What Makes a Good Online College?

Our goal at OnlineColleges.com is to help every visitor find the online college that’s best for them. That means that we don’t just pick one “best” college and call it a day. We create many different rankings that look at online colleges in many different ways. This way, students with various interests or goals have multiple ways to find schools that might meet their needs. However, across our rankings, we always keep in mind the following factors.

What Data Is Used for Our Rankings?

We use data from government agencies and other nationally recognized, primary sources. We make sure that our data analysis relies on a sound methodology. We don’t make any claims that that are not backed up by actual data. Our favorite data sources include the following:

OnlineColleges.com Best Online Colleges Methodologies

Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "Four or more years" or "At least 2 but less than 4 years"
  • Data is reported for all 11 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section
  • At least 1 percent of students are taking at least some of the classes via distance education
  • "Number of programs offered via distance education" was an integer greater than 0

We ranked the resulting 1,813 colleges on 11 criteria, using provisional 2017-18 data from IPEDS:

  1. Number of programs offered via distance education
  2. Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  5. Graduation rate
  6. Retention rate
  7. The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Guaranteed, Other)
  8. Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  9. Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  10. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  11. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

NOTE: Schools' tuition amounts are based on 2017-18 undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.

OnlineColleges.com State Page Methodologies

Using IPEDS, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "Four or more years" or "At least 2 but less than 4 years"
  • Data is reported for all 11 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section
  • At least 1 percent of students are taking at least some of the classes via distance education
  • "Number of programs offered via distance education" was an integer greater than 0

We ranked the resulting 1,813 colleges on 11 criteria, using provisional 2017-18 data from IPEDS:

  • Number of programs offered via distance education
  • Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate
  • The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Guaranteed, Other)
  • Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  • Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  • Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  • Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

Using IPEDS, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "Four or more years" or "At least 2 but less than 4 years"
  • Data is reported for all 11 ranking variables used for the “Best” ranking
  • At least 5 percent of students are taking at least some of the classes via distance education
  • Number of programs offered via distance education" was an integer greater than 5

We sorted the resulting 1,813 colleges based on “Level of Institution,” separating the two-year schools from the four-year schools, and then ranked them in order of lowest in-state tuition costs as reported to IPEDS.

Using 2019 data gathered from the BLS, we generated a list of industries in the state, which we then ranked according to four criteria:

  • Annual Mean Wage
  • Employment
  • Projected employment growth
  • Location quotient, a measurement of the prevalence of an occupation in a specific area

All industries were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

Using 2019 data gathered from the BLS, we generated a list of careers for each metro area in the state. All careers on the list had to meet the following criteria:

  • Minimum Education of “Some postsecondary education” or higher

We ranked each resulting list of careers according to four criteria:

  • Annual mean wage
  • Employment
  • Projected employment growth
  • Location quotient, a measurement of the prevalence of an occupation in a specific area

All careers were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

OnlineColleges.com Degree-Level Methodologies

Using IPEDS, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate at the respective degree level in 2016-17
  • All schools are institutionally accredited
  • Have reported data for all 11 ranking variables listed below

We ranked the resulting colleges on 11 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS:

  • Number of programs at this degree level offered via distance education
  • Degree prominence, based on how many of the degrees awarded in 2016-17 were at this particular degree level
  • Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in DE to total enrollment
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate
  • The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, Other)
  • Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  • Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  • Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  • Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

Using IPEDS, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate at the respective degree level in 2016-17
  • All schools are institutionally accredited
  • Have reported data for all 11 ranking variables used for the “Best” ranking

We then ranked the resulting colleges in order of lowest in-state tuition costs as reported to IPEDS.

OnlineColleges.com Program Page Methodologies

In order to be considered for our rankings, each school had to meet the following criteria:

  • Offer at least one degree or certificate program in the subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the 2016-17 school year
  • Have reported data for all ranking variables listed below

We ranked the resulting colleges on 13 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS or College Scorecard.

  • Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-17 were in this particular subjec
  • Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  • Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  • The availability of resource services (Academic/ Career Counseling, Employment, or Placement)
  • The availability of credit for life experience
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • The availability of tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, or Other)
  • Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  • Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  • Typical total debt after graduation
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate
  • Number of Students working within X years after entry

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

In order to be considered for our rankings, each school had to meet the following criteria:

  • Offer at least one degree or certificate program in the subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the 2016-17 school year
  • Have reported data for all ranking variables listed below

We ranked the resulting colleges by average in-state undergraduate tuition as reported by IPEDS, from lowest to highest.

"Best Undergraduate Online Colleges for [Program] in 2019-20" Ranking Methodology

In order to be considered for our rankings, each school had to meet the following criteria:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format, at the associate, bachelor’s, or undergraduate certificate level
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2016-17 at the associate, bachelor’s, or undergraduate certificate level
  • Have reported data for all 13 ranking variables listed below

We ranked the resulting colleges on 13 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS or College Scorecard.

  • Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-17 were in this particular subject
  • Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  • Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  • The availability of resource services (Academic/ Career Counseling, Employment, or Placement)
  • The availability of credit for life experience
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • The availability of tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, or Other)
  • Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  • Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  • Typical total debt after graduation
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate
  • Number of Students working within X years after entry

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

In order to be considered for our rankings, each school had to meet the following criteria:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format, at the master’s, doctoral, postbaccalaureate certificate, or post-master’s certificate level
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2016-17 at the master’s, doctoral, postbaccalaureate certificate, or post-master’s certificate level
  • Have reported data for all seven ranking variables listed below

We ranked the resulting colleges on 13 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS.Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-17 were in this particular subject

  • Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  • Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  • The availability of resource services (Academic/ Career Counseling, Employment, or Placement)
  • The availability of credit for life experience
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • The availability of tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, or Other)

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

Using IPEDS, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following four criteria for the specific subject being ranked:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2016-17
  • Have reported data for all 11 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 1,813 colleges and universities in the United States on 11 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS:

  • Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-17 were in this particular subject
  • Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  • Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  • Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  • Graduation rate
  • Retention rate
  • The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, Other)
  • Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  • Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  • Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  • Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

NOTE: Schools' tuition amounts are based on undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.

For additional information about any of our methodologies, contact us.

Sources