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Best Online Colleges for Doctoral Programs Methodology

Eligibility for Ranking

In order to be eligible for these rankings, schools must offer at least three fully online doctoral programs that cover at least two subject areas.

Rankings Methodology

These rankings are based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is the primary government database for the collection and reporting of educational data. NCES data are subject to a meticulous review and quality control procedure before release, so the data available on the NCES website that were used for these rankings do not necessarily represent the most recent school year.

The five NCES data points were collected for all schools offering doctoral programs, and then compared using cumulative distribution functions and a weighted average as follows:

  • Number of full-time faculty members: 16.7%
  • Student-faculty ratio: 25.0%
  • Total research expenditure: 19.4%
  • Percentage of total expenditure dedicated to research: 22.2%
  • Research expenditure per full-time student: 16.7%

The 240 schools that met our eligibility requirements were ranked from highest to lowest based on their weighted average.

Fully Online Status

Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work required was limited to two weeks or less. This allows students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.

Other Data Sources

Tuitions were manually researched and reflect the lowest tuition rate available at the specified degree level. Out-of-state tuitions were used unless in-state tuition is offered to all online students. Figures are accurate at the time of publication; please check with the institution for current tuition rates.

Program data including available degrees, tuition rates, and details about program coursework were collected from official school websites, reflecting data for the 2020-2021 school year. These data were collected in June to August of 2020.

Programmatic accreditation and profit status of schools were collected from official websites of the accreditation agencies or from the NCES. NCES data are updated annually. The NCES does not release data into downloadable formats until they have been approved, so the most current available data will not be for the most recent academic year.