These Are The 10 Best Small Colleges In Iowa

by Chris Kolmar
Rankings - 3 years ago

Find a Job You Really Want In

To get started, tell us where you'd like to work.

Sorry, we can't find that. Please try a different city or state.


Swipe left for slideshow. Article continues below.

You know there are a ton of great reasons to go to a small college — the opportunity to work with a smaller number of people, a chance to get a great education while remaining close to home, and of course, cost. After all, who wants to rack up huge student loans to get a degree that’s just about as valuable as one from a large institution?

But what small college in Iowa is the best of all?

We at Zippia decided to take a look at the data on the 26 institutions of higher learning in the Hawkeye State to determine which programs offer the best all around experience for students. After analyzing the numbers, we sorted the schools by enrollment, limiting our report to institutions with under 2,000 students.

After the dust settled, we’re left with this set of the top small colleges or universities in Iowa:

  1. St Luke’s College
  2. Allen College
  3. Grinnell College
  4. Emmaus Bible College
  5. Mount Mercy University
  6. Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary
  7. AIB College of Business
  8. William Penn University
  9. Graceland University-Lamoni
  10. Morningside College

If you go to one of these schools, chances are, you’re not surprised. After all, you know how great you have it.

But for the rest of you — keep reading and we’ll get to just why these schools have some of the best experiences Iowa has to offer.

For more IA reading, check out:

How We Determined The Best Small Colleges In Iowa

At its core, economics is the study of choices made under constraints. When it came to identifying the best small schools we wanted to approach the ranking like an economics major would — that is, by looking at data on how individual schools performed and comparing them to one another.

What better way to optimize your choice?

So with that mind, we looked at the following data from the NCES (National Center For Education Statistics) and College Scorecard data from to understand what small schools offer the best career opportunities:

  • Career Results
    • Mean Earnings After 6 Years
    • Mean Earnings After 10 Years
    • Ratio of people working to not working after 10 years
  • School Performance
    • Admissions Rate (More selective the better)
    • Graduation Rate
    • Average Cost Of Attendance (Lower is better)
    • Average amount of debt

It’s hard to argue with a selective school that produces strong earning potential for your career.

After we had this data, we looked at the 26 institutions of higher learning in Iowa which had populations under 2,000 students. We then ranked each of these schools from 1 to 26 for each of the criteria above with 1 being the best in any given criteria.

Next, we averaged the ranks for each school to create an “Quality Index”. The school with the best score on the “Quality Index”, St Luke’s College, earned the distinction of being the ‘Best Small College’ in Iowa.

Any ties went to the larger school.

1. St Luke’S College

St Luke
Enrollment: 97

This small institution in Sioux City, IA is the best small college in the state, when you look at the unbiased data.

St Luke’s College graduates earn the 8th highest salaries in the state for all small colleges — even a decade after graduation. Its 24% admission rate means the college is exclusive (a good sign), and the cost is the 6th lowest, meaning you get a big bang for your buck.

2. Allen College

Allen College, Iowa
Enrollment: 230

Located in Waterloo, Allen College is one of many private colleges to make this list. What makes it so great here?

For starters, is the 7th cheapest small college in the state. The admission rate is very low, and its graduation rate is the 4th highest in the state of all small colleges we measured.

3. Grinnell College

Grinnell College, Iowa
Enrollment: 1,344

Most people in the state know Grinnell College as being a top-notch program. But this small, private college in Grinnell isn’t just a great place for current students, but former students too.

Grinnell College’s graduation rate of 89% is the 2nd highest in Iowa, which is certainly something to brag about. So is an admission rate of 28%, also one of the best in the state.

4. Emmaus Bible College

Emmaus Bible College, Iowa
Enrollment: 294

Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque gets high marks for a low admission rate and a high graduation rate. Additionally, for those lucky enough to get in, this is the 3rd least expensive place to learn in the state.

5. Mount Mercy University

Mount Mercy University, Iowa
Enrollment: 1,363

If you want up-close personal attention at a private institution, than it’d be hard to beat Mount Mercy University, located in Cedar Rapids.

Besides high marks in several categories, what really stands out is the annual salaries that its graduates command.

6. Faith Baptist Bible College And Theological Seminary

Faith Baptist Bible College And Theological Seminary, Iowa
Enrollment: 382

This private college in Ankeny gets high marks for cost (it’s the 5th least expensive small college in IA), and for post-graduation earnings, where former students command the 2nd highest employment in the state.

7. Aib College Of Business

Aib College Of Business, Iowa
Enrollment: 875

Only 59% of the young minds who apply to AIB College of Business are accepted, which is a sign of greatness. After all, when you turn so many students away, that means there’s high demand. In addition, graduates earn the 16th highest salaries.

AIB College of Business also has the 16th highest graduation rate of all small colleges in Iowa.

This private school is located in Des Moines.

8. William Penn University

William Penn University, Iowa
Enrollment: 1,384

Not only is William Penn University in one of the prettiest parts of Iowa, its students get the benefit of several leading categories. For instance, if you’re lucky enough to be accepted here, you’ll have the 9th lowest debt of all small college graduates in the state.

And the whole reason you go to college is to earn the big bucks, right? William Penn University grads command the 10th highest salaries in the state.

9. Graceland University-Lamoni

Graceland University-Lamoni, Iowa
Enrollment: 1,477

It’s hard to do better than little Graceland University-Lamoni, located in Lamoni. Students will appreciate the highly selective admission rate, lower-than-average costs and high employment rate after graduation.

10. Morningside College

Morningside College, Iowa
Enrollment: 968

Morningside College is one of the private schools to make this list. Only 56% students are admitted, and post-grade employment rates are 8th best in the state.

Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time