Rankings Methodology

For the 2016 rankings, OnlineColleges.net has greatly refined its approach to evaluating schools and their respective programs. Our team has spent hundreds of hours reviewing the institutions of higher learning in every state, and collecting the data points from each school that we consider to be the greatest indicators of a quality education.

Our innovative method of assessing schools is what makes our rankings so distinctly authoritative. Based on what matters most to students, we determined how to capture an accurate picture of the best online schools. In the end, it came down to quality of online education, financial burden, and academic rigor.

With all this data amassed, we then applied our custom formula to rank the schools. This formula assigns a percentile value to each variable and then, taking the school’s cumulative performance, ranks every institution in a given category. The end result is an accurate and organized list of the standout schools for 2016.

Best Online Schools by State

Key factors used in our rankings:

  • Academic quality makes up 50% of a school’s overall score. In general, more academically rigorous institutions are more competitive, meaning they also have a lower admissions rate. Similarly, the higher the graduation rate at a school, the better it prepares its students to succeed in and out of college.
    • Admissions Rate – 50%
    • Graduation Rate – 50%
  • Online offerings make up 30% of a school’s overall score. As more colleges add online offerings, those with a longer history of success in online education earned a higher score. Schools that have a larger percentage of students enrolled in online programs as compared to overall student population also ranked higher.
    • The Number of Online Programs – 50%
    • The Percent of Undergraduates Taking Online Courses – 50%
  • Cost and student aid support make up 20% of a school’s overall score. Attending college can place a major financial burden on students and their families, and it’s important to prospective students that they get a good return on their investment. Those colleges that had a lower average net price ranked higher, while a high student loan default rate lowered a school’s overall score.
    • Average Net Price – 50%
    • Loan Default Rate – 50%
  • Academic Quality + Online Offerings + Cost and Student Aid = Final Score

Most Affordable Online Colleges by State

For many students, affordability is the primary concern in choosing a college. To present a clear and simple list of the most affordable online colleges in each state, we used the following methodology:

  • Our list of the most affordable online colleges is based on in-state yearly tuition, or annual tuition rates if a school does not differentiate between in-state and out-of-state students.
  • Tuition rates are based on a full course load each semester or term.
  • All colleges on the list offer at least one degree completion program available entirely online.
  • Best Online Associate Degree Programs

    Key factors used in our rankings:

    • Academic quality makes up 50% of a school’s overall score. A higher retention rate means that a school is keeping its students engaged and driving them toward graduation rate, another indicator of quality academics. A higher number of students majoring in a particular subject indicates a desirable, successful program at each ranked institution.
      • Full-Time Retention Rate – 20%
      • Graduation Rate – 45%
      • The Number of Students Majoring in Subject – 35%
    • Online offerings make up 30% of a school’s overall score. As more colleges add online offerings, those with a longer history of success in online education earned a higher score. Schools that have a larger percentage of students enrolled in online programs as compared to overall student population also ranked higher.
      • The Number of Online Programs – 50%
      • The Percentage of Undergraduates Taking Online Courses – 50%
    • Cost and student aid support make up 20% of a school’s overall score. Attending college can place a major financial burden on students and their families, and it’s important to prospective students that they get a good return on their investment. Those colleges that had a lower average net price ranked higher, while a high student loan default rate lowered a school’s overall score.
      • Average Net Price – 80%
      • Loan Default Rate – 20%
    • Academic Quality + Online Offerings + Cost and Student Aid = Final Score

    Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs

    Key factors used in our rankings:

    • Academic quality makes up 50% of a school’s overall score. A bachelor’s degree has become the expectation among many employers, and attending a school with exemplary academics are a way for recent graduates to set themselves apart. A lower admissions rate, and higher graduation rate, indicates that more students seek to attend a school, and go on to graduate if they do. First major is a measure of the number of students majoring in the ranked subject. More students majoring in a subject is a good indicator of the strength of the program.
      • Admission Rate – 30%
      • Graduation Rate – 40%
      • First Major – 30%
    • Online offerings make up 30% of a school’s overall score. As more colleges add online offerings, those with a longer history of success in online education earned a higher score. Schools that have a larger percentage of students enrolled in online programs as compared to overall student population also ranked higher.
      • The Number of Online Programs – 50%
      • The Percent of Undergraduates Taking Online Courses – 50%
    • Cost and student aid support make up 20% of a school’s overall score. Attending college can place a major financial burden on students and their families, and it’s important to prospective students that they get a good return on their investment. Those colleges that had a lower average net price ranked higher, while a high student loan default rate lowered a school’s overall score.
      • Average Net Price – 50%
      • Loan Default Rate – 50%
    • Academic Quality + Online Offerings + Cost and Student Aid = Final Score

    Best Online Master’s Degree Programs

    Key factors used in our rankings:

    • Academic quality makes up 45% of a school’s overall score. A lower admissions rate indicates a more competitive school, and likely more rigorous academics. A high enrollment rate shows that students are accepted to a school choose to go there, meaning it was likely a top choice. Higher graduation rates increased a school’s ranking, as it provides the academic support students need to succeed. A high number of students majoring in the ranked subject likely indicates that school puts more resources behind that particular program.
      • Admission Rate – 25%
      • Enrollment Rate – 20%
      • Graduation Rate – 15%
      • First Majors – 40%
    • Online offerings make up 35% of a school’s overall score. A strong online presence shows expertise in distance education. The number of online programs measures experience and breadth of a school’s offerings, while graduate enrollment in online programs shows that students believe in the quality of online education at that school. Likewise, a higher percentage of programs offered at the master’s level indicates an established post-graduate program.
      • Online Programs – 40%
      • Graduate Enrollment – 40%
      • Percentage of Programs Offered at the Master’s Level – 20%
    • Cost and student aid support make up 20% of a school’s overall score. Attending college can place a major financial burden on students and their families, and it’s important to prospective students that they get a good return on their investment. Those colleges that had a lower average net price ranked higher, while a high student loan default rate lowered a school’s overall score.
      • Average Net Price – 50%
      • Loan Default Rate – 50%
    • Academic Quality + Online Offerings + Cost and Student Aid = Final Score