online degree ranking methodology

Our online degree program rankings utilize data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) - the primary entity in the collection of U.S. education data. We then merge these statistics with expert analyses of each program, focusing on the relevance and marketplace demand of the skills you will learn as they relate to the featured discipline. This annual process lets us provide a unique and valuable look at the best degree programs in the IT space.

All rankings are impartial, i.e., schools cannot purchase a spot on these lists or influence rankings in any way.

Minimum Requirements

To be considered for our best online program lists, the school offering the program must be an accredited public or private institution of higher learning, and provide annual data to the NCES. The school also must offer at least one online program in the featured subject and degree level.

Score Calculation

From this selection pool, we use a proprietary 100-point scale to determine the best online degrees. Here’s a closer look at the factors used to score each program:

  1. Degree Program Relevance (30%)

    Data in this section is generated by our experts’ analysis of each program’s curriculum, the school’s complete degree offerings, and the official course catalog.

    Breakdown of Degree Program Relevance Score Max Pts
    Current and projected workforce demand for skills learned in the program 20
    Variety and relevance of electives that can be used to strengthen the degree 5
    Breadth and quality of related degrees at the school to support this one, including programs at both the same degree level as well as other levels 5
  2. Student Engagement (25%)

    These institutional data points are provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

    Breakdown of Student Engagement Score Max Pts
    Graduation Rate 12
    Retention Rate 7
    Student-to-Faculty Ratio 6
  3. Affordability (20%)

    The affordability score consists of the program's advertised tuition (credits to complete the degree multiplied by the program's cost per credit, plus additional fees), the average net price (after financial aid, grants and scholarships) for degrees from that school according to the NCES, and the most recent loan default rate from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

    Breakdown of Affordability Score Max Pts
    Advertised Program Cost 10
    Average Net Price 6
    Loan Default Rate 4
  4. Convenience & Flexibility (15%)

    All programs in our best online degrees are available as distance learning; the convenience score measures additional factors that make learning more accessible and customizable.

    Breakdown of Convenience Score Max Pts
    Self-Paced Study Option 5
    Accelerated Option 5
    Campus Option 3
    Hybrid Option 2
  5. Bonus Points / X-Factors (10%)

    The X-factor score lets our tech insiders and editors give up to 10 bonus points for features that make the program and/or school stand out from the competition. This could be anything from relevant awards to the school and faculty, unique externship/internship opportunities, strategic partnerships with leading certification vendors, a comprehensive transfer program that awards course credit for real-world experience and more.

    Breakdown of X-Factors Score Max Pts
    X-Factors 10

Questions and Suggestions

We understand that a lot goes into planning your education, which is why we created this comprehensive system. That said, this ranking is one of many tools you should employ to choose your ideal degree program.

If you have any questions or feedback regarding our rankings, please reach out through our contact form.