To be considered for our 2015 Top Online Degrees, colleges needed to meet the following requirements:
- Non-profit status
- Regional accreditation
- Offer fully online degrees
Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work was limited enough to reasonably allow students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.
As programmatic accreditation indicates that a degree meets rigorous academic standards and will prepare graduates for a career in the field, we also required this for each degree subject, specifically:
- AACSB for Accounting and MBA
- ABET for Engineering and Computer Science
- NCATE for Education
- CCNE or ACEN for Nursing
- CSWE for Social Work
After meeting these requirements, the colleges were then ordered using a proprietary formula that considers the strength of the student body, the desirability of the school, and other prestige and quality factors, including:
- Acceptance rates
- Enrollment rates
- Entrance exam scores
These ranking factors measure the competitiveness of a school, which correlates strongly with success after graduation (employability, starting salary, and admission to graduate school).
To be considered for our accounting list, schools must offer at least one bachelor's degree or higher in accounting. Schools were then ordered based on CPA pass rate. The Certified Public Accountant Exam is required to become a licensed accountant, and pass rates were reported by The NASBA Report.
Available degrees, program data, and tuition rates were gathered from the official school websites and reflect the most recently available school year data. All annual tuition costs are based on the rate for an online bachelor’s degree when available, and in all other cases, the annual master’s rate was used. Accreditation and non-profit status were collected using the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics or from the official websites of the accreditation agencies.