Arkansas’ 90 colleges, universities and career schools enrolled more than 235,000 students in 2013. One of every 125 college students in the U.S. worked toward a certificate or degree from a Land of Opportunity institution. The state’s population centers provide a diverse blend of choices, from community colleges to religious universities to major universities. It’s a convenient mix for those looking to earn a certificate, undergraduate or graduate degree in Arkansas:
|College Type||Number in Arkansas|
|Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation)||13|
|Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation)||3|
Top Cities for Higher Education in Arkansas
The state of Arkansas gives students a variety of college and university choices in major metropolitan areas. Here is a list of some of the cities with the largest student populations in the state.
Highest Student Populations (Total)
- Fayetteville (22,000)
- Little Rock (21,600)
- North Little Rock (17,500)
Locations with Most Colleges (Total)
- Little Rock (16)
- Conway (5)
- North Little Rock (5)
Spotlight on Little Rock's College Options
The state capital, Little Rock, offers an array of academic choices, from historically black colleges with religious affiliations to large public schools with research centers for analytics and integrative nanotechnology. The city is home to two private four-year liberal arts colleges—Arkansas Baptist College and Philander Smith College. Both have a rich heritage, with the former dating back to 1884 and the latter, a founding member of the United Negro College Fund. Philander Smith offers four different baccalaureate programs, serving numerous low-income or "first in the family" students.
As for public institutions, Little Rock hosts the state's largest two-year colleges as well as a campus of the University of Arkansas (UA) and the UA medical school. Situated in North Little Rock, Pulaski Technical College serves almost 10,000 students. Another big state school, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) gives students a selection of more than 100 degree programs. UALR offers military students in-state tuition rates, regardless of state residency, for both online and on-campus classes. Lastly, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), which has its main campus in Little Rock, is the only state-sponsored health sciences school. UAMS offers 64 bachelor's, master’s, doctoral, professional and specialist degrees as well as certificates.
Little Rock, Arkansas: Online Learning Highlights
Although Pulaski Technical College has 15 years of experience providing online courses, the biggest distance learning provider in Little Rock is UALR. Through UALR Extended Programs, students can customize web-based studies and follow either a seven-week accelerated schedule or the usual 17-week semester. The menu of choices for online programs spans 13 bachelor's degrees, six master's degrees and two graduate certificates. Certain options target high-growth professions, such as interpreting (American Sign Language) and nursing (RN to BSN degree completion). UALR students can also take advantage of electronic delivery for other disciplines, such as criminal justice, business administration, math and speech.
Distance Learning in Arkansas: Online Colleges & Universities
Online learning was once predominantly provided by private and for-profit colleges and universities in the U.S. Yet more traditional institutions have caught on to this flexible alternative to higher education, both in Arkansas and across the country. Many schools in the state now offer online coursework and programs, making distance learning a reality for busy college students. The University of Arkansas' YOU of A Online, for example, has 30 online degree programs ranging from a minor in social work to a doctorate in educational leadership. Like many online programs at traditional institutions, YOU of A Online has sharp focus on distance learning at the graduate level, with a majority of programs and coursework dedicated to master's degrees in engineering and education.
The Cost of College: Fees, Tuition and Room and Board
Tuition costs can make or break a prospective student’s decision to attend a particular school, representing one of the most important considerations when students choose a college. Rates vary widely depending on the type of learning institution, with private and for-profit schools typically costing more. In Arkansas, student residents paid about $7,600 per year in tuition.
Students must take other costs into consideration as well. Most colleges and universities have added costs, including application and enrollment charges, parking fees, technology costs and recreation fees.
The cost of living is one more factor for the college hopeful. Arkansas’ living expenses are relatively stable and on-target with the rest of the country, however, housing and food prices do vary by city. The cost of living (COL) is about 10% less than the national average, allowing college studies for a comparatively minimal budget in the state. Below is more information about the COL in some of Arkansas’ most popular cities, compared to the national mean (100%).
|Urban Area||Composite Index||Housing||Groceries||Utilities||Transportation||Health Care||Misc.|
|Fayetteville||-7.9%||-22.7%||-4.7%||-0.2%||-4.8%||-7.3%||0.6%||Hot Springs||-6.2%||-14.7%||-2.7%||-4.3%||-14.4%||-15.2%||2.9%||Little Rock||-3.5%||-7.8%||-7.1%||4.1%||-6.0%||-6.5%||0.4%|
College isn’t free, but you can find an affordable education that pays dividends in lifetime career success and earnings. We’ve assembled a list of the top colleges in Arkansas where affordability and a quality education proves a worthwhile investment. The following five Arkansas colleges represent the very best in return on investment (ROI) when you consider lifetime earnings of graduates minus the total cost of attendance:
- University of Arkansas – Main Campus
- Hendrix College
- Harding University
- Southern Arkansas University – Main Campus
- Arkansas State University
Funding a College Education with Scholarships and Financial Aid
Even with a moderate cost of living, many students seek out ways to lower out-of-pocket costs, while others may still need financial assistance. Students can choose from national, state and school-based aid options. Federal loans and scholarships are a great place to start. Students must first fill out FAFSA forms so need-based funds can be allocated. About 75 percent of Arkansas undergraduate students received federal aid in 2012.
Scholarships are a popular option for college students because the funds are gifted and do not have to be repaid upon graduation. Private companies, non-profit organizations, individual colleges and universities, and the government all offer scholarship monies to students. Here are some of the scholarship programs available in Arkansas:
- American Council of Engineering Companies
- Arkansas Farm Bureau
- Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
- Arkansas Nurses Foundation
- Arkansas Single Parent Association
- Bird Dog Foundation
- Dixie Youth Baseball
- Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company
- Murphy Oil
- Trinity Foundation
The Who and Why of Accreditation
Any student looking at an institution in Arkansas or another state should research the accreditation of the colleges of interest, especially if they plan to apply for federal aid. Schools must meet specific accreditation requirements in order for the student to receive aid. In Arkansas, the primary accrediting organization is the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Arkansas colleges may also have individual programs (or schools) with accreditation from specialized agencies. For instance, the University of Arkansas' Walton College of Business maintains accreditation from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). This approval tells students and parents that the business school has passed muster by a peer-review board with more than 70 years of experience in the major.
AC Online: Ranking the Most Affordable Online Colleges in Arkansas
When looking for four-year colleges offering full online degree programs, Arkansas has many opportunities. This state has gone above and beyond in making higher education accessible via online degrees. With many top schools now offering online students degrees and certifications equivalent to their on-campus counterparts, Arkansas distance education is an excellent choice. Flexibility is at the heart of these online schools in Arkansas, as is affordability. We’ve listed the top online programs in Arkansas, from lowest tuition to highest, for your convenience.Click here to see our methodology.