

Flexible learning options such as evening and weekend studies and individual studies allow you to complete your coursework on your own terms.

Finally, the school also ranks with U.S. News & World Report as the 50th best regional college in the West.

#5 – Colorado College

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Points: 13
Student population: 2,050
College Website

A logo of Colorado College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Innovative programs and classes earn Colorado College a spot on the list of top most innovative small colleges.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $60,864

Colorado College is a progressive and innovative small school.

In a framework coined “The Block Plan,” you take one class at a time in three-and-a-half week sections. This unique structure helps you immerse yourself in a single subject.

Unique areas of study include:

  • Asian studies
  • French
  • Italian
  • Southwest studies
  • Theatre

You can also major in sciences, such as environmental studies and neuroscience.

The college is also home to the I.D.E.A. space (InterDisciplinary Experimental Arts). Here you can display your own innovative art creations.

Lastly, CC ranks #3 in most innovative schools by U.S. News & World Report.

#4 – California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California
Points: 13
Student population: 2,240
College Website

A logo of CalTech for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
CalTech, a most innovative small college!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $56,862

Recognized as one of the most forward-thinking universities in the world, Caltech is committed to equipping students with the skills to solve complex problems in today’s society.

It is a small school with a low student/teacher ratio of three to one. It also has an equally small student body.

Despite its small size, it has made a big impact. For instance, over 30 of its alumni and faculty have been named Nobel Prize recipients.

Additionally, the school has been named the World’s Top University by Times Higher Ed four years in a row.

Lastly, Caltech ranks #9 in best national universities by U.S. News & World Report.

#3 – Franklin and Marshall College

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Points: 14
Student population: 2,254
College Website

A logo of Franklin and Marshall College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Self-designed majors at the innovative small college of Franklin and Marshall.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $61,062

Franklin and Marshall College is an innovative school that emphasizes the design of highly individualized learning experiences.

With a student to faculty ratio of nine to one, undergraduates have access to personal development and mentorship. Nearly two-thirds of the student body participate in a self-designed major degree track. There are also over 200 schools around the world for international research projects and study abroad opportunities.

The school ranks #42 in best national liberal arts colleges and #31 in best value schools by U.S. News and World Report.

#2 – Hendrix College

Conway, Arkansas
Points: 14
Student population: 1,077
College Website

A logo of Hendrix College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Ranked as a top innovative school – Hendrix College!

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $49,490

Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top national liberal arts college, Hendrix College is a stand-out school with a broad range of experiential learning opportunities.

Its unique undergraduate curricular component, Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning, places value on its vision that education should be an adventure in multi-faceted approaches to learning. This program requires you choose one of three ways to complete your Odyssey requirements:

  • specialized courses
  • participating in pre-approved activities
  • proposing your own special projects

Also recognized as an innovator by U.S. News, Hendrix ranks #36 in most innovative schools.

#1 – Agnes Scott College

Decatur, Georgia
Points: 14
Student population: 1,080
College Website

A logo of Agnes Scott College for our ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Small Colleges
Ranked #1 among most innovative small colleges – Agnes Scott College.

Undergraduate Tuition and Fees: $44,250

Agnes Scott College is a private liberal arts college for women. It is innovative in its diverse studies, organizations, and sustainability practices.

Admitted students have access to more than fifty student-led organizations with diversified interests. Majors and minors are equally diverse.

The school also prides itself in its sustainable practices. For example, there are composting stations in its dining halls and at special events.

But what makes Agnes Scott one of the schools to watch for innovation is its consistent #1 rankings with U.S. News & World Report. In fact, ASC ranks #1 in top innovative colleges and #66 in best national liberal arts schools.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a college innovative?

In higher education, innovation comes in many forms. From digital textbooks that are free and open-source to 3D printing, colleges are making huge strides to change for today’s modern world.

While no two innovative colleges are the same, there are some similarities.

  • Competency-based learning.

Innovative small colleges see students as individuals. They are student-centered and inquiry-based.

At these schools, you might not even have to take tests. Some schools have thrown out exams. Instead, you are assessed as an individual and not as part of a collective group.

  • Free tuition costs.

Some innovative small colleges have patterned their tuition after schools like Stanford University, which announced in 2015 that tuition would be free for families earning less than $125,000 per year.

The result is an important development in the area of societal inequalities. Students and families receive financial aid packages that relieve burdens that could have an impact for years.

  • Open-source or digital textbooks.

While this might seem like a minor innovation, access to digital textbooks eliminates costs for students. At no cost, students access textbooks online. Innovative colleges, like many of the online educational powerhouses like Southern New Hampshire University, have moved toward free, open-source books or digital textbook rentals to help relieve the burden of book fees.

What are some of the benefits of attending a small college?

An important college decision to make is choosing between a small school and a large research university.

Small colleges have student enrollments of 5,000 or less. These schools aren’t your online powerhouses like Southern New Hampshire University or Purdue Global. Most small schools don’t have graduate schools. But they do offer benefits, such as those listed below.

  • Smaller classes.

Small colleges offer smaller class sizes.

In large research universities, introductory courses are taught in large lecture halls with 200 or more students. Even upper-level courses have 50 students, depending on the subject.

But at smaller colleges, numbers are intentionally kept low. Most classes have less than 20 students.

Small class sizes make it easier for students to form relationships with peers and professors, participate in discussion, and freely ask questions.

  • Instruction by professors.

Another benefit of a small college is that training comes directly from professors instead teaching assistants (TAs).

In small colleges, tenured professors carry out the bulk of your instruction. Professors are committed and to help students, often offering open-door policies outside of class time.

In addition, you receive feedback from your professor on papers and assignments. You also get the feel that you matter. Even in the largest classes, you won’t get swallowed up by the crowd.

What are the benefits of attending an innovative college?

Innovation shows a school has gone above and beyond the traditional norms, both inside and outside of the classroom. Innovative characteristics may include:

  • collaborative spaces
  • partnerships and relationships across the globe
  • sustainability efforts
  • technology

Read on for some of the benefits of attending an innovative college.

An innovative college stays ahead of employment trends. It keeps its finger on the pulse of the job market. As a result, students are prepared for stand-out careers. From global partnerships to alumni connections, students receive all the help they need to break into the workforce.

These colleges also meet the needs of today’s students and adult learners. From nontraditional course delivery to free digital access to textbooks, innovative colleges help today’s students.

But above all, these schools are not afraid to embrace change, even if it means forgoing tradition and breaking ground on new ways of thinking.

What are popular majors at innovative small colleges?

The most innovative colleges offer unique majors that are relevant to today’s job market. These schools prepare leaders who want to:

  • advance science
  • contribute to the arts community
  • invent new technologies
  • power new markets

Popular majors at innovative small colleges include:

  • Bioengineering

This major combines different elements of biology and engineering. Graduates of this degree work in design and development, the medical device industry, research and development, and software or hardware engineering. Some students earn specializations or concentrations in biomedical engineering, which allow them to pursue roles in healthcare fields. They can also work with artificial organs, medical instrumentation, or prosthetics.

  • Environmental Science

If you’re passionate about the outdoors, this is a good major. Students interested in this field are natural problem-solvers who enjoy coming up with original solutions to the earth’s challenges. You take classes in biology, chemistry, geology, and other sciences.

  • Media and Film Studies

Most media and film studies programs prepare students for internships and careers in media and film industries. From digital production and film to documentary film creation, these programs offer interdisciplinary approaches to film and media.

How much do innovative small colleges cost?

CollegeData.com, a service of 1st Financial Bank, reports the average cost for tuition and fees at a private college is $37,650/year. In-state residents at public colleges pay an average of $10,560/year, while out-of-state residents pay $27,020/year.

College tuition is determined by the institution. This is the price that colleges charge for instruction. Fees are a separate charge from tuition and include support services such as athletic facilities, library access, and student government. Together these charges make up the entire cost for an academic year at a small college.

Small colleges with a low student to faculty ratio can be costly in terms of sticker price, but price-conscious students should not be afraid of the price tag.

These same colleges offer financial aid packages.

The average grant money awarded to each student at private colleges is $21,660. Grant money does not need to be paid back like a student loan.

While the cost for college may seem overwhelming at first glance, especially for small innovative schools, it is important to remember that these schools have the best interests of their students in mind. Some schools offer sizable grants and scholarships. They are innovative when it comes to cutting costs.

BDP Staff
November 2021

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This concludes our ranking of the 50 most innovative small colleges.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief