Our ranking methodology considers four categories of factors. These categories receive different weights based on their relevance to program value and may also include specific subfactors.
We consider student success one of our highest concerns and weigh the category at 40%. This category includes two factors: how many students complete the program (graduation rate) and the 20-year net present value (NPV). Each of these student success indicators make up 50% of the category's score.
We also base 40% of a school's final score on quality. For this category, we consider details that illustrate student satisfaction and increase academic opportunities. For instance, a low student-to-faculty ratio can enhance learning environments and therefore makes up 40% of the category's score. A high number of programs can also increase learning opportunities and accounts for 20% of the category's score. A high retention rate points to confidence and contentment with the program, receiving a 40% weight.
Affordability represents 15% of an institution's final score. An expensive school may cause financial hardships or delayed enrollment if students cannot manage tuition payments. For these reasons, we consider net price and financial aid for this category, each weighted by 40%. High costs can also lead to extensive loan debt, so we also examine loan default rates, weighted by 20%.
Our final concern considers online flexibility based on the percentage of partially online and fully online students. We weigh these factors by 30% and 70%, respectively.
Combining the totals from all categories gives us each school's score, and higher total scores lead to higher rankings. We gather school information from reputable sources, like national organizations, and do not accept payment for higher rankings.
This page examines all of our factors and subfactors in more detail, along with our primary sources of data.
About the Data We Use
We research our information from sources like the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This federal organization collects and reports on education for all grade levels and offers the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which specifically addresses higher education. Other benefits of the NCES site include search engines, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, and the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System. This resource proves invaluable in determining each school's value.
For our rankings, we refer to NCES for data on educational costs, financial aid, and information on online and on-campus programs. We also consider retention and graduation rates, loan default rates, and student-to-faculty ratios through NCES reports.
Georgetown University also provides renowned, unbiased research through its Center on Education and the Workforce. This data examines NPV at different intervals, which we use while calculating student success scores for our rankings. In particular, we focus on the 20-year NPV to show how much each school can offer a return on a student's initial investment over time. Georgetown also delivers information on loan repayment, graduation rate, and net price.
Our staff reviews college and university data from these sources to determine merit. We exclude schools that do not provide sufficient data, but we reevaluate when our sources produce new information to provide up-to-date rankings.
This ranking methodology emphasizes the factors we consider the most significant. However, degree-seekers may have different priorities. For example, a student may earn a full scholarship to a more expensive school or limit their options to schools with a certain management specialization. For this reason, candidates should use our rankings as a starting point but only consider schools that match their criteria.
A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
About Our Ranking Factors
We base our rankings on factors that indicate school quality during and after the program. These factors address finances, degree completion, and learning experiences that indicate student satisfaction and alumni accomplishments.
Deeper concerns, like student success, influence ranking placement more than lesser concerns, such as affordability. Each of these factors also reflect individually weighted subfactors. For instance, we base 40% of affordability on financial aid. In turn, we divide financial aid equally between the number of recipients and the relation of award packages to the school's costs. This methodology, including each category's weight, is specific to our website.
The following sections review our ranking factors and subfactors in more detail.
Subfactors for Affordability
- Net Price: Attending a college or university includes expenses like tuition and additional fees. Students typically pursue financial aid to help cover some expenses while still owing a balance. This balance is the school's net price and requires out-of-pocket payment, which can lead to financial hardship. Lower net prices make education more accessible to students and help learners maintain steady enrollment. Within our rankings, net price counts for 40% of a school's affordability.
- Financial Aid: Financial aid involves assistance from the government, schools, private organizations, and employers. Types of aid include grants and scholarships, which do not require repayment, and work-study positions that resemble regular employment. Candidates can also obtain loans, with repayment requirements, or earn fellowships for research or experience. For high scores in affordability, many of the school's students should qualify for aid, and the award package should compare to the cost of attendance.
- Loan Default Rate: In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that student loan debt in the country neared 1 trillion dollars. Often, loan recipients may fail to make payments due to factors like unemployment, a large loan balance, or low income. Since default indicates financial instability, we favor schools with low default rates. The national default rate for 2016 reached 10.1%. Rates under this percentage may be considered low.
Subfactors for Quality
- Retention Rate: First-year students who return to the same college the following year make up a school's retention rate. High rates indicate that degree-seekers are happy enough with their education to continue the program, while a low rate implies that learners looked elsewhere for learning opportunities. Since 33% of first-year students leave their schools, we consider a retention rate under 67% as low. High retention rates surpass 90%.
- Number of Programs Offered: Schools may offer general management degrees or provide specializations like entrepreneurship or business analytics. These specializations prepare learners for specific careers and increase the value of the program. Additionally, institutions may offer advanced management degrees, like doctorates, or allow students to pursue dual degrees or add-on certificates in areas such as business administration. All of these details can enhance employment opportunities for alumni and elevate a school on our rankings.
- Student-to-Faculty Ratio: Student-to-faculty ratios under 20-to-1 indicate interactive and personal classrooms where enrollees benefit from individual attention from instructors. This detail can encourage learning and help students earn positions after graduation, so we prioritize low ratios on our rankings. However, some learners may favor less personal learning atmospheres and should focus on schools with high ratios.
Subfactors for Student Success
- 20-Year NPV: An investment should increase in value over time. For this reason, we use 20-year NPV statistics to determine the long-reaching benefits of a degree. Higher NPVs indicate a solid program that prepares for ongoing success. Learners should realize, though, that no salary level or career is an automatic result of a degree. For our rankings, only graduation rate influences a school's final score as much as 20-year NPV.
- Graduation Rate: Graduation rate illustrates the percentage of learners who complete a program over a period of time. Often for bachelor's degrees, this time frame involves 4-6 years. Like retention rate, this percentage indicates student satisfaction and can increase the school's ranking. We consider ratings of around 60% as typical, though this expectation may vary by institution type and location. Schools with higher percentages earn the most points for this subfactor.
Subfactors for Online Flexibility
- Percent of Graduate Students Enrolled Partially Online: Partially online enrollment refers to hybrid programs that require some on-campus components. As of fall 2017, over 6 million students took distance education classes, based on an NCES report. This high number of online candidates indicates the value of distance learning.
- Percent of Graduate Students Enrolled Fully Online: Fully online programs allow nonresident learners and working professionals to pursue degrees without traveling to campus. Over 3 million students took exclusively distance education classes in the fall of 2017, which illustrates the value of a school with high fully online enrollment.