Windows of Memorial Union


High Value

Among similar schools, Washburn leads the state in latest U.S. News rankings

A Washburn classroom with students and teacher

Associate Professor Chris Jones teaches a religious studies class. Photo by Doug Stremel

From The Ichabod - Winter 2023
By Jeremy Wangler

Zach Frank, dean of the Washburn University School of Applied Studies, was having dinner this fall with someone who had multiple children attend Washburn and go to graduate school. The dinner guest delivered news Frank and others at Washburn often hear.

“He told me, ‘Washburn’s the best kept secret out there. You get a great education at a great price,’” Frank said.

Washburn is shifting its external focus to quelling the notion of secrecy and amplifying the message of its great value. The U.S. News & World Report helped that effort this fall by ranking Washburn the top choice among public regional universities in Kansas. Washburn also led the state for veteran assistance and for having the lowest typical student loan debt.

U.S. News ranks schools based on several factors and releases its list each year. Schools in the public regional categorization offer a full range of undergraduate programs, some master's programs and few doctoral programs. Washburn is the 14th-ranked such school in the Midwest Region. In the lowest debt category, Washburn is fifth in the region.

“The rankings are a big deal because that's our story – high quality education at a good price with low debt,” said Alan Bearman, interim executive director of enrollment management. “And we willl try to drive this message every time we can.”

In Bearman’s role managing Washburn’s recruitment and admissions efforts, he’s seen recent research saying parents are more important than ever in the admissions process for their children.

“Parents are looking to keep their children a little closer to home,” Bearman said. “It is a big deal to be able to tell families from Topeka and northeast Kansas we have a high quality and affordable education. They want to know they're going to a university recognized by its peers as a high performing university.”

Frank oversees the five academic departments in the School of Applied Studies and represents them on several committees.

“What I see in meetings is decision-making revolves around what's best for students and what we can do to keep costs down,” he said. “The best thing we're doing is keeping students at the heart of every decision we make.”

Keeping costs down is especially important in today’s environment.

“You see all these national reports of graduates saddled with college debt and the negative impact it has on them and their careers – people working two jobs to pay off their debt,” Frank said. “That’s not the quality of life people are looking for these days.”

Adding to the great value, students also have several options to get degrees high in demand.

“We've maintained our commitment to really great academic programs,” Bearman said. “Other universities are walking away from academic programs; we’re saying we can provide the programs you need and want, and the degrees employers want. Washburn has positioned itself for success, now we must take advantage of our positioning and go out there and tell our story.”

Three students walking on campus

(Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

Washburn has made many efforts to keep down not only tuition but overall cost of attendance, including the new Zero Textbook Cost initiative. ZTC encourages faculty to assign free materials like open education resources instead of costly textbooks.

“We found we had a staggering number of low-income students who had to choose between buying textbooks and eating,” Bearman said. “With ZTC, on day one everyone in the class has equal access to the learning materials. If our goal is equitable outcomes toward graduation, you need equitable access to learning materials.”

Along with overall ranking and low student debt, Washburn ranked first in Kansas for veteran assistance. Chris Bowers, military transitions coordinator, Student Life, said Washburn has progressed since he graduated in 2017 after serving in the Army.

“I would say we have outdone military friendly. We are now military inclusive,” said Bowers, ba ’17, ma ’21.

“Military friendly means we honor everything the military asks for as far as the Department of Defense. Military inclusive means we recognize veterans and military-connected students have a uniqueness, and we are a way forward for them.”

With his role in the Military-Student Success Center in Mabee Library, Bowers can put students in touch with the campus resources they need.

“I am not leaving this veteran or military-connected student until I know they're taken care of,” Bowers said. “Help is a phone call away. I hope a lot of student veterans and military-connected students realize there is a place right here at Washburn University that will welcome them and help them get from wherever they are to graduation.”

The rankings help tell the story of Washburn – a great education, a valuable degree and a commitment to get students to graduation wherever they come from.

“For a school like Washburn, the rankings are important because we need people to realize what a high-quality education we provide at such a good price,” Bearman said. “To get external affirmation is really important for us.”

Spring 2023 Ichabod magazine cover, roses and a rock wall in front of Morgan Hall

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483