The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Public Universities In the US

Everyone knows the best public universities in the country – colleges like UCLA, Michigan, Berkeley, etc.

No one is doubting these are excellent institutions to receive an education. 

However, in higher education today we are seeing a rise in “hidden gem” universities. These schools, although not traditionally ranked as highly as others on most lists, are institutions consistently demonstrating excellence in their curriculum as well as in student opportunities.

What makes a school qualify as a “hidden gem” public university?

The most important metric we look at is learning outcome. The schools we examine here are routinely helping students ascend to the highest ranks in their fields, as well as competitive starting salaries upon graduation.

We are also looking at specific curricular opportunities these universities offer. Some hidden gem public universities have significantly stronger specific majors then even those in the Ivy League.

Finally, to be deemed as a hidden gem public university, the school must be outside the top 200 in the 2020 US News National Universities list.

So what are the 10 best “hidden gem” public universities in the US?

Without further ado, here are College Gazette’s picks:

10. Wayne State University (Detroit, MI)

Photo by Del arte via Wikimedia Commons

We start our list with an amazing hidden gem university based in Detroit, Wayne State University.

The third-largest university in all of Michigan, Wayne State is classified by the Carnegie Classification as a doctoral university with very high research activity. This makes sense, given that Wayne State spends an impressive $220m+ on research annually!

Wayne State is home to a significant medical program with over 1,000 students, the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Students in the program are matched in medical residencies well above the national average; an amazing 98%+ of students in this program were placed into a medical residency in 2018. 

Opportunity is at the heart of the Wayne State experience; Wayne State is home to more than 400 student organizations. Additionally, Wayne State is affiliated with over 100 institutions worldwide, providing students unprecedented options for study-abroad programs.

Few universities in the midwest embrace technology the way Wayne State does. Wayne State is the home of TechTown, a business & technology research park that created nearly 2,000 jobs between 2007 and 2017. Speaking of technology, Wayne State was the first college nationwide to offer an electric-car driving engineering program.

Alumni of Wayne State include winners of the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe awards.


9. East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)

photo by Vam09 via Wikimedia Commons

An important public university situated on top of 1,600 acres, East Carolina is noted for having a tier-1 STEM program. 

Nearly 12,000 of the school’s 28,000 students are enrolled in a STEM-related program, and with good reason; the employment outlook for a science & technology major at East Carolina University is exceptionally high, with recent alumni getting significant jobs in major technology corporations.

Due to the school’s significant status in technology, many landmark discoveries and breakthroughs have occurred at East Carolina University. These include the first robot-assisted heart valve surgery in the country by Randolph Chitwood, a cardiothoracic surgeon & faculty at ECU.

East Carolina has risen in recent years in large thanks to the significant accomplishments of its students, alumni, faculty. One recent designation East Carolina University has received is a top-50 Public Health school ranking from Niche.

A school focused on employing people of diverse backgrounds, in 2009 the school was awarded the Patriot Award, a prestigious accolade recognizing employers who provide outstanding support for employees serving in the National Guard.

A number of East Carolina alumni have ascended the ranks in every major field. Some of the most famous include WWE CEO Vince McMahon, Pulitzer-prize winning journalism Dan Neil, actress Sandra Bullock, and Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers.


8. Southern Illinois University Carbondale (Carbondale, IL)

photo by Veeresh dandur via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest campus in the Southern Illinois University system, SIU Carbondale is in the 5% of all schools nationwide designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as an institution with High Research Activity. 

While there are 5,300 total schools in the US, less than 300 achieve this prestigious label marked by significant research activity, expenditure, and resource dedication.

Progressive attitude towards students with a variety of learning backgrounds have always been at the forefront of SIU. In 1978, the school founded Project Achieve, the first program nationwide providing support to college students with specific learning disabilities. 

The legacy and impact of this effort has had a monumentally positive outcome; nearly every university in America today offers significant support for students of all learning backgrounds.

The Salukis celebrate uncommon traditions highlighting unique, out-of-the-box passions and thinking. One annual event at SIU is their HackSI, a technology and innovation conference demonstrating SIU student accomplishments for the greater Illinois community. In their most recent HackSI, students showcased a Lego-created piano, a phone-powered Bluetooth Boombox, unusual drone sequences, and more.

However, technology is not the only unique strength of SIU-Carbondale. In their 2020 rankings, Niche.com ranked the school’s Agricultural Sciences program in the top 50 nationwide.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have three degrees from WMU. I had an opportunity to teach in the WMU College of Business (Principles of Management and Business Statistics). I also served as an assistant coach for the Men’s Track & Field team – a world renown program that has produced Olympians and over 50 All Americans throughout a 30 year span. I have alwasy been, and forever shall be grateful for the career preparation I receid at Western Michigan University.

    • As a CMU grad, happy to see Wayne State and our rival, Western Michigan make the list. Many great schools in our fine state. Glad to see a couple not named U of M or MSU getting recognized.

  2. As an alumni, Georgia Southern University is a great school located in Statesboro and Savannah with its outstanding Parker College of Business and the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and the College of Health Professions.

  3. Have two degrees from WMU and truly enjoyed the experience in and outside the classroom.
    I returned to WMU after five years in the Army after receiving my commission and was particularly impressed with the small class sizes in the Business School.

  4. As someone with a B.S. from Western Michigan University (#1) and a Ph.D. from Wayne State University (#10), I’m very pleasantly surprised. I guess you could say that my entire career has been a bit of a hidden gem. 🙂

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