The Best Colleges in Kentucky

Higher Education in Your State:
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Kentucky’s colleges and universities are the Bluegrass State’s door to professional careers, leadership, and an educated, expert workforce. From Kentucky’s many public universities and community colleges to a host of private Christian liberal arts colleges, Kentucky’s people have no shortage of value colleges. 

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a southeastern state that was adopted into the Union in 1792 after it officially split from the state of Virginia. The capital of Kentucky is Frankfurt, but two of the largest universities and colleges in Kentucky are located in Louisville and Lexington. The city of Louisville is known as both the Horse Capital of the World as well as the home of the maker of the most famous baseball bats – the H & B’s Louisville Slugger.

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Kentucky’s state nickname is the “Bluegrass State.” Its state moniker refers to the type of grass found in many Kentucky pastures. This bluegrass also supports the state’s large thoroughbred horse industry – a key economic sector.

Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education was founded in the mid-1930s as the Council on Public Higher Education (CPE). The Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 (more commonly known as House Bill 1 (HB1)) was the legislation that set forth the direction and framework for the Council as it operates today.  The CPE is responsible for various administrative and enforcement duties for –

  • Colleges and universities in Kentucky
  • Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System.

The Council on Postsecondary Education’s Role in Public Higher Education

The Council on Postsecondary Education was founded to facilitate educational reform grounded in the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. The council’s mission is to ensure an efficient and coordinated effort to manage Kentucky public universities and colleges.  The duties of council members include the following –

  • Performs as Kentucky’s higher education policy advisor to the state’s General Assembly and its Governor.
  • Sets educational attainment goals for student success in Kentucky universities and colleges.
  • Develops and enforces the state’s education agenda and diversity policies.
  • Sets the budget and develops modeling to ensure adequate funding for all colleges in Kentucky that are state-run.
  • Monitors and approves programs, financial aid, and tuition rates related to higher education.
  • Collects and comprehensively reports on colleges and universities in KY.  
  • Ensures Kentucky public universities and colleges have sufficient technology.
  • Works with campuses of Kentucky public universities about the transfer credits from two to four-year universities and colleges in Kentucky

What Kinds of Colleges are in Kentucky?

There are both public and private universities and colleges in Kentucky. There are eight Kentucky public colleges and some rank among the best Kentucky colleges. Many also offer a graduate school.

Public Colleges and Universities in Kentucky

According to the Council on Postsecondary Education, these public schools awarded more than 28,000 degrees in the 2021 academic year. Prospective students interested in graduate programs can pay in-state tuition for an approved degree program known for academic excellence.

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU)

Eastern Kentucky University was founded in 1906 by legislative action as a teacher’s training school. Eastern Kentucky University is a regional comprehensive institution of higher education that is among the largest universities and colleges in eastern Kentucky.  Eastern Kentucky university’s main campus is in Richmond, with branch facilities in Lancaster, Corbin, Manchester, and Hazard. The school’s student population exceeds 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Eastern Kentucky University ranks among the best colleges for veterans and the best graduate occupational therapy school. Eastern Kentucky University offered its first doctoral program in 2020 and serves the region by providing completion program options and online degrees for adults and working learners. Many professional football players are alumni of Eastern Kentucky University.

The University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky (KU) is one of the two public universities in KY that operate as a land-grant school. The University of Kentucky is the Bluegrass State’s largest school, with a student enrollment that exceeds 31,200 undergraduate and graduate students. The University of Kentucky is one of only eight institutions of higher learning in the country that has, on one campus, schools/colleges devoted to the fields of agriculture, medicine, engineering, and pharmacy.

The University of Kentucky’s main Lexington campus comprises 16 colleges/schools offering hundreds of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. The school’s mission is to become one of the nation’s top research education facilities.

Kentucky State University

Kentucky State University (KSU) was established in the 1880. The school holds the distinction of being both a land-grant and a historically black liberal arts (HBCU) institution of higher education. Kentucky State University is the second oldest of all colleges in Kentucky that are publicly run. The school’s campus in Frankfort is home to more than 2,100 students.

The school’s five colleges/schools offer more than 60 academic programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and graduate levels. Kentucky State University has a number of notable alumni, many of whom played professional sports, and even the firsts female Prime Minister of Thailand – Yingluck Shinawatra.

The University of Louisville

The University of Louisville (a.k.a. U of L) is one of Kentucky’s public universities that is dedicated to research. Founded as a charter school/seminary in 1798, U of L is located in one of the state’s largest metro areas and is the first public university/college in the United States to be owned by a city.

This space-grant school maintains several campuses that serve more than 21,100 students annually. In addition, the University of Lousiville’s athletes play as the Cardinals and have been quite successful in men’s and women’s basketball, football, baseball, and soccer, among others.

Morehead State University

Morehead State University (MSU) was founded as a teacher’s training institute (i.e., a normal school) in the late 1880s. Morehead State University is one of the universities and colleges in Kentucky that also offer a residential program for early college entrants – on the school’s Morehead campus. The rural campus of

Morehead State University is home to nearly 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Morehead State University offers more than 200-degree programs on-campus or online. US News recognizes Morehead State University as the fifteenth-best public regional university in the southern U.S.

Murray State University

Murray State University (Murray State) operates as one of the public institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The school’s campus in Murray serves nearly 10,000 students. For the past three decades, US News has recognized Murray State University among the top ten regional universities in the country.

Murray State is a space-grant school that maintains several campuses. The school is comprised of eight colleges/schools. Its student-athletes compete as Racers and have great success playing in the Missouri Valley Athletic Conference – particularly for its well-known program for men’s basketball.

Northern Kentucky University

Northern Kentucky University (NKU) was founded in the 1960s as a public institution of higher education. The school’s Highland Heights campus serves nearly 15,000 students each year. Northern Kentucky University is organized into seven colleges, covering the arts/sciences, business, education, health, professional studies, informatics, and law.

Northern Kentucky University is less than 10 minutes from downtown Cincinnati and has ranked among Forbes’ best colleges for several years running. The school maintains a variety of educational facilities throughout the state.

Western Kentucky University

WKU is a public university that was founded in 1906, although historically, it is connected with the Southern Normal School and Business College. Western Kentucky University now operates as a space-grant school with several campuses that serve more than 17,500 students. Western Kentucky University’s main campus in Bowling Green sits in a location that overlooks the Barren River Valley.

The other campuses maintained by the university include Elizabethtown/Fort Knox, Owensboro, and Glasgow. Western Kentucky University operates five academic colleges/schools that cover education/behavioral sciences, health, arts/letters, science/engineering, and business.

Private Colleges and Universities in Kentucky

Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education is also responsible for issuing licenses for non-profit and for-profit private universities in KY. The following licensed schools in Kentucky are administered by the AIKCU – the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities.

  • Alice Lloyd College
  • Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Asbury University
  • Baptist Seminary of Kentucky
  • Bellarmine University
  • Berea College
  • Brescia University 
  • Campbellsville University
  • Clear Creek Baptist Bible College
  • Centre College
  • Georgetown College
  • Kentucky Christian University
  • Kentucky Wesleyan College
  • Kentucky College of Art and Design, Inc.
  • Kentucky Mountain Bible College
  • Lindsey Wilson College
  • Lexington Theological Seminary
  • Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
  • Midway University
  • Simmons College of Kentucky
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Summit Christian University
  • Thomas More University
  • Transylvania University
  • Union College
  • The University of the Cumberlands
  • The University of Pikeville

Licensed Out-of-State Schools

Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) also notes that out-of-state colleges, schools, or universities operate within the state. The CPE website offers the most current or updated list.  You can search for a specific school online to see if its coursework has been authorized to be offered in the state.

Are There Community Colleges in Kentucky?

The Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) is the Commonwealth’s largest higher education provider – offering workforce training, continuing education, etc. The KCTCS is self-governed by a board that includes fourteen members – including two elected student representatives. The KCTCS’s 16 colleges are spread out across more than 70 facilities/locations.

These two-year programs awarded more than 39,000 credentials in the 2021 academic year. These programs are designed to facilitate the transfer of credits earned to four-year schools that have partnered with KCTCS.

  • Bluegrass Community and Technical College
  • Big Sandy Community and Technical College
  • Ashland Community and Technical College
  • Hazard Community and Technical College
  • Gateway Community and Technical College
  • Elizabethtown Community and Technical College
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College
  • Hopkinsville Community College
  • Henderson Community College
  • Owensboro Community and Technical College
  • Maysville Community and Technical College
  • Madisonville Community College
  • Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
  • Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College
  • Somerset Community College
  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College

In fact, according to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, every year, more than 80% of the credentials/diplomas/degrees awarded are within the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s top five in-demand job/economic sectors. 

What Are the Most Popular Majors in Kentucky?

The most popular academic majors at the commonwealth’s largest university – the University of Kentucky – align with the state’s in-demand professions. These include agriculture (i.e., veterinary science, animal & plant science), business, social sciences, computer information, engineering, health sciences, human services, management, and education.

How Many College Students are in Kentucky? 

For the academic year of 2021-2022, there were 268,065 students enrolled in one of the available Kentucky colleges, schools, and universities.  Approximately 207,000 students were studying at the undergraduate level, with more than 60,000 attending graduate classes or programs. Full-time students in Kentucky exceed 160,000, while part-time post-secondary students exceed 107,000 students.

Women attending classes in Kentucky outnumber men as both full-time and part-time students –

How Many College Students Study in Kentucky Study Online?

In the Bluegrass State, more than 78,300 are exclusively enrolled in online coursework. Another 112,200+ students are enrolled and taking one or more classes.   For students enrolled in an undergraduate program, 141,800+ students enrolled in online courses.  

What Kinds of Jobs are Needed in Kentucky?

Historically, Kentucky is known for excellent land and conditions for farming. This led to the development of large tobacco plantations that rivaled those typically found in Virginia and North Carolina.

The state ranks 5th on a national basis with regard to goat farming. It is a top ten producer in terms of beef/cattle production and the 14th largest in the production of corn.

Yet despite its history, the modern Kentucky economy has grown to include many non-agricultural components. The current Kentucky economy includes the fourth-ranked state for the number of trucks/automobiles assembled. However, energy fuel production is a strong sector, as well as medical and health care.

The state of Kentucky produces 95% of the globe’s bourbon whiskey supply, which should come as no surprise to any individual who knows anything about Kentucky or bourbon. Ironically, the approximate number of bourbon barrels begin aged in the state (estimated to exceed 5.7 million) actually exceeds the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s population – which was 4.5+ million in 2021. The bourbon economic sector in the state has been steadily growing, rising 170% in the first fifteen years of the 21st century.  

There were, in 2022, more than 90 distilleries distributed across the state, with an estimated market industry value of $9 billion.

Horse Racing has long been the sport associated with royalty and the state of Kentucky. The infamous race track – Churchill Downs in Louisville, is the home of the Kentucky Derby, a yearly thoroughbred race event that attracts worldwide crowds and more than 250,000 spectators on site. Nearby race tacks include horse auctions and international and competitive equestrian events.

The Kentucky Life 

Kentucky is famous for horse racing, bourbon production, college basketball, fried chicken, and coal mining. It’s known as the Bluegrass State for the color of the grass that grows in the fertile Kentucky soil. That same soil allows Kentucky to lead the nation in burley tobacco production and the leading beef cattle state east of the Mississippi. The diversity of economic interest and the fame associated with certain products from Kentucky has helped the state weather many economic downturns over the years. But Kentucky deserves extra credit for the quality of its colleges and universities.

Higher Education in the Bluegrass State 

When most people think of higher education in Kentucky they think of basketball. However, there are other claims to fame. Kentucky has two major research institutions, The University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. The state is also home to six other regional universities, many of them with a specific focus. Eastern Kentucky offers a specific Forestry major and Western Kentucky University offers a focus on Cave Management, for example. These programs are affordable for Kentucky residents and help to bolster the regional economy by supplying a steady stream of well-trained workers from their traditional or online programs. Two-year schools, private institutions, and fully online programs available around the state help make sure that quality education is available to everyone.


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