Best Online Colleges Methodology

For each school’s program-specific salary and debt, we calculated a 10-year return on investment (ROI) and compared it against the ROI of similar programs. Salary (from one year after graduation) was multiplied by 129.5%, based on PayScale’s research on salary growth, to approximate growth for 10 years. Debt was assumed to be paid over 10 years with the current interest rate for federal loans, 4.53%. For each school program, we calculated a z-score comparing its 10-year ROI with the average 10-year ROI for all other programs in the same field. The z-scores for the programs that are offered online at each school were averaged and schools were ranked from highest to lowest on this average z-score. Programs that did not meet our requirements (see below) were excluded from our rankings.

To be considered for our Best Online Colleges lists, schools needed to meet the following requirements:

  • Associate list: have salary data available for at least two fully online degrees at the associate level with programs that cover at least two subject areas (204 schools met these criteria)
  • Bachelor's list: have salary data available for at least three fully online degrees at the bachelor’s level with programs that cover at least three subject areas (325 schools met these criteria)
  • Master’s list: have salary data available for at least three fully online degrees at the master’s level with programs that cover at least three subject areas (217 schools met these criteria)

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. Median salaries and mean debts were provided by College Scorecard; the median and mean were computed at a program-level within each school.