How We Rank Schools at TBS

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Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Metrics We Measure By:

Academics

Affordability

Online Enrollment

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

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Academics
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Affordability
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Online Enrollment

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%

Admissions Rate 2018 The rate at which students are accepted to a school says a lot about that institution's reputation and selectivity. Though there are exceptions, schools with low admission rates tend to offer more comprehensive, rigorous programs than schools with open admissions.
Full-Time Retention Rate 2018 Retention rate is the number of students who enroll in an institution as compared to the number who remain there. Students might leave an institution for a variety of reasons, but some common examples include lack of institutional support, lack of academic options, and lack of access to financial aid. Generally speaking, a high retention rate indicates that an institution is meeting the expectations of the students who enroll there.
Graduation Rate 2018 Similar to retention rate, graduation rate is the number of students who finish their degrees at a particular institution compared to the number of students who enrolled there initially. Graduation rates are often measured by both 4-year and 6-year increments; the 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students at 4-year institutions is about 62%.
Faculty Strength/Influence Like any industry, higher education thrives on professional experience and excellence. An institution is only as good at its professors, which is why we include faculty strength among our academic sub-factors. Faculty strength is measured in data points like average level of education and contributions to academic research.

Affordability - 15%

Percent of Students Awarded Financial Aid Access to financial aid can be the deciding factor in whether a student is able to attend college. While federal financial aid is decided largely by the FAFSA, individual institutions also award their own financial aid, making some schools more accessible than others for low-income or disadvantaged students. Availability of financial aid options matters to students, so it matters to TBS.
Percent of Students Taking Loans With student loan burdens at an all-time high, the rate at which an institution's students have to take on that burden says a lot about that school's affordability and accessibility. That's why we include average student loan rates in our affordability rankings.
Average Net Price Perhaps the most important factor when it comes to affordability is the overall cost of an education at a given institution. This cost includes tuition, of course, but it also considers things like student fees, textbook costs, and whether online students are charged a different per-credit tuition rate than students on campus.

Online Enrollment - 10%

Undergraduates Enrolled in Distance Education With the ever-expanding presence of online education, an institution's commitment to supporting online students has become a major factor in educational quality. Simply put, a school that has more online students is a school that invests more in its online students, and that investment speaks to an institution's quality.
Graduates Enrolled in Distance Education Similar to undergraduate online enrollment, the number of graduate students enrolled in distance education at a given institution speaks to the quality of its graduate programs. A school with few online graduate students doesn't have the same level of investment as an institution that's committed to providing the best possible online education to as many graduate students as possible.
Graduates Enrolled in Only Distance The final wrinkle in the online education factor is how hard an institution is working to make online education a full-time option for its graduate students. Programs that are fully online indicate that a school is more experienced and more committed to supporting online students, whereas programs that are only partially available online tend to be less well developed and offer fewer resources for distance learners.

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

How We Rank Schools at TBS

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

View Full Methodology

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