One of three polytechnic universities in California, Cal Poly Pomona has strong programs in engineering and business, as well as hospitality management, agriculture, and apparel merchandising and management. It was first designated a National Center of Academic Excellence by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency in 2005, and continues to carry that honor for producing cybersecurity professionals.

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The university's graduation rate of over 75% is more than 17% higher than expected based on schools with comparable student demographics, according to Money's analysis. Students go on to post median early-career salaries of about $67,000.

Cal Poly Pomona's learn-by-doing approach provides a wealth of internships and research positions, but it also yields some unexpected opportunities. An on-campus brewery teaches students craft beer-making using barley and oranges grown by the school. And for more than 70 years, students have joined their peers from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to build a float for the Tournament of Roses parade. In fact, Cal Poly Pomona is home to an almost 14,000-square-foot float lab and design complex.