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How We Rank Schools

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One of the biggest challenges students face is funding their education. That makes choosing a school that offers a lot of value essential. At Best Value Schools, we save you time and money by gathering, condensing, and converting large amounts of education data into user-friendly guides to help you make that choice. 

We use five factors to calculate our rankings at Best Value Schools — academic quality, affordability, reputation, program offerings, and online enrollment score. Each factor utilizes several metrics like tuition and financial aid rates, prestige, student-to-faculty ratio, enrollment rates, and average student debt to measure educational impact.

Academic Quality
We measure academic quality using data such as full-time faculty percentage and student-to-faculty ratio. Higher-quality academic institutions often hire more full-time faculty, rather than part-time adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants. Additional quality indicators include outcome-based institutional performance measures such as student retention and graduation rates.
School Affordability
This rankings factor integrates financial data like tuition rates, median student debt, and various financial aid statistics. Low net tuition, median student debt, and loan default rates often signify an affordable educational investment.
School Reputation
This measure includes admission and enrollment rates, which highlight what percentages of applicants gain admission and choose to enroll. Top schools often feature low admission and high enrollment rates. The Best Value Schools methodology also factors in graduate income, which tends to be higher for alumni of prestigious schools.
Program Offerings
Good online schools often feature more program options, so we consider the diversity of program offerings and online enrollment rates when calculating affordability rankings. Schools that invest time and energy into their online programming typically offer more programs and resources for online learners.

About the Data We Use

When creating Best Value Schools rankings and online resources, we analyze data provided by unbiased Department of Education resources, including the College Scorecard and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

College Scorecard is a U.S. Department of Education service that creates school and program profiles that prospective students can use in making educational decisions. These institutional profiles present information on schools’ graduation rates. employment rates, annual cost, average student loan amounts, and loan default rates. The Scorecard also analyzes school performance by field of study, citing graduation rates and graduate income information drawn from institutional and federal financial reports.

IPEDS operates through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an arm of the ED’s Institute of Education Sciences. Drawing on aggregated survey data gathered by postsecondary educational institution departments, IPEDS offers institutional information regarding graduation rates, financing, and student outcomes.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Online Undergraduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 25%
Affordability 35%
Reputation 15%
Program Offerings 10%
Online Enrollment Score 15%
Online Graduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 20%
Affordability 35%
Reputation 20%
Program Offerings 10%
Online Enrollment Score 15%
On-Campus Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 40%
Reputation 15%
Program Offerings 15%
Best Online Colleges Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 20%
Affordability 35%
Reputation 20%
Online Enrollment Score 25%
Best On-Campus Colleges Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 40%
Reputation 30%
Online Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 10%
Affordability 60%
Reputation 10%
Program Offerings 10%
Online Enrollment Score 10%
Online Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 60%
Reputation 15%
Online Enrollment Score 10%
On-Campus Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 10%
Affordability 65%
Reputation 12%
Program Offerings 13%
On-Campus Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 10%
Affordability 65%
Reputation 12%
Program Offerings 13%

Subfactors for Academic Quality


  • Graduation Rate

    This statistic measures the percentage of students who graduate in six years or less. High graduation rates often correlate with school prestige and with effective student support resources. More elite schools also improve graduation rates by admitting high-performing students. However, affordability may positively influence graduation rates, since some students drop out of college due to financial constraints.


  • Retention Rate

    The percentage of a school’s freshmen who return for sophomore year, the retention rate serves as a common measure of student satisfaction levels. BestValueSchools.org only considers retention rates for full-time students. Diverse factors including school resources, curricula, and cost may influence retention rates.


  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio

    Many smaller schools feature low student-to-faculty ratios, which contribute to more intimate and supportive learning environments. Professors with fewer students and courses often have more time to provide feedback and mentorship. Consequently, lower student-to-faculty ratios improve the academic quality rankings of a school or program.


  • Proportion of Full-Time Faculty Ratio

    Schools with a high percentage of full-time faculty often yield more cohesive and supportive educational experiences. While part-time adjunct professors often must teach courses at multiple schools, full-time faculty can focus their time and energy at one school. This focused energy often translates into greater involvement in various school programs and activities. Therefore, full-time faculty often help connect learners to the diverse opportunities their schools may offer.


Subfactors for Affordability


  • Average Net Price for Students Awarded Financial Aid

    Average net price indicates the average tuition paid by students who qualify for and receive financial aid. High-quality, high-tuition schools often provide generous financial aid to needy students. Therefore, net price provides a more accurate sense of a school’s affordability than its tuition figures alone.


  • Average Loan Default Rate

    Loan default occurs when graduates fail to make their student loan payments. Schools with lower average loan default rates often report more successful graduates, since these individuals secure employment and pay their loans on time. Alternatively, high loan default rates may correlate with underemployed graduates.


  • Percent of Undergraduate Students Awarded Federal Student Loans

    Schools with high percentages of federal loan recipients may charge high tuition rates, requiring greater dependence on loans. However, this figure can also indicate that the school serves many less-privileged learners. Several high-quality, nonprofit schools try to make education financially accessible, so a high percentage in this category may indicate affordability.


  • Average Amount of Federal Student Loans Awarded to Undergraduate Students

    This statistic communicates the average loan amount that an undergraduate enrollee at a given school receives from the federal government. Higher average loan amounts can signify expensive tuition or supportive financial aid access policies. Since federal loans offer more affordable interest rates, high federal loan averages can increase a school’s overall affordability ranking.


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

    This statistic includes both federal financial aid and school-level financial aid awards. A high percentage in this category suggests better financial aid prospects for applicants. Academic institutions with high endowments or federal funding can afford to offer better financial aid packages to students, so a high percentage of financial aid recipients often improves a school’s affordability rank.


  • Average Amount of Grant and Scholarship Aid Awarded

    Well-funded schools can afford to offer more grant and scholarship money to students. Since grants and scholarships do not require repayment, schools that award ample funding prove more affordable for students needing aid. Excluding federal loans, which require eventual repayment, this financial aid measure heavily influences affordability rankings.


  • Median Debt for Students

    This figure measures the median amount graduates owe in student loans and bills six years after entering the school. This important number gives our rankings team a holistic sense of a school’s affordability because median debt incorporates several affordability factors, including financial aid and tuition.


Subfactors for Reputation


  • Admission Rates

    Admission rate indicates the percentage of applicants that a school accepts in a given year. Schools with more selective admissions (lower admission rates) usually enjoy greater academic prestige. Prestigious schools also typically feature larger enrollment rates and higher earnings among working students.


  • Enrollment Rate

    This statistic communicates the percentage of admitted students who end up enrolling at a given institution. High-quality, desirable schools stand a greater chance of being a student’s top choice, so these schools often feature higher enrollment rates. High enrollment rates improve a school’s overall reputation.


  • Average Earnings of Students Working

    When assessing a school’s reputation, BestValueSchools.org also calculates working students’ and graduates’ income six years after first enrolling. Average earnings figures help our school rankers determine to what extent a school’s degrees produce graduates competitive in the job market.


Subfactors for Program Offerings


  • Percentage of Degrees Offered

    Often a ranking factor for online programs, this percentage highlights the robustness and quality of a school’s online offerings. Schools with well-established, successful distance learning programs often feature more online degree offerings and therefore score higher in our ranking system.


  • Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Programs*

    Another strong indicator of online-education quality, high percentages of online degree enrollees indicate popular, effective online schooling. High online degree enrollment also supports networking and often results from effective online program design and teaching.

    *We only consider the percent of students enrolled in online programs for online program rankings, not campus rankings.


  • Overall Online Enrollment*

    Measuring the portion of learners taking at least one online course, this rate includes online learners who also attend classes on campus. Like the percent of online degree enrollees, this percentage usually correlates with diverse and high-quality online education offerings.

    *We only consider online enrollment as a subfactor for our online program rankings, not campus rankings.


Danika Miller picture

Danika Miller

Danika Miller is a senior writer at Best Value Schools. She graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in creative writing. Danika has since specialized in education and finance writing as a reporter at Affordable Colleges Online, The Simple Dollar, Her Campus, CreditCards.com, Reviews.com, and elsewhere.

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