Best Christian Colleges Methodology

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Best Christian Colleges Ranking Seal

Best Christian Colleges Methodology

Ranking lists these days are a dime-a-dozen. They’ve become so commonplace that the perceived value of the term “ranking list” seems to have been diluted. This saturation has also increased the difficulty students and parents encounter when trying to comb through all the data they find while doing their college search.

So, why produce another ranking list? Becuase we do it better. We know what really matters to you and those are the things that make a College Atlas ranked school, “The Best”.

View the Best Christian Colleges.

The rankings data that the College Atlas Best Christian Colleges list utilizes are the most important elements for future Christian college students and their parents to consider.

The Best Christian Colleges list for 2018 evaluates schools on 21 different data points – each related to one of three major ranking categories – Accessibility, Affordability, and Academic Quality. A few of these 21 data points were used for each Christian college and university to gain inclusion into the ranking evaluation pool, while the rest were used to rank the schools against each other.

Inclusion Factors, Data, and Weights

The Best Christian Colleges dataset started with the full IPEDS universe of over 7,500 accredited colleges and universities, all U.S. colleges and universities who had submitted their college and university information through the IPEDS annual survey. Among these schools, there are approximately 880 schools that reported a Christian religious affiliation. The defining aspect of a Christian college or university is that they profess to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible and that they maintain those teachings as a focal point of their school’s mission, values, and curriculum.

Schools that did not make the Christian college ranking evaluation pool either did not submit their IPEDS survey data to the U.S. Department of Education, did not specify a Christian religious affiliation on their IPEDS survey, did not provide more than 5 different undergraduate degree programs as part of their education offering, or did not provide enough data within the required ranking data points.

Once we determined our ranking evaluation pool of colleges and universities, data was combined from the IPEDS database,, ACSI Accreditation data, CCCU membership data,, and individual Christian college websites. This data was used to rank colleges with a median standard deviation score within each data point. These scores were then given a weight, according on their usefulness in the overall measure of Accessibility, Affordability, or Academic Quality. Below is the breakdown of each of these three major ranking categories, why the element is important, the overall ranking weight of the cateogry, and the specific factors that contributed to that category.

1. Accessibility (28% of overall rank score)

A college is only helpful to the students they can accept and educate. The Accessibility category highlights a student’s ease of gaining entrance into the school and once admitted to the school, the student’s access to a wide variety of degree programs. This segment of the Best Christian Colleges ranking seeks to highlight those schools that provide a good balance between these factors.

Accessibility is composed of:

  • Acceptance Rate – the school accepts a large percentage of their applicants.
  • Number of Students Enrolled – the school educates a large number of students. On-campus enrollment figures had a greater weight in the campus ranking algorithm while distance learning enrollment figures did not have any weight. In the online ranking algorithm, distance learning enrollment had a greater weight and on-campus enrollment had very little weight.
  • Number of Programs Offered (Campus and Online) – the school offers a large variety of undergraduate degree program options. On-campus program count had a greater weight in the campus ranking algorithm while distance learning program count had little weight. In the online ranking algorithm, distance learning enrollment had a greater weight and on-campus enrollment had no weight.

2. Affordability (33% of overall rank score)

As the cost of college continues to rise, Affordability is an increasingly important element to consider when choosing a college. Between the 2007-2008 school year to the 2017-2018 school year, the cost of private, nonprofit four-year institution tuition and fees increased by $7,220 or 26%. Additionally, the cost of college today has forced a majority of students to take on larger amounts of debt to pay for their education. This leaves college graduates with an average of $37,172 in student debt. In the Best Christian Colleges list, the more affordable a college is, the better.

Affordability is composed of:

  • In-state Undergraduate Tuition – how much college tuition costs (excluding fees).
  • Percentage of Students Getting Financial Aid – the likelihood that an average student has to qualify for aid.
  • Average Amount of Aid Compared to Tuition – how much financial aid the average student receives relative to in-state tuition.
  • Median Debt for Completers – the median debt amount students have at the time of graduation (this was only included for a school if they had over 50 completers reporting their median debt and if that count was 15% or more of the students in the completer cohort).
  • Yellow Ribbon/GI Bill – the school accepts the Yellow Ribbon/GI Bill funding. As not all students are military, this data point accounts for a very small percentage of this category’s weight.

3. Academic Quality (39% of overall rank score)

A college or university’s Academic Quality is based on the perceptions of students, faculty, parents, society, and future employers. A school’s quality is indicated by the number of students they can attract, enroll, keep enrolled year-over-year, and help graduate; the level of faculty they are able to attract and amount they can employ; whether employers trust and value their graduates enough to hire them and pay them well; if the school invests in helping their students get into valuable careers; and for this Christian list, if the school maintains a high standard of Christian excellence and religious instruction.

Academic Quality is composed of:

  • Student-to-faculty Ratio – students likelihood of being able to have access to faculty members.
  • Enroll Rate – students feel the school is the most valuable choice for them upon acceptance.
  • First-year Retention Rate – students maintain enrolled status after their first year.
  • Six-year Graduation Rate, 150% normal time – the school helps students graduate quickly so they stop incurring college debt and start earning a salary.
  • Graduate Early- and Mid-career Average Salaries – the school offers competitive and in-demand degree programs. Also shows a baseline for what employers are willing to pay graduates from the school.
  • Academic, Employment, and Job Placement Services – the school offers academic and career guidance while students are in college and post-graduation.
  • Christian-specific Accreditation – the school is accredited with a Christian-focused accreditation agency.

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