The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Colleges in the Midwest

6. University of Dayton (Dayton, Ohio)

University of Dayton
Nheyob, Chapel of the Immaculate Conception (University of Dayton), CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Dayton (UD) is a private Catholic research university located in Dayton, Ohio. It’s home to more than 11,000 students.

In addition to ranking No. 6 on our list of best hidden gem colleges in the Midwest, UD has also landed in some solid rankings from the U.S. News & World Report. It’s No. 132 on the list of overall top national universities, and it ranks No. 58 in best value schools. 

UD’s school of College of Arts and Sciences is the largest department at the school. Under it, you’ll find a human rights studies program, which was actually one of the first to be established in the country back in 1998.

At UD, you’ll also find the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives as well as the Center for Tissue Regeneration and Engineering at Dayton (TREND), which specifically researches tissue regeneration. The university prides itself on research. In 2019, it performed $166 million in research, landing it No. 9 on the list of the top private research universities without a medical school.

Outside the classroom, the majority of students live on campus — approximately 90 percent. This makes it one of the most residential campuses in the U.S. There are resident halls for first-year students, apartments, and even student neighborhoods for upperclassmen.

5. University of Nebraska Omaha (Omaha, Nebraska)

University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) is a public research university with about 12,500 undergraduate students.

UNO is recognized as a metropolitan university. That means it operates based on traditional higher education values (teaching, service, and research) and pushes to provide leadership and engagement within the larger community.

This connection between the school and the community helps students gain new experiences and land successful careers after graduation. For instance, more than 700 of UNO’s classes engage with the community. That means these classes include a service-learning, practicum, internship, or student-teaching component that allows students to grow outside the classroom.

It’s also worth noting that students find plenty of opportunities post-graduation. In fact, 80 percent of UNO’s alumni stay in the Omaha area. The city is home to a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, Mutual of Omaha, Peter Kiewit, and Union Pacific.

4. University of Wisconsin–La Crosse (La Crosse, Wisconsin)

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
OehlerLaura, Morris Hall, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, CC BY-SA 3.0

This public university was founded back in 1909 and currently has more than 10,000 students. As its name implies, the school is located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River and on the border of Minnesota.

The University of Wisconsin–La Crosse (UW–La Crosse) boasts several strong rankings from the U.S. News and World Report. It landed the No. 3 spot for top public schools in the Midwest (falling only behind Truman State University and the University of Northern Iowa). It also ranks No. 28 on the list of regional Midwest universities and No. 47 in best value schools.

UW–La Crosse has 90 undergraduate programs. Noteworthy programs include microbiology and exercise and sport science. The school also has the state’s only nationally accredited recreation and therapeutic recreation degrees. Its College of Business Administration is internationally accredited. Finally, UW–La Crosse is only one of two Midwest colleges to have an archeology major.

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