2012 Top Online Colleges

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Overall Rankings | Methodology

According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education, "the thoughtful integration of digital technologies into the traditional scheme of education and their use in developing new ways of learning is necessary to ensure students have the tools to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing technological society." In short, the importance of online education continues to impact the way we learn, work, and grow our careers. However, because learning in this format is still relatively new, it has been difficult for students to accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of online education options.

Our goal is to hold online schools accountable to the same high standards we expect of traditional institutions. This comprehensive ranking system was created in order to help prospective students make informed decisions about how to invest in their education. Our analysis takes many factors into account, including accreditation status, tuition cost, retention and loan default rates as well as student reviews of the colleges themselves.

Overall Rankings

The table presented below shows the overall rank of every school that made the cut. By clicking on the college's name, you will be taken directly to the school's information page to learn more about the institution. To understand more about the data and how we arrived at the score you see in the right hand column, check out the methodology section included below.

Rank College School Type Retention Rate Annual Tuition
#1 #1 Western Governors University School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 75% Annual Tuition $6,070
#2 #2 Iowa Central College School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 51% Annual Tuition $6,585
#3 #3 Abilene Christian University School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 79% Annual Tuition $28,350
#4 #4 Northcentral University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate --- Annual Tuition $14,053
#5 #5 University of the Rockies Online School Type For-Profit Retention Rate --- Annual Tuition Not Provided
#6 #6 Northeastern University School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 96% Annual Tuition $41,686
#7 #7 Liberty University Online School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 69% Annual Tuition $20,768
#8 #8 Western International University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate 18% Annual Tuition $6,000
#9 #9 Saint Leo University Online School Type Non-Profit Retention Rate 69% Annual Tuition $19,920
#10 #10 University of Phoenix School Type For-Profit Retention Rate 39% Annual Tuition $10,063 - $12,400
#11 #11 Grand Canyon University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate 59% Annual Tuition $17,000
#12 #12 Ashford University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate 36% Annual Tuition Not Provided
#13 #13 Capella University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate --- Annual Tuition $12,348
#14 #14 Walden University School Type For-Profit Retention Rate --- Annual Tuition $11,460
#15 #15 Colorado Technical University - Online School Type For-Profit Retention Rate 43% Annual Tuition $10,531

Methodology

The overall purpose of these rankings is to create a standardized and trustworthy method to rank online institutions based on reliable statistics. These ratings will allow potential students to better judge the schools they are considering and make a more educated decision in the end. The statistics used in the online school rankings were gathered from The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This site is the primary governmental entity for gathering and presenting data related to education.

The following criteria were used to rank the schools:

  • Accreditation: Regional accreditation is widely considered to be the most selective and prestigious of all accreditation types. It also serves its students better by allowing them to transfer credits between institutions easily. Therefore, all schools on our list are regionally accredited.
  • Cost of Tuition and Books: The cost of a higher education is a huge factor for many when deciding on an institution. When compiling our online college rankings, we made sure to weigh heavily a school's overall tuition cost.
  • For-Profit vs. Not-For-Profit: By definition, for-profit schools are educational institutions that are run by profit-seeking, private companies. To learn more about for-profit institutions, please see the following website. This metric was not weighted in our calculations for rankings, but is provided in our data tables.
  • Retention Rates: Graduation and retention rates are an excellent indicator of the overall effectiveness of the institution. An online institute with poor retention and graduation rates clearly shows student dissatisfaction with the school.
  • Student Feedback: Student feedback was strongly weighted when ranking schools. We examined all reviews written for institutions on Guide to Online Schools and adjusted rankings based on how students reported feeling about the individual schools and programs.
  • Default Rate: Compiled by the U.S. Government, this metric shows the percentage of students that do not pay back their loans within the allotted time and resort to default. Considering the current economic situation, this statistic is particularly useful.

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Our tuition numbers reflect data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Recommendation rate refers to the percent of students who said they would recommend this school based on reviews submitted to our partner site, GradReports.com.
This indicates that a school has an annual tuition of $15,000 or less as reported to the National Center for Education Statistics or based on the school's website.