With thousands of degree programs out there, an increasing number of higher education institutions are emphasizing affordability as a way to attract financially-minded students. Often, students opt for the most inexpensive program they can find, without taking a holistic account of the quality and value of the school. With this in mind, we at AffordableColleges.com have designed a sophisticated methodology to serve as a reliable indicator of quality, affordability, and student success.
Understanding AffordableColleges.com's Value Score
The AffordableColleges.com Value Score weighs criteria, such as loan default rates, graduation rates, and financial aid data, to draw a distinction between the programs that appear cheap up-front and those that will pay off in the long run. When calculating the rankings, we use the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Run by the US Department of Education, IPEDS offers reliable and accurate insight into affordability, academic pedigree, and online/distance learning programs. Using IPEDS data, we developed a 1-10 rating system which informs the order of our rankings. The closer a school is to a 10, the more value it offers its students. As you browse our rankings, keep in mind that it is almost impossible for a school to hit a perfect 10. It is more important to compare the relative scores of the different schools than to focus on the particular number.
We rank three types of degree programs: associate, bachelor’s, and master’s. Each program type has a unique formula based upon the metrics we outline below, as well as some more specific data points. We can’t give away the secrets of our formulas, but we can tell you we have tweaked each ranking to make sure that you get the most value for your dollar based on the subject matter and the degree level.
Eleven data points comprise the unique rankings algorithm that drives AffordableColleges.com’s value score.
The financial metrics include tuition cost, number of students receiving financial aid, net price, and the loan default rate among graduates. This data is a strong indicator of a school’s overall affordability and is weighed heavily in all of our rankings algorithms.
The published tuition. This will vary from ranking to ranking: in-state, out-of-state, published tuition (private)
Students receiving financial aid
Percentage of all full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who received any financial aid.
Average net price for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates paying the in-state or in-district tuition rate who received Title IV federal student aid – INCOME LEVEL (0-30,000). Title IV federal student aid, includes federal grants or federal student loans.
Average net price is generated by subtracting the average amount of federal, state or local government, or institutional grant and scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance. Total cost of attendance is the sum of published tuition and required fees (lower of in-district or in-state), books and supplies and the weighted average room and board and other expenses.
Public and private schools have two very similar versions of this metric ( private schools don’t use in-state tuition).
Loan default rate
To provide context for the Cohort Default Rate (CDR) data we include enrollment data (students enrolled at any time during the year) and a corresponding percentage (borrowers entering repayment divided by that enrollment figure). While there is no direct relationship between the timing of when a borrower entered repayment (October 1 through September 30) and any particular enrollment year, for the purpose of these data, we have chosen to use the academic year ending on the June 30 prior to the beginning of the cohort year (e.g., FY 2012 CDR Year will use 2010-2011 enrollment).
Students Success Metrics
Student success data, which includes student enrollment rate, full-time retention rate, graduation rate, and student-to-faculty ratio, measures how invested a school is in taking care of its students. This data is crucial in determining how much value students are getting for their money, and helps to differentiate quality, affordable schools from schools that are simply cheap.
Total enrolled divided by total admitted. For schools that have an open admissions policy (and thus divide by 0 here) we give them the average enrollment rate of the cohort.
Full-time retention rate
The full-time retention rate is the percent of the (fall full-time cohort from the prior year minus exclusions from the fall full-time cohort) that re-enrolled at the institution as either full- or part-time in the current year.
The number of students from the adjusted bachelor’s degree-seeking cohort, who completed a bachelor’s degree within 150 percent of normal time (6-years) divided by the adjusted cohort. Note: Adjusted Cohort is the revised cohort minus exclusions as reported by the institution as of 150 percent of normal time (6-years).
This number indicates the amount of personal attention available to students. The lower the student to faculty ratio, the more one-on-one time professors have to spend with a student, and the smaller the class size. More individual attention generally correlates to higher value.
This percentage is calculated by taking the number of students who were accepted to the school and dividing it by the total number of applications. Schools with a lower acceptance rate are often considered to be of higher quality because it shows a high demand for a limited number of spots.
This data shows how many online programs a school offers and the prevalence of online learning there, helping us to determine how much a school has invested in its learning infrastructure.
Number of Programs
This will vary by rankings but this is used as the number of programs offered as per IPEDs. Most frequently this is the number of distance programs offered.
Percentage of students taking at least one online course
We account for the percentage of students taking at least one online course as an indicator of the prevalence of online learning at a school. Online learning offers value to students in the form of flexibility.