Ranking Online Colleges – 2014: Methodologies

AffordableCollegesOnline.org (AC Online) strives to provide valuable content with accurate data. To facilitate this goal, we use the following respected data sources:

  • NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It provides consistent, reliable, complete, and accurate indicators of education status and trends.
  • IPEDS is the primary federal source for data on colleges, universities, and technical and vocational post-secondary schools in the U.S.
  • Carnegie Classification is a framework widely used in the study of higher education, both as a way to represent and control for institutional differences, and also in the design of research studies to ensure adequate representation of sampled institutions, students, or faculty.
  • PayScale.com is a leading provider of career-related data on a national, state, local, and individual basis. PayScale’s team of statisticians continually refines data collection methods to maximize accuracy and integrity.

Below you’ll find details on our individual ranking list criteria.

Affordable Colleges with High ROI list – Methodology Details

For the AC Online Affordable Colleges with High ROI list, we took several factors into account, leveraging our breadth of data source mentioned above:

  • 4-Year In-State Tuition less than $40,000. This is important as it provides a cost of education which is significantly lower than the average cost of a quality 4-year education
  • Public and Private schools included
  • Non-profit (For-profit schools excluded)
  • 4 year school, degree granting
  • Fully accredited institution
  • 30 Year Net ROI: This data point leverages Payscale.com survey data, published on an annual basis
  • Location: United States

The top 50 colleges and universities were selected from 875 schools meeting the above criteria. To see the AC Online’s Affordable High ROI schools, click here.

Million-Dollar ROI Lists – Methodology Details:

Both exclusive million-dollar ROI lists took several factors into account, using data from our trusted sources and partners. Criteria for each list included the following:

Subject ROI Ranking – Methodology Details:

All subject-specific ROI lists took several factors into account. The criteria for the political science list include the following:

  • Total weighted cost (provided by IPEDS)
  • 30-year Net ROI (provided by PayScale.com)
  • 4-year degree-granting institution
  • Fully accredited institution
  • Private, for-profit institutions excluded

To see the subject-specific ROI rankings, please click below:
English Humanities

High ROI Colleges by State – Methodology Details

The High ROI by State lists took a variety of important factors into account, including education and income related data from highly reliable sources. Criteria for each list included the following:

  • Public colleges and universities (Carnegie classified)
  • Private colleges and universities (Carnegie classified)
  • Four-year, degree-granting institutions only
  • Fully-accredited colleges and universities only
  • ROI according to PayScale’s 2013 College Value Report
  • “Tuition” = tuition + fees
  • U.S. colleges only

To see state specific rankings, please select your state in the “State” drop down navigation menu.

Calculating ROI for Our Lists

How is the ROI calculated? (The simple version)
Simply, the ROI is the incremental lifetime earnings of a political science major as a result of earning a college degree minus the cost of the education.

Incremental lifetime earnings is the amount of salary earned by a graduate over a 30 year period over and above the amount earned by the average worker with a high school diploma.

The total cost of education includes tuition and fees, room and board, and supplies and fees. Total cost also factors in time to graduates. For example if the average time to graduation for a college is 4.5 years, then the total cost includes 4.5 years of the expenses.

ROI calculation for demonstration purposes
Incremental Lifetime Earnings (Discounted): $1,000,000
Total Cost of Education: $200,000
Return on Investment: $800,000

How often is the state ROI ranking released?
This information is released on an annual basis.

Can you tell me about Affordable Colleges Online?
College is becoming more expensive and student debt is ballooning. Affordable Colleges Online provides information to help future students and parents find a more affordable college education.

We aim to educate so that potential students are aware of their options for obtaining a degree and, most importantly, for paying for one. What are the most affordable and highest return on investment options – online study, two-year, four-year, public or private colleges? What financial aid options are available and what pitfalls should you avoid? We keep our finger on the pulse of college-related issues, the latest research, how the government is responding, and help you analyze your options.

Can you share the specific details for how ROI is calculated? (For the Finance Geeks)
For more information see the link here. PayScale did a great job documenting the specific details.

MBA Rankings – Methodology details

The 30 schools on our list had to meet very specific criteria. These three main deciding factors were weighted equally:

  • Faculty quality – great education starts with great teachers
  • Student engagement – including graduation rates, class size, and time to degree
  • Admissions selectivity – including GPA, letters of recommendation, and GMAT scores

In addition to ranking well on these criteria, to even be considered a school must also meet these requirements:

  • Must be AACSB accredited
  • Public schools only
  • Must rank within the top 70 of US News’s list of the best online MBA programs

You can see AC Online’s MBA Rankings here.

Affordable Colleges – Methodology Details:

All colleges, universities, and online programs included in AC Online’s Affordable Colleges Rankings List passed the following criteria:

  • Public colleges (Carnegie classified), or
  • Private, non-profit colleges (Carnegie classified)
  • Offered at least one degree program fully online
  • 4-year degree-granting, full accreditation
  • Net price below $15,000
  • U.S. colleges only

Affordable College Degree by State – Methodology details:

AC Online ranked the most affordable colleges in each state. Each school had to pass the following criteria:

  • Public colleges (Carnegie classified), or
  • Offered at least one degree program fully online
  • 4-year degree-granting
  • Full accreditation
  • U.S. colleges only
  • Tuition at or below $15,000

Obama Value Colleges – Methodology Details:

To isolate the 100 colleges we thought had the best chance to land on the president’s upcoming scorecard, we started with a series of general criteria:

  • Full accreditation
  • 4-year degrees offered
  • Public colleges and universities

We then dove into more detailed value metrics, giving colleges a score in each respective category. The % weight applied to each category has been included, as well:

  • Net price (tuition + fees) – (grant + scholarship money per student) – 20%
  • Student loan default rate (from studentaid.gov) – 22%
  • Graduation rate (4-year) – 22%
  • Graduation rate (6-year) – 8%
  • Student services breadth and depth – 3%
  • Starting salaries for graduates (PayScale.com) – 25%

Cheap Online Colleges with Quality Programs – 2014

Cheap Online Colleges with Quality Programs focuses on colleges and universities that hit specific online program cost and quality standards. For example, some colleges have low tuition and fees, but fail to measure up in the classroom. Or, they have clear academic prowess but cost an arm and a leg. This list aims to find the best of both worlds. Here’s a more detailed look at the criteria:

  • Online program tuition & fees < $500 per credit
  • 6-year graduation rate > 50%
  • Undergraduate aid rate > 30%
  • Full regional accreditation of all campus and online programs
  • Academic counseling for students
  • Job placement services for graduates

To see the Cheapest Online Colleges rankings, please click here.

40 Top Online Community Colleges for 2014 – 2015

The 40 Top Online Community Colleges for 2014 – 2015 identifies two-year institutions across the country with the best combination of online learning and affordability. While many junior and community colleges have low-cost tuition, few currently have full collections of online programs and courses for students to choose. Therefore, it’s important to recognize the schools making the effort to give their communities the best of both worlds. Criteria for the list include:

  • Annual tuition & fees < $3,000
  • Full accreditation by a regional agency
  • At least 10 full online degree programs

To see the Online Community College rankings, please click here.