When developing our methodology for ranking online colleges, we attempted to remain un-biased. To accomplish this, we utilized proven and quantitative metrics with information gathered from highly reliable and credible organizations. There is no infallible ranking methodology; however, we worked diligently to eliminate factors that could exaggerate conclusions, bias outcome or distort reality.
Online College Inclusion Criteria
We included online colleges within our rankings system. However, there are no comprehensive lists providing information about these institutions, so we sifted through numerous sources to locate information about online schools to be included in our rankings. We only utilized reliable and recognizable sources.
- DETC – The Distance Education and Training Council accredits schools primarily offering distance-based education.
- eLearners.com – eLearners.com offers information about numerous online colleges that we listed in our rankings.
- Peterson’s Distance Learning and Online Degree Programs Search – We utilized this source to find information about regionally accredited online schools not available on eLearners.com.
We included colleges in our rankings that met these criteria:
- The college must be accredited. Most organizations prefer hiring graduates with degrees earned at accredited schools.
- The college must be listed in College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/). The Department of Education developed the College Navigator to assist people wanting to compare different schools. We did not rank schools excluded from it because it would be very difficult without reputable metrics from third parties, and schools not listed in the College Navigator are probably not accredited.
- The college must offer more than one undergraduate degree-granting program online. We did not include schools that specialize in one field.
- The college, if campus-based, must offer at least 50% of its undergraduate degree-granting programs online. Numerous colleges and universities within the United States sponsor online programs; however, there are only a few that exclusively offer online programs. We only want to rank schools that mostly offer online courses.
Our rankings are not infallible or comprehensive, but we utilized this methodology because it made it possible for us to provide reliable information about American online schools with numerous undergraduate programs that provide excellent instruction.
The Ranking Metrics
We ranked 20 colleges in each metric. Schools higher on the list are considered the best institutions. We considered each metric to be equally important. As a result, all 6 metrics were weighted equally.
Each school’s overall ranking was determined by averaging each of its ranking metric.
Our rankings only include metrics that are quantitative, reliable and highly relevant.
- Quantitative – We employed quantitative metrics to eliminate any subjectivity in determining rankings for online colleges.
- Reliable – All data used to calculate rankings came from trusted organizations including College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/), the US Department of Education’s Office of Post-secondary Education, and a few trusted Internet databases.
- Highly Relevant – While we reviewed several different metrics we limited our selection to 6 metrics (as listed below) that we determined had the highest correlation to the attractiveness of attending a particular college.
- Acceptance Rate – The actual and perceived quality and reputation of a college is determined in large part by how selective they are in accepting students. More selective colleges often have a higher caliber student body. All data for this metric was provided by the College Navigator database from the Institute of Education Sciences, an agency within the US Department of Education.
- Financial Aid – For most aspiring college students, financial aid is one of their highest priorities. Consequently, the higher the percentage of students who can qualify for financial aid, the more attractive the college. All financial aid data is generated from the College Navigator database (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) provided by the Institute of Education Sciences, a division of the US Department of Education.
- Graduation Rate – A college’s graduation rate indicates whether or not a college is successful at helping their students achieve their educational goals. A college with a lower graduation rate may be less successful at helping its students achieve their education goals than a college with a higher graduation rate. The graduation rates we use to generated our rankings are provided by the College Navigator database from the Institute of Education Sciences, an agency within the US Department of Education.
- Scholarly Citations – Colleges, universities, and higher education institutions have been evaluated and judged based on the quantity and quality of the research and scholarly reports they publish for many years. The amount of scholarly citation from other scholars is a recognized and accepted indicator of the quality an educational institution’s academic program. The scholarly citation data used for our ranking were generated using Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/).
- Student-Faculty Ratio – When provided with more one-on-one interaction with faculty and professors, students become more engaged in their studies and tend to excel academically. A college’s student-faculty ratio is a good indicator of how much personal interaction with faculty and professors prospective students can expect. The lower the student-faculty ratio, the more attractive a college should become. The data used to generated the student-faculty ratio rankings is provided by Peterson’s College Search (http://www.petersons.com/college-search.aspx).
- Years Accredited – Accreditation is an important element of a college’s reputation–as it should be. Accreditation not only communicates recognition and prestige, but more importantly it ensures that colleges’ courses and curriculum meet the highest academic standards. Accreditation is also a prerequisite for qualifying for most federal funding financial aid programs. Our rankings include only online colleges accredited by an institutional accrediting agency that is recognized by the Office of Post-secondary Education, an agency under the authority of the US Department of Education.
While our ranking methodology may not be perfect, as is case with any ranking methodology, we’ve striven to ensure that our rankings are entirely objective, using only reliable, relevant data and quantitative analysis in our computations. If you have any feedback you’d like to provide please don’t hesitate to contact us.