Choosing a college or university in the US is exciting, but it also requires a careful look at what the school has to offer. Some of the worst colleges in America may be on your list of schools to check out.
You’ll want to look at the reputation of the school, the percentage of graduates who find high-paying jobs, and more.
Even if some schools are affordable and close by, they may not be worth attending – especially if they happen to be one of the worst colleges in the USA.
Although choosing a college or university is very individual, there are a few things to explore. We have ranked the 20 worst colleges in America to help you with your decision.
We focus on a few different criteria to determine the worst colleges in America. This includes looking at the graduation rates, the post-graduate salaries, and what kind of debt students will have. There are also aspects of the campus itself that play a role, including student life, poorly rated safety, and more.
A few of the most important criteria include:
- Graduation rates: How many students are graduating based on enrollment numbers
- Student reviews: What students have to say about the university
- Student debt: A look at the cost of tuition, how much debt students have, and whether there is financial aid offered to the majority of students
By using a variety of resources, including the colleges’ own websites, we’ve provided an overview of why these 20 universities have made the list of the worst colleges in the USA. We’ve pulled critical data from the individual schools as well as Niche.com, RateMyProfessors.com, US News & World Report, and even local news sites to identify specific data points as well as relevant news that may affect how you view a particular school.
20.The University of Montevallo
The University of Montevallo was founded in 1896 in Montevallo, Alabama, as a public university. The undergraduate enrollment is just under 2,400. The graduation rate is 54 percent which is less than half of all students who enroll.
Those who graduate have an average debt of $25,484 with a median starting income of $38,300, an annual cost of $22,000 for in-state and $35,000 for out-of-state students. The return on investment is a low $20,200.US News & World Report ranked it as #26 in the Regional Universities South Category for their 2022-2023 edition, so it may not be the worst university in the US, but it’s not one of the best, either.
19. The University of South Carolina at Aiken
The University of South Carolina, Aiken, was founded in 1961. It’s a relatively new public institution with an undergraduate population of just under 3,400. The graduation rate is 38 percent, which is actually going down rather than up.
The median starting income for graduates is $41,000, with an annual cost of $18,500. It ranks number 1178 out of a collection of 1779. Students complain about the fact that there’s not much to do in the community, which consists mostly of retired people, and the community is fairly closed off, cutting down on activities, recreation, and opportunities to network for finding a good job in the area upon graduation.
18. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Eastern New York
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of the worst colleges in America because of their poorly written policies which have been used by the administration to quell free speech. When controversies come to light, the administration has gone so far as to claim “eminent domain” to prevent students from passing out buttons or flyers on campus sidewalks.
You can’t even hand out a flier on the property without gaining prior authorization. The claim of eminent domain is invalid as it deals with the government’s ability to claim property, and it’s embarrassing that they would use the claim when it has nothing to do with the banned activities. They have also punished students who talk to the media about their backward policies.Yet again, it’s marked in the red by The Fire because of its sexual misconduct policy, too.
17. Florida Memorial University
Florida Memorial University was founded in 1879 in Miami, Florida, as a private school. The undergraduate population is just under 1,700. Students pay an average of $22,270 per year to attend and amass an average student debt of $30,160 upon graduation.
The median starting income for graduates who secure employment is $36,600, but the graduation rate is just 33 percent and dropping with every passing year.The historically black college has also had to focus significantly on safety, security, and mental health. In fact, it was covered by CBS News because of the hate crimes that have taken place in recent years.
16. Coppin State University
Coppin State University is based in Maryland and is currently dealing with a number of problems with their education department – including K-12 students failing standardized tests. The graduation rate from this university is an alarming 26%. Additionally, the state has had various crime and safety issues – and in 2019, there were 64 incidents throughout the school year, a high number considering the number of total students.
The university knows that it’s struggling, which is why it has been cutting tuition in recent years. Perhaps it will manage to get off of the worst colleges in the US list by next year. Or perhaps not. Maybe they're not using ExamSnap enough?
15. Columbia College Hollywood
Columbia College Hollywood is a private school located in Los Angeles, California. The average tuition costs run $10,000 above the average without many options for scholarships. Students amass a larger debt upon graduation, and the loan default rate is higher.
This is a film school, and the high default rates indicate that students who graduate are not able to secure stable and gainful employment. Other sources show Columbia College Hollywood has more affordable tuition and better default rates than the average American college or university in 2023.
The less-than-impressive graduation rate is 48%. When it comes to film schools, there are certainly better ones in the country. Additionally, because of its location in Hollywood, the cost of living is high, putting a burden on students financially.
14. St. Augustine's University
St. Augustine’s University is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. They have a twenty-eight percent graduation rate, and students who do graduate amass a debt of $22,500. The student loan default rate is high for this school. This serves as an indication that those who graduate are not able to make enough money to repay their educational loans.
The graduation rate is only 18%, which is surprising considering the acceptance rate is an impressive 75%. It may mean that they need to be a bit more selective about who they allow in, though there aren’t many positive reviews about the teachers, either, according to RateMyProfessors.com.
13. California State University Los Angeles
California State University Los Angeles campus also ranked among our worst colleges in America for 2023, because of the limitations that it places on free speech. The administration has actually imposed a tax on controversial speech.
They made the news when they mishandled a speaking engagement featuring Ben Shapiro, a conservative, when they offset the cost of security at the event on their students and requested a panel that was composed of opposing speakers.
Niche.com discusses some of the reasons why it’s one of the worst. Although there’s a fairly decent value for tuition, it only gets a C+ in academics and campus. That means that it’s not great when it comes to classes or campus activities.
12. Black Hills State University
Black Hills State University has an undergraduate population of 4,000 students. They were listed as the twelfth worst school in the nation because of their negative return on investment figure of -$24,000. The total cost of attendance for a bachelor’s degree is $72,400, and students amass a loan debt of $25,400 on average. It’s obvious that graduates are not making enough money upon graduation to justify attendance at this university.
10 years after enrolling, the annual income that graduates can expect is $42,200 – and that’s just abysmal considering the cost of tuition. It also doesn’t help the campus that it’s located in Spearfish, SD, since there’s not much to do around town.
11. Nazarene Bible College
If you’re interested in a degree in Philosophy, Nazarene Bible College is the place to go because it ranks high in this discipline. The problem is that there isn’t much call for candidates with this degree in the business world.
It’s a private religious institution, and students who graduate with a degree from Nazarene Bible College must fight for the few teaching jobs for college instructors in the field of Philosophy, and many of these positions are offered to part-time adjunct professors who don’t qualify for full-time compensation and benefits. Only ten percent of the faculty at this college are working full-time. RateMyProfessors.com has given it an overall quality score of 2.6.
Campus life is basically nonexistent. Then, to make matters worse, the college only has a 15% graduation rate. With such a low rate, it proves they have some work to do, and not just on-campus activities.
10. Bob Jones University
Bob Jones University is a private evangelical university that has been both conservative and religious on its positions since opening in 1927. The university is located in Greenville, South Carolina, so there are quite a few things around. However, the cost of tuition is $18k a year even after financial aid has been factored in, which is high.
The rules for students can be comprehensive because of the private nature. Reading through the student handbook may be a good idea before even considering an application to this college.
9. California State University at Long Beach
This is the sister institution of the Los Angeles Cal State U. They made our worst colleges in America list because of their refusal to allow artistic expression when the mention of race is involved.
Students who want to make a statement against racism are not allowed to do so. Students who were of a minority group were forced to close a play that made fun of the racial stereotyping that happens in society. This college is big on shutting down free speech.
California State University Long Beach is also ranked low because of the campus. It’s 322 acres, making it one of the largest in the US. While this sounds like a good thing, many students complain about the time it takes to get between buildings, and parking around the campus can be a nightmare.
8. Grambling State University
Grambling State University is located in Louisiana. While it was once an all-black school, it has changed as a way to offer more diversity. Still, it has only a 41% graduation rate. Further, students are left with over $25,000 worth of debt by the time they graduate (if they graduate). Out-of-state students will find that the cost of tuition is astronomical.
You won’t even want to attend a sports game here as their football team needs to spend a lot more time on the practice field.
7. University of Michigan Flint
The University of Michigan Flint ranks low predominantly because of its location. A local news source identified that Flint is at the bottom of the list of cities in Michigan. It ranks last because of the economic opportunities as well as the social environment.
As for the university itself, it doesn’t get any better. The cost of tuition per year is over $27,000 – and most students can expect to pay nearly double that if they are from out of state. The graduation rate is 56%, and the job outlook after graduating isn’t much better. Oh, and be sure not to drink the water if you do attend here.
6. University of the District of Columbia
The University of the District of Columbia is located in Washington, DC in the urban district. It’s a public institution founded in 1976 with an undergraduate population of just under 3,900. The graduation rate is only 12 percent, with an annual cost of $23,000 for in-state students and $29,600 for out of state.
There is no data available on the return on investment, but students’ average debt of $22,120.Students who were surveyed about the quality of the school indicated that if you have somewhere else that you can go for college, you probably should.
The university stands out as problematic simply by exploring the news. They have had to increase security after there has been an uptick of violence near the campus. Additionally, the university continuously pays homage to its black roots, leaving others feeling left out.
5. Shaw University
Shaw University was founded as a private institution in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1865. They’re a smaller school with just over 1,500 undergraduates. What makes them one of the worst colleges in America for 2023 is the graduation rate of just 16 percent.
Students leave with an average debt of $28,000, with an annual cost for attendance at $24,638. the median starting income for graduates is $36,900 per year. Shaw is ranked at a horribly low number, 1774 out of 1779 colleges in America, making it one of the top worst choices.
The university is a historically black university and is one of the oldest HBCUs in the country. According to Niche.com, it scores a C in the areas of academics, value, and campus, which shows that it’s not worth the money to attend.
4. Fayetteville State University
Located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Fayetteville State University is a smaller college with an enrollment of just under 5,400 students at the undergraduate level. The median starting income for those who gain employment after graduation is $38,000. The annual cost is around $13,000 with an ROI of just $29,500 over 20 years.
Campus security is severely lacking, and it’s not uncommon for students to experience crime in one way or another. The school made headlines in 2023, too, when two students died within the same week on campus.
3. Lindsey Wilson College
Lindsey Wilson College was founded in Columbia, Kentucky, in 1903 as a private institution with United Method Church affiliation. The undergraduate population is just under 2,600. The average cost of attendance is $34,235 with a median starting income for graduates of $38,500, and an average student debt of $21,000. The graduation rate is only 38 percent.
US News & World Report shows another reason why it’s on the list of the worst colleges in the US. It ranks as #80 in Regional Universities South.
2. Morris College
Morris College was founded in Sumter, South Carolina in 1908, affiliated with the Baptist Church. The undergraduate enrollment is 1,200, and the school is outdated in its use of technology. The annual cost of attendance is just under $20,000 and students leave the school with an average debt of $26,000. The Median starting income is $32,300 but the graduation rate is only 29 percent.
The graduation rate is only 24%, which shows that the school has a lot of work to do. It’s also stuck in the past as it still identifies as being a historically black college. The diversity across campus is almost non-existent. This is because of not only graduation rates but also student retention rates and social mobility rank.
1. DeVry University
DeVry University is located in Illinois, and we’ve included it as the worst college in America for 2023 because of the fact that only 31 percent of students who enroll actually graduate. The average debt for those who do graduate is $43,000. The school has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission because the information they provide to students about the likelihood of obtaining a job in their field after they graduate from the university is misleading.
The borrowing rates are too high, and the graduation rates are too low. Making empty promises to students without facts to base the claims upon can get you into trouble in the legal system and it’s best to avoid a school that is under investigation or involved in a lawsuit because if you do graduate, the degree is not likely to receive much credence from potential employers.
Many people find a degree from DeVry useless because of the various bad reviews. Since there are so many online programs, people assume that the university isn’t real. While it is real, the reputation leaves a bad mark on those who graduate.
The worst colleges in America are always evolving as new information comes out about them. Some colleges will change the way policies that have a dramatic impact on students – including COVID mandates, free speech takeaways, and more.
While the worst university in the US is always subject to individual preference, the statistics do matter.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As such, it’s worth choosing a place where you can get the best possible education.
Frequently Asked Questions
Florida Memorial University is one of the lowest-ranking universities year after year. The campus was built in the 1800s and has not been updated too heavily, which is sad considering the cost of tuition. Further, most students end up with low-paying jobs upon graduation.
DeVry is the most unpopular college because of its location as well as its overall reputation. Many people attend online courses and, therefore, don’t get to enjoy a full campus experience. The cost is also high, leaving many students in debt upon completion of their degree.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is continuously identified as the #1 college in the US. The main reason for this is because of the graduation rate. Not only do students have a successful graduation rate, but they are also likely to get hired by a top-tier company within a year of graduation.
Not all of the worst colleges in the USA are ranked simply because there are so many schools – and new schools are opening and closing every day. The best thing to do is to conduct your own research to determine if a college is worth applying to based on what you want to study.
Do your research to see what programs are offered at the college, what the cost of tuition is, and what the graduation rate is. It is also a good idea to look at various reviews from past and current students. When possible, tour the school before you apply so that you can get accurate information.
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Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn