By CVO Staff
March 2016

Some people just don’t get it. Why you would want to live in the desert, let alone move there on purpose for college? But desert college students have a unique take on the question. Sure, it can get real hot in the summer, but think about how cold it doesn’t get in winter! And besides, school’s out during the hottest months, when students can hit the road for cooler spots. The sunny days, the rugged western landscapes, and the surprising variety of flora and fauna make getting a degree from a desert college a major attraction, especially for outdoor adventure types. For those who wouldn’t study anywhere else, there are some high-value colleges to consider that maximize access to the wonders of our US deserts.

The Sonoran Desert, found in southern Arizona and the Palm Springs area of California and extending into Mexico, boasts the stately saguaros. The Mojave in southeastern California and the Las Vegas area of Nevada is best known for the ridiculously high temperatures of Death Valley. The Great Basin, covering most of Nevada and western Utah, is our coldest and largest desert (from which Idaho and Washington are often excluded). Finally, the Chihuahuan desert, found in southwest Texas and southern New Mexico on the US side, actually extends way into Mexico.

four desertsAverage high temperature in December (indicating the coolest time of the year) was only one of the ranking criteria for our list of 15 Hottest Desert College Values. We also considered each school’s most recently available net price on College Navigator (listed as in-state where applicable). Hotter temperatures and lower net price meant higher ranking. Ties were broken according to lower net price. All schools found in these deserts (in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah) offering multiple four-year accredited undergraduate programs were included in our final ranking, but we excluded satellite and virtual campuses.

Average maximum temperature in Farenheit in December:

60s: 3 points

50s: 2 points

40s: 1 point

Net price:

less than 30,000: 1 point

less than 20,000: 2 points

less than 15,000: 3 points

15. Westminster College — Salt Lake City, UT

westminster college utah

Website

Desert: Great Basin

Westminster College is a private liberal arts institution of about 3,000 students. Its picturesque campus is located in the Sugar House section of Salt Lake City. Though it may not look the part, Salt Lake City is actually located on the extreme eastern edge of the Great Basin Desert. Students looking for desert temps in the warmer months but winter sports around Christmas break and into January and February will love the variety that Salt Lake City provides.

Average high temperature Dec: 38F

Net price: $23,729

Points: 1

14. Utah State University — Logan, UT

usu

Website

Desert: Great Basin

Utah State in Salt Lake City sits on the other side of the lake from the Great Salt Lake Desert, part of the Great Basin Desert. It has the most extreme temperature averages of all of our desert colleges, going from a high of 33F in December to 88F in July. Outdoor enthusiasts wanting the best of nearby mountains and deserts in the context of the largest public residential college in Utah will want to check out the very affordable in-state net price Utah State offers.

Average high temperature Dec: 33F

Net price: $12,185

Points: 3

13. University of Utah — Salt Lake City, UT

university of utah

Website

Desert: Great Basin

Students attracted by the inexpensive net price at the University of Utah avail themselves of a multitude of desert adventures in the southern part of the state, including the famous red cliffs of Zion National Park down in the southwest. Lesser known but impressive is the nearby Timpanogos Cave National Monument. University of Utah is another great option for those who love dry heat in the 90s to start the school year and temperatures in the 30s in winter for snow sport adventures.

Average high temperature Dec: 38F

Net price: $11,277

Points: 3

 12. Arizona Christian University – Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Christian

Website

Desert: Sonoran

The smallest student body on our list enjoys the year-round outdoor living of the Phoenix metro area–a great choice for those who would prefer not to see snow or frost. Die hards can stay all year to get maximum heat in the summer, while the fainter of heart can head for the cooler hills at the end of the spring semester. Arizona Christian University was founded in 1960 and offers its student body of 700 many majors to choose from, including Psychology, Education, and Christian Ministries.

Average high temperature Dec: 66F

Net price: $26,995

Points: 4

11. Brigham Young University — Provo, UT

Website

Desert: Great Basin

BYU offers a private university education at a great price. Almost all of the student body of 30,000 comes from the Latter Day Saints background to study in Provo at the eastern extremity of the Great Basin Desert. Here winter is for real, and summer is no slacker either, with an average July high of 94F. Dry powder enthusiasts will love the slopes of Utah.

Average high temperature Dec: 40F

Net price: $12,335

Points: 4

10. Grand Canyon University – Phoenix, AZ

GCU

Website

Desert: Sonoran

Central Phoenix is becoming Lope Country with the dramatic numerical growth and building expansion of for-profit Grand Canyon University. Desert living in the Phoenix metro means easy year-round access to Sonoran Desert hiking and biking in the day and restaurant patios galore in the evening. Students pursuing a Christian outlook in their college education in the comfortable school-year temperatures of a dynamic city will want to consider GCU very closely.

Average high temperature Dec: 66F

Net price: $19,761

Points: 5

9. University of Arizona – Tucson, AZ

University of Arizona Historic

Website

Desert: Sonoran

University of Arizona in Tucson will experience slightly lower temperatures than Phoenix in the summer (only 100F average in July), but for a college student the December highs are just about the same at 65F. Students looking for a large university in a medium-sized city at a great in-state price with year round outdoor living will find U of A hard to beat. The nearby Saguaro National Park, located on both sides of Tucson, offers amazing opportunities for exploration among the unique flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

Average high temperature Dec: 65F

Net price: $15,681

Points: 5

8. Nevada State College — Henderson, NV

Nevada State College

Website

Desert: Mojave

Nevada State is located in a suburb about 15 miles from the center of Las Vegas, and is known as one of the safest cities in America in terms of crime. The College has grown to over 3,000 students since its founding in 2002. For students looking for a smaller college vibe with access to amazing outdoor experiences in nearby California and Arizona, Nevada State offers a super net price worth considering and comfortable temperatures throughout the school year.

Average high temperature Dec: 54F

Net price: $13,173

Points: 5

7. University of Nevada, Las Vegas — Paradise, NV

unlv

Website

Desert: Mojave

It doesn’t get much hotter than Las Vegas in July, with an average July temperature of 104F. But during the school year, December cools down to a high of 57F in time for Christmas break. UNLV offers the advantages of a large public university with nearly 30,000 students, including a very affordable net price. Located less than two miles from the Las Vegas Strip, it is not surprising that UNLV has developed a top-notch hospitality program.

Average high temperature Dec: 57F

Net price: $12,240

Points: 5

6. New Mexico Insitute of Mining and Technology – Socorro, NM

NM tech

Website

Desert: Chihuahuan

Many consider Socorro (named for the occasion when a local native people group “helped” the Spanish in 1598) to be the northern limit of the Chihuahuan Desert. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, or simply New Mexico Tech, is known as a major player among the nation’s top science and engineering schools. The school is located in the Rio Grande Valley in an area punctuated by a number of extinct volcanoes. Students looking for a desert college with a small student body and a small net price will want to look closely at what NM Tech has to offer.

Average high temperature Dec: 51F

Net price: $11,789

Points: 5

5. Western New Mexico University – Silver City, NM

silver city

Website

Desert: Chihuahuan

Silver City is on the northern edge of the Chihuhuan Desert, and at an elevation of 5,900 ft. has some of the “cooler” temperatures on our ranking, with an average July high of only 88F. Western New Mexico University is perfect for college students in search of a friendly small town (10,000) with amazing wilderness opportunities at its doorstep to the north in the Gila National Forest. These features along with a remarkable in-state net price make Western New Mexico University an excellent choice among desert colleges.

Average high temperature Dec: 51F

Net price: $10,994

Points: 5

4. New Mexico State University – Las Cruces, NM

nm state university

Website

Desert: Chihuahuan

Las Cruces gets hot (95F average high in July), but not as hot as some other desert towns, and college students will love the year-round outdoor living in the Chihuahuan Desert. New Mexico State University sits in the beautiful and fertile Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande, with the dramatic jagged peaks of the Organ Mountains to the east. This school is a great pick for someone who wants to study in a smaller city with outdoor opportunities and a very low net price.

Average high temperature Dec: 58F

Net price: $10,299

Points: 5

3. University of Texas at El Paso – El Paso, TX

ut-el-paso

Website

Desert: Chihuahuan

Our only Texas representative on this list is the University of Texas at El Paso, where high temperatures average a dry 95F in July, and stay warm all year round. The Nearby Chamizal National Memorial is a tribute to peaceful cooperation between the US and Mexico. Students interested in the bilingual and binational work scene will want to consider this metro area of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico–a population of almost three million. Desert lovers will want to take a good look at UTEP’s in-state net price, the lowest among all our desert colleges in this ranking.

Average high temperature Dec: 57F

Net price: $5,607

Points: 5

2. University of Phoenix – Tempe, AZ

university of phoenix

Website

Desert: Sonoran

For-profit University of Phoenix’s campuses are seen in cities across the country, but national headquarters are in Phoenix, making news as the host of Super Bowl 49 and the home of the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Phoenix is a desert city where sports action is not lacking: besides the Cardinals, the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Coyotes sell serious tickets to a sports-happy city.

Average high temperature Dec: 66F

Net price: $14,479

Points: 6

1. Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ

arizona state university

Website

Desert: Sonoran

Tempe is a section of Metro Phoenix, where temperatures soar to an average 106F in July. But what’s important for college students is the 66F high for December, making attending Arizona State a pleasant year-round outdoor living experience surrounded by palm trees and saguaros. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the several mountain preserves located throughout the city for hiking and biking. When the urge hits, there is also easy access to cooler outdoor adventures in northern Arizona around Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.

Average high temperature Dec: 66F

Net price: $12,191

Points: 6

Source: Wikipedia

Related: 15 Island Colleges Ranked by Affordability