Special Report

Most Liberal Colleges in America

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Colleges not only teach young Americans professional skills, but they can also help shape them as adults. Part of this maturation process includes gaining new perspectives that can help shape their political leanings. 

College campuses often have their own set of politics, which is often demonstrated by the types of causes the students focus on — like climate, free speech, social justice, and more. While each campus is home to people with a broad range of philosophies, certain schools tend to lean much farther to the left than others.

To determine the most liberal colleges in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from education data clearinghouse Niche’s “2020 Most Liberal Colleges in America” list, which is based on surveys of current and recent students.

The most liberal colleges tend to be in liberal states. New York, California, and Oregon are the only states with multiple colleges on the list. Each state has voted for the Democratic candidate in the last seven presidential elections. These states also tend to send Democratic lawmakers to Capitol Hill, many of whom receive high marks from their constituents. These are the most popular members of congress from every state.

Several schools on this list were founded as women’s colleges. Women are much more likely to be liberal than men. The Pew Research Center found that 56% of American women identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared to just 37% of women who lean right. Men are more likely to lean Republican than Democrat, at 48% and 44%, respectively. Here are some of the women’s protests that changed history.

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20. Vassar College
> Location: Poughkeepsie, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 2,323
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $68,280
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $54,600
> Most popular undergrad major: Economics

Vassar is a liberal arts college in New York with a diverse student body. Founded in 1861, it is one of the “Seven Sisters” colleges, a group of elite schools initially opened as female-only institutions. It did not accept male students until over a century later, and its student body today is 59% female. Vassar has produced several notable suffragettes like Inez Milholland and Crystal Eastman, as well as former New York state senator Catherine Abate.

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19. University of Oregon
> Location: Eugene, OR
> Undergraduate enrollment: 19,163
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $24,570
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $44,800
> Most popular undergrad major: Business/commerce

The University of Oregon is one of just a handful of large public universities to rank among the most liberal colleges in the country. Eugene is located in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, which has been represented by Democrat Peter DeFazio, a school alumni, since 1987. Current Democratic senator from Oregon Ron Wyden earned his law degree at the university. Another notable alumni is Oregon’s first and only female senator, Maurine Neuberger, who was well-known for pushing a progressive agenda.

Source: Courtesy of UC Santa Cruz via Facebook

18. University of California-Santa Cruz
> Location: Santa Cruz, CA
> Undergraduate enrollment: 17,577
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $35,315
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $46,900
> Most popular undergrad major: Psychology

The University of California-Santa Cruz, located among state parks and nature reserves, has an intense focus on the environment. The school has billed itself as a national leader in sustainability, pledging to become completely carbon neutral by 2025 — the first major university to promise such a feat. Co-founder of the Black Panther Party Huey Newton earned his doctoral degree in social philosophy from UC Santa Cruz.

17. Barnard College
> Location: New York, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 2,540
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $68,512
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $57,900
> Most popular undergrad major: Economics

Barnard College is one of several schools located in and around New York City to rank among the most liberal colleges in America. It is also one of several “Seven Sisters” colleges to rank among this list. Barnard is still attended exclusively by women and has produced many notable progressive figures, including ACLU president Susan Herman and writer Zora Neale Hurston.

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16. Bard College
> Location: Annandale-On-Hudson, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 1,846
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $68,554
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $39,700
> Most popular undergrad major: Social sciences

Bard College is a small liberal arts institution located 90 miles north of New York City. In the 20th century, the school began to stand out as a progressive institution, focusing on a student’s overall development as opposed to just school work. It was the first to give full academic status to students studying performing arts and one of the first schools in America to offer students the option of majoring in human rights.

Source: Mawrter05 / Wikimedia Commons

15. Bryn Mawr College
> Location: Bryn Mawr, PA
> Undergraduate enrollment: 1,328
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $66,160
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $54,600
> Most popular undergrad major: Biology

Bryn Mawr is the only Pennsylvania college to rank among the most liberal institutions. The “Seven Sisters” school became one of the first women’s colleges in the United States to announce it will accept transgender students in 2015. Bryn Mawr alum Emily Green Balch won the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize for her anti-war efforts, leading the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

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14. New College of Florida
> Location: Sarasota, FL
> Undergraduate enrollment: 835
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $20,395
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: N/A
> Most popular undergrad major: Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities

The New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is the state’s only college to rank among the nation’s most liberal schools. A relatively small school with undergraduate enrollment below 1,000 students, New College is Florida’s designated honors college for liberal arts. The New College has been designated an Associate Member Institution of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and has a relatively high share of Hispanic students.

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13. Wesleyan University
> Location: Middletown, CT
> Undergraduate enrollment: 2,887
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $67,527
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $54,700
> Most popular undergrad major: N/A

Wesleyan is one of the nation’s most revered liberal arts colleges. It was one of the first co-educational schools in the country, admitting female students from 1872 to 1912, before closing its doors again to women until 1970. Wesleyan has produced several notable Democratic government officials, including Colorado’s former Gov. John Hickenlooper and one of the state’s senators, Michael Bennet.

12. Portland State University
> Location: Portland, OR
> Undergraduate enrollment: 18,585
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $20,322
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $44,700
> Most popular undergrad major: Psychology

Portland State University, opened in 1946, is one of the newer institutions on this list, but it has a long list of progressive activists and politicians in its short history. Barbara Roberts, Oregon’s first female governor, earned her undergraduate degree from Portland State. The college also produced several prominent activists such as gay rights advocate Konrad Juengling, disabilities advocate Richard Pimentel, and Paul Popham, who founded HIV/AIDS advocacy group Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

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11. Oberlin College
> Location: Oberlin, OH
> Undergraduate enrollment: 2,827
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $68,670
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $40,800
> Most popular undergrad major: Music

Ohio is not an especially liberal state, going back and forth between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in the most recent elections. But the students of Oberlin College, located about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland, are among the most likely to be liberal in the nation. Oberlin has a strong focus on the arts. It is one of the most popular places for music majors, and Niche ranks it as the 20th best college for music in America. Feminist and cartoonist Alison Bechdel went to Oberlin, as did women’s rights pioneer Lucy Stone.

Source: Eugene_Moerman / Getty Images

10. Northwestern University
> Location: Evanston, IL
> Undergraduate enrollment: 8,489
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $70,317
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $69,000
> Most popular undergrad major: Economics

Northwestern is located in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, one of the most staunchly liberal areas in America. Since redistricting in 2000, Evanston’s congressional district has never been represented by a Republican. Northwestern has produced left-leaning alumni in a number of fields, including Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, and “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel earned his master’s degree there as well. Niche ranks Northwestern as the top college for performing arts programs and the fourth best school for public policy.

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9. Bowdoin College
> Location: Brunswick, ME
> Undergraduate enrollment: 1,812
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $65,590
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $65,500
> Most popular undergrad major: Political science and government

Bowdoin College, a small, private, liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, is the most liberal school in the state and ninth most liberal nationwide. With an admission rate of just 13.6%, Bowdoin is more selective than most schools on this list. Founded in 1794, it is also one of the oldest schools on this list.

The most popular major among federal financial aid recipients at the school is political science and government — and the school’s long list of notable alumni includes several Democratic politicians. Among them is the late Edwin Lee, a former civil rights attorney and San Francisco mayor, as well as George J. Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine.

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8. Fashion Institute of Technology
> Location: New York, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 7,924
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $16,991
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $48,900
> Most popular undergrad major: Specialized sales, merchandising and marketing operations

The Fashion Institute of Technology is a public school, part of the State University of New York higher education system. Based on surveys of current and former students, the school, located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, is one of the most liberal in the United States. Though the school’s curriculum is generally focused on design, fashion, and art, it also has a broader ethos of educating students to “embrace inclusiveness, commit to sustainability, and engage with community.”

Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

7. Columbia University
> Location: New York, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 8,170
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $71,972
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $83,300
> Most popular undergrad major: Political science and government

Columbia University is the only Ivy League institution on this list, and one of several liberal schools located in or around New York City. Highly selective, Columbia is one of only two schools on this list with an admission rate below 10%. Founded in 1754 by a royal charter of King George II of England, it is also the oldest school in New York state and the fifth oldest in the United States.

Several high profile left-leaning political figures are among Columbia’s more than 350,000 alumni. They include Jerrold Nadler, a U.S. congressman from New York; Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama; and the 44th president himself.

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Source: Courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College

6. Sarah Lawrence College
> Location: Bronxville, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 1,355
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $68,234
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $43,000
> Most popular undergrad major: Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities

Sarah Lawrence is a small, private liberal arts college in Bronxville, New York, about 15 miles north of midtown Manhattan. Originally founded as a school for women only in 1926, Sarah Lawrence became coed in 1968 and is currently 71% female. Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. congressman and chief of staff in the Obama Administration and current Democratic mayor of Chicago is among the school’s distinguished alumni, having earned his bachelor’s degree there.

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5. New York University
> Location: New York, NY
> Undergraduate enrollment: 26,055
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $67,865
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $61,900
> Most popular undergrad major: Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing

With over 26,000 undergraduates, New York University, a private school located in Manhattan, is one of the larger institutions on this list. In late 2015, the university created a task force focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion in order to “embrace its diversity and promote a culture of inclusion” for all students, staff, and faculty. Indeed, the school has a markedly diverse student body with 25% identifying as white, 19% identifying as Asian, 16% as Hispanic, and 8% as African American.

Notable alumni include many high profile celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Martin Scorcese, and also political leaders like former U.S. House members Charles Rangel and Michael McMahon, both Democrats.

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4. University of California-Berkeley
> Location: Berkeley, CA
> Undergraduate enrollment: 30,574
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $35,777
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $64,700
> Most popular undergrad major: Cell/cellular biology and anatomical sciences

While the University of California-Berkeley does not rank as the most liberal school in the United States, it has perhaps the most notable reputation for liberal political activism on college campuses. Throughout the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, the public research university was the site of many high profile free speech and anti-Vietnam War protests. Berkeley boasts a long list of notable alumni who have earned a total of 183 Olympic medals and 29 Nobel Prizes. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown attended UC-Berkeley for his bachelor’s degree.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

3. American University
> Location: Washington, DC
> Undergraduate enrollment: 7,433
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $62,162
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $61,000
> Most popular undergrad major: International relations and national security studies

Washington D.C.-based American University, one of the most liberal schools in the United States, is notable for admitting 400 African American students when segregation was still the law of the land and for admitting women before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

The school lists diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusive excellence among its core values, and indeed, the student body is relatively diverse with an estimated 56% of students identifying as white. American University’s alumni include Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington D.C.

Source: LawrenceSawyer / Getty Images

2. Mount Holyoke College
> Location: South Hadley, MA
> Undergraduate enrollment: 2,186
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $61,118
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $48,600
> Most popular undergrad major: Psychology

Mount Holyoke was founded as an all women’s school in 1837 and was the first of the “Seven Sisters” — schools, which have significant representation on this list. According to its website, “Mount Holyoke recognizes that diversity enhances our lives while helping us understand more fully the socio-political world in which we live and preparing us to seek global, environmental solutions and social justice.” Students at Mount Holyoke can join over 100 student organizations that focus on a range of activities including political activism and community service. One of the school’s notable graduates is Frances Perkins, the U.S. secretary of labor under president Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first woman appointed to a cabinet position.

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Source: Sanfranman59 / Wikimedia Commons

1. Mills College
> Location: Oakland, CA
> Undergraduate enrollment: 757
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $61,838
> Typical earnings 10 yrs. after enrollment: $39,900
> Most popular undergrad major: English language and literature

Mills College ranks as the most liberal college in the United States. The small private school, located in Oakland, California, is 100% female. Founded in 1852, it was the first women’s college on the West Coast. According to the school’s website, 58% of the undergraduate population identifies as LGBTQ, and 63% identify as students of color. Student activities on campus include an Earth Day Fair, spoken word performances, and Native American Film Night.

Methodology

To determine the most liberal colleges in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from education data clearinghouse Niche’s “2020 Most Liberal Colleges in America” list. Niche’s ranking is based on student surveys on both personal political leanings as well as opinions on the political leanings of other students.

Data on undergraduate enrollment and admission rate came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and are for the 2017-2018 school year. Data on the median earnings of individuals who entered university in the 2004-05 academic year and were employed 10 years later also came from IPEDS. Data on the popularity of undergraduate majors is based on IPEDS data on the number of federal loan borrowers who graduated with a degree in that major in the 2016-2017 school year.

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