Ranking Methodology | AccreditedSchoolsOnline

Updated October 21, 2022 · 5 Min Read

Accredited Schools Online ranks the top schools and programs in the country to help prospective students identify the best fit to achieve their goals and reach their potential. Our rankings only include accredited schools that meet high standards for educational quality.

We use a customized methodology to create our rankings. This methodology considers factors such as affordability, academic quality, and reputation. By analyzing graduation rates, student borrowing, earning potential, and financial aid, our methodology identifies the best value accredited schools. We continually update our ranking methodology with new data to provide the most up-to-date information for prospective students.

This article introduces our data sources, our ranking methodology, and the sub-factors we consider to produce our rankings.

About the Data We Use

Our rankings draw on reliable data sources, including the U.S. Department of Education. For example, we use data from College Scorecard, a government resource that provides data on college costs, loan default rates, and student borrowing. College Scorecard also offers information about graduation rates and employment. Designed to help prospective students make an informed decision about higher education, College Scorecard uses high-quality data. 

We also use information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Part of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS collects data from schools. Every college and university that participates in federal financial aid programs must submit data to IPEDS, including all regionally accredited institutions

IPEDS provides data on enrollment, graduation rates, program completions, and student financial aid. It also lists information about net prices, retention rates, and institutional resources. These data sources allow us to provide accurate information about colleges and universities.

A Breakdown of Our Ranking Methodology

Online Academic Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 20%
Reputation 30%
Program Offerings 20%
On-Campus Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 20%
Reputation 30%
Program Offerings 20%
Best Online Colleges Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 20%
Affordability 20%
Reputation 30%
Program Offerings 5%
Online Enrollment Score 25%
Online Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 10%
Program Offerings 15%
Online Enrollment Score 10%
Online Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 10%
Program Offerings 15%
Online Enrollment Score 10%
On-Campus Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 55%
Reputation 25%
Program Offerings 5%
On-Campus Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 25%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 20%
Program Offerings 5%

About Our Ranking Factors

Our ranking factors focus on what matters to students, such as school quality, affordability, and reputation.

Academic Quality
Academic quality can mean the difference between building career-ready skills or falling behind. This factor evaluates a school's quality by looking at the student-to-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and retention rate.
School Affordability
This factor analyzes affordability in terms of the school's net price, the average amount of grants and scholarships awarded to students, and median student debt after graduation.
School Reputation
A school's reputation matters in the job market. This factor breaks down reputation by analyzing a school's admission rate and enrollment rate. In addition to selectivity, this factor considers the average earnings for graduates.
Program Offerings
This factor looks at the percentage of programs offered at a particular degree level and the number of students enrolled in online courses or programs. Our methodology only weighs a school's online options when ranking online programs.

Subfactors for Academic Quality

Graduation Rate

A high graduation rate indicates that an institution offers the support students need to graduate. A low graduation rate could indicate that an institution does not adequately support students throughout their program. A low graduation rate also puts schools at risk of losing their accreditation.

Retention Rate

A school's retention rate measures the percentage of full-time freshmen who return to the institution for their second year. A high retention rate indicates that an institution offers the quality and support services needed to retain students. A low retention rate could reveal a school that does not offer useful student services or strong academic quality.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio

The student-to-faculty ratio measures the number of students at the institution compared to the number of faculty members. Typically, a lower student-to-faculty ratio indicates smaller class sizes and more personal attention from instructors. A large student-to-faculty ratio can mean fewer opportunities for mentorship and instructor interaction.

Proportion of Full-Time Faculty Ratio

This subfactor looks at a school's number of full-time and part-time faculty, including adjuncts, to assess academic quality. Generally, a larger number of full-time faculty indicates a greater investment in educational quality. A higher proportion of part-time faculty can mean challenges for students.

Subfactors for Affordability

Average Net Price For Students Awarded Financial Aid

When evaluating affordability, many prospective students look at tuition rates. However, the net price -- or the cost after factoring in financial aid -- is typically less than the posted tuition rate. This subfactor looks at how much students spend on their degree after receiving financial aid.

Average Loan Default Rate

A program's loan default rate measures how many graduates were able to repay their loans after completing the program. A high loan default rate indicates that many graduates were unable to repay their loans, which often points to a lack of employment opportunities. A low loan default rate indicates strong job prospects after graduation. Our methodology factors in the loan default rate as a measure of a degree's affordability and its ability to prepare graduates for the workforce.

Percent of Undergraduate Students Awarded Federal Student Loans

This subfactor, which evaluates the percentage of students who receive federal loans, considers whether students pay for their degree with loans or other sources. A high percentage could indicate a more expensive institution.

Average Amount of Federal Student Loans Awarded to Undergraduate Students

A large number of undergraduates rely on federal student loans to pay for their degree. This subfactor looks at the average amount of federal loans awarded to degree-seekers. A high number may indicate a more expensive school where many students rely on loans to cover their costs.

Percent of Full-Time First-Time Undergraduates Awarded Any Financial Aid

This subfactor looks at the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates who receive scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid. A high percentage indicates a school with a strong record of securing financial aid for students.

Average Amount of Grant and Scholarship Aid Awarded

Our methodology considers the average amount of grants and scholarships awarded to students at the school. This subfactor only looks at aid that recipients do not need to repay. A high amount of grant and scholarship aid can indicate a more affordable program.

Median Debt for Students

This subfactor analyzes the median debt for students six years after enrolling in the institution. A high median debt indicates a less affordable program, while a low median debt indicates students can pay for their degree without taking on as much debt.

Subfactors for Reputation

Admission Rate

The admission rate indicates an institution's selectivity. A low admission rate typically correlates with a stronger reputation. The admission rate also correlates with the future earnings for graduates, making it an important subfactor for rankings.

Enrollment Rate

This subfactor looks at the number of admitted students who decide to enroll in the program. A high enrollment rate indicates a desirable program that admitted students want to attend, while a low enrollment rate indicates that admitted students choose to attend different schools. The enrollment rate thus offers a measure of the school's desirability and reputation.

Average Earnings of Students Working

Many students pursue a degree to increase their earnings. This subfactor analyzes the average earnings of students six years after enrolling in the program. Higher average earnings indicate that graduates from the school successfully transitioned into the workforce.

Subfactors for Program Offerings

Percentage of Degrees Offered

Some institutions focus on undergraduate degrees, while others invest heavily in graduate programs. This subfactor looks at the percent of degrees offered at a particular level, such as associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, or master's degrees. This number indicates a school's reputation for offering programs at a particular degree level.

Percent of Students Enrolled in Online (Degree Level) Programs*

This subfactor evaluates the school's support and options for fully online programs.

*We only consider the percent of students enrolled in online degree-granting programs for our online program rankings, not our on-campus rankings.

Overall Online Enrollment*

A high percentage of online learners indicates a strong investment in online education, while a low percentage may indicate the institution largely focuses on on-campus programs.

*We only include overall online enrollment as a subfactor when evaluating online programs, not on-campus programs.

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