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How We Rank Our Management Programs

Written by TopManagementDegrees.com Staff
Date Updated: January 21, 2021

In ranking management programs, our team of in-house analytics experts draws on quantitative information published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). An independent agency within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which operates as part of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the NCES is the authoritative government-affiliated provider of education statistics in the United States.

To rank schools, TopManagementDegrees.com examines NCES data about academic quality, program affordability, the program/school reputation, and the program's availability and accessibility, especially to online learners. In our experience, these four factors are the most important things our readers consider when seeking educational opportunities.

This methodology — which is unique to our network of sites — also covers 12 key subfactors, each of which impacts the four main factors. All factors and subfactors are weighted, meaning they account for specified, fixed percentages of the total score earned by a school or program.

Schools cannot pay for a spot on our lists — our rankings are not influenced by schools or the advertisers in our partner program. These rankings represent the clearest, most objective analysis of the metrics that matter most to our users. In the interest of full transparency, this page explains the factors and subfactors we consider for each institution or program.

About the Data We Use

We source all institutional data from NCES, which operates as an independent, nonpartisan agency under the mandates of IES and ED. Its primary role is to collect and analyze U.S. educational data. NCES also operates programs and initiatives that fund and test education innovation, identify areas for education system improvement, and make education facts and figures more readily available to state-level policymakers.

Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, all postsecondary institutions must participate in NCES polling and surveying to qualify for federal funding. NCES distributes most of its surveys three times annually, and the information they provide is delivered to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). NCES and IPEDS offer the most reliable and impartial statistical information available to our analysts.

In most cases, our analysts update school and program rankings at least once per year. If the NCES makes new, meaningful statistics available more frequently, we update the impacted rankings more often.

All our rankings are currently undergoing comprehensive updates for 2021. We never reuse existing or outdated rankings. For each refresh, our quality assurance analysts carefully reexamine and vet all institutional and program scores. They also remove all schools and programs that do not have enough available data to merit inclusion in the final ranked list.

As of Nov. 3, 2020, IPEDS has released only a portion of its updated school data for 2020. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available at the time of publication.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

In developing our ranking methodology for management degrees, we identified four crucial factors with direct impact on short- and long-term student outcomes. As the pie charts below indicate, these four factors are academic quality, the cost of attendance, the school or program's reputation, and the program's availability to remote learners.

We assign variable weightings to these factors when we rank management programs:

About Our Ranking Factors

Our methodology accounts for a number of important program features, which our analysts examine and quantify to generate each main category score. These subfactors are also carefully weighted within their parent category to ensure their accurate representation in the final outcome.

The sections below break down how subfactors work within each main factor category:

Subfactors for Academics

  • Retention Rate: NCES defines "retention rate" as the percentage of students that return to a multi-year program from the previous year. It also counts returning students who graduate after completing their final year. High retention rates indicate that a school's resources and faculty support student success. Our analysts look at NCES full-time retention rate statistics from 2018, the most recent period for which data is currently available. According to NCES, four-year degree-granting U.S. colleges had an average retention rate of 81% that year.
  • Graduation Rate: Institutional graduation rates quantify the percentage of students who earned the degree or certificate offered by their program of study within 150% of the standard timeline. Thus, for a four-year management degree, a student would need to graduate within six years to qualify for inclusion in statistical data. Our analysts use the most recent available institutional graduation rate data collected by NCES, which dates to 2018. It indicates a nationwide average graduation rate of 62% for undergraduate students.
  • Robust Faculty: "Robust faculty" describes an institution's commitment to building a strong, stable base of full-time faculty members. Experts believe students who attend schools with high levels of faculty robustness experience better educational outcomes. In evaluating this metric, our analysts consider two key NCES data points from 2018: the proportion of a school's faculty who work full time, and the institution's student-to-faculty ratio.

Subfactors for Affordability

  • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: Non-repayable forms of student aid such as grants and scholarships can significantly reduce the cost of attending a given institution. This metric compares the "sticker price" of attending a school with the actual price paid by aid recipients after applying non-repayable funding to their tuition. Our team looks at NCES data about the average net price for students awarded grant or scholarship aid during the 2017-18 academic year.
  • Students Getting Financial Aid: The financial aid system helps learners meet attendance costs they would not otherwise have been able to afford, enabling them to pursue high-value educational opportunities that improve lifelong earning potential. This metric considers the number of students at a school receiving some form of financial aid, including both repayable and non-repayable sources. Specifically, it considers the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid during the 2017-18 school year.
  • Students Getting Federal Aid: Federal aid offers student borrowers significant advantages, including favorable repayment terms and access to generous deferment and forbearance policies. Thus, the proportion of students receiving federal aid at a given institution directly correlates with its affordability. Our analysts factored in NCES data about the percentage of undergraduate students awarded federal student loans during the 2017-18 school year.
  • Post-Graduation Student Debt: In analyzing post-graduation debt levels, our analysts consider both the median debt levels of students six years after entering their program (2018 data) and average loan default rates (2016 data). High debt levels and default rates both point to unmanageable student debt, which in turn indicate lower levels of school affordability. Thus, our team members assign higher scores to schools whose students carry less debt and default on their loan repayments at lower rates.

Subfactors for Reputation

  • Percent of Applicants Admitted: The percentage of applicants who secure a formal offer of admission is one of the most direct indicators of a school's selectivity. High selectivity indicates a competitive admissions process, which suggests that qualified applicants seek admission to the school or program in large numbers. For this subfactor, our team considers NCES institutional admission rate data from 2018.
  • Admissions Yield: When students accept their admissions offer in large numbers, it indicates the institution can attract students with faculty, resources, and results-driven coursework. The admission yield tracks this metric by reporting the percentage of students who enrolled in a given school after acceptance. The most recent available data covers NCES-reported institutional enrollment rates from 2018.
  • Return on Investment: Students who graduate from particularly reputable schools and programs tend to command more money upon entering the workforce. While identifying the value of a given educational experience is a subjective exercise, higher salaries correlate strongly with superior quantitative returns. Our analysts examine the average earnings of working students six years after entering a school as reported by NCES data from 2018.

Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

  • Percentage of Online Students Enrolled: Our team only considers this metric when compiling ranked lists of online programs. It examines the percentage of students enrolled in online programs at the relevant degree level, along with the percentage of all students participating in online learning at that school. Higher rates of distance learning indicate more online program availability, flexibility, and accessibility. NCES data from 2018 indicates that about 34.5% of undergraduate students and 39.8% of graduate students took some distance courses.
  • Percentage of Relevant Degree Level Offered: Schools that concentrate a significant proportion of their resources to programs at particular degree levels tend to make programs at those levels more accessible, flexible, and geared toward student success. Thus, for this metric, we compare the school's number of level-specific degrees to the total number of degree programs it supports at all levels. Higher percentages at specific levels indicate more institutional focus of resources on programs at that level.