Do Rankings Really Matter When You Shop For The Best Online Programs?

Create your own "Best" programs rankings

Are you currently searching the web for best online programs in your field of interest? We collect a significant amount of data from online program websites to share for free with prospective students. And we COULD develop a proprietary algorithm to create a variety of “best” rankings of online degree programs. But we think that there are already too many of these nonsensical rankings sources. It’s truly unfortunate that most are taken seriously as a way to evaluate the quality of  online programs.

What thoughtful person isn’t curious about online degree programs that are, allegedly, the Most Affordable or the Best? But, be careful. Researching online program options is an overwhelming task as thousands of programs are now online. This could lead you to find short-cuts to select your best online programs based only on a few web-based sources that bill themselves as “authoritative”.

You ultimately OWN your purchase decision when you take shortcuts to pick an online degree. Why would you rely on marketing firms who are using rankings to market programs?  You can do your own evaluation based on what’s most important to you using the Online Degree Database.

Here are 3 of many possible examples that prove the rule on why you should create your own short-list of online programs to consider. You don’t have to accept rankings offered by marketers as authoritative.  Most are inherently biased and vastly under-represent your available options.

Example One

There have been numerous stories in the media over the past few years documenting institutions caught providing false data to U.S. News & World Report. The US News methodology relies on institutions being truthful when providing their proprietary data annually in a survey. It also asks institutions to provide specific data points that may be difficult, if not possible, to provide. The pressure to perform well in U.S. News & World Report rankings creates the temptation to cheat or guess / estimate responses. This significantly undermines the value of these rankings to students. It’s a huge thorn in the side of institutions too who come under increasing pressure to rank highly.

Example Two

Many websites offer a listing of ‘Most Affordable Online Colleges’ or some other such tuition-related measure.  If you look at the way they create the rankings, you’ll find that the data used are usually very limited.  For example, one prominent site says their affordability ranking is created using one year’s tuition at both undergraduate and graduate levels. To their credit, they gather their data from the tuition pages on university websites and provide the link to the tuition page to verify these data. But the data are misleading because:

  1. Students generally want to know the total cost of the degree, not just one year’s tuition.
  2. Fees are left out of the annual cost equation (in the case of one #1 ranked institution, the graduate fully online fees raised the total cost per credit to $426 from the $255 reported on the website).
  3. Many institutions price online programs differently (e.g. the online MBA at one institution may be 20%+ more expensive than their online M.Ed. program). This simplistic ranking approach completely obscures this information and offers a misleading impression of real costs to you.

Example Three

Many websites use “proprietary multi-criteria optimization” algorithms that analyze key data points to come up with their rankings. It all sounds very impressive to anyone who is looking for help in finding their best online program.  But, the “multi-criteria” indicators are taken from widely available, high-level data that institutions report to the federal government. The lists of online programs they then feature are only those that pay them to gather prospective students leads. These are not necessarily the best options for you based on what’s most important to YOU.

This secret sauce approach to fancy modeling is a common trait among rankings websites. And they use rankings to game Google algorithms to earn higher SEO scores with large amounts of often meaningless content. How is this helpful to you when you are researching online degree programs for your best options?

Why Accept Less?

The Online Degree Database knows that it’s better for you to have all of the data to use in your decision-making. It’s not helpful to have a hastily-thrown-together, misleading summary of these data. We give you the data and the tools you need to create YOUR OWN FREE short-list of online degree programs. You choose the criteria and the approach that makes the most sense for you. Then you apply it to the universe of available programs in our database. We help you complete the due diligence that a purchase this important deserves!

And, we never ask for or sell your contact information to universities. Our university sponsorship program, a source of funding for the database, is attractive to universities for several reasons: They see the value in competing fairly against each other. And they agree that student enrollment should be driven by positive program characteristics, not the size of the online program marketing budget.

Create Your Own Short-List of Best Programs

We’ve created and published simple, unbiased rankings of online programs by program type using our data before. And we’ve demonstrated how our data are more reliable than what you find at other websites (check out our other blog posts). But with our data, you decide what is BEST. And as mentioned before, it’s free.

Use our interactive tool to select a degree program and complete your own “best” online program analyses. Generate as many free reports as you need to get the result you desire.

Take some time to consider these criteria:

  • Is the location (state) of the school a top priority for you?
  • Is it important that the program is professionally-accredited?
  • What is the total tuition of the program (total cost per credit as reported by the program website times the total credits required to complete the degree)?
  • Is the institution Public or Private? For Profit or Not-For-Profit?
  • What is the minimum GPA requirement you need based on your undergraduate transcripts?
  • Does the online program require a GMAT / GRE score for admissions consideration?
  • Are there specific concentrations you are interested in?

With nearly 5,000 online programs from over 950 institutions in the database (as of July, 2019), you know that the online program research you complete with our website is truly the very best possible.

Example of Personalized Best Online Programs

For our example, we use our interactive tool to generate a hypothetical “Best” online MBA programs short-list. Criteria selected for our best online MBA rankings example are hypothetical and random. They include:

  • Programs with total tuition less than $15,000
  • Undergraduate GPA required for admission to program is minimum 3.0 on 4.0 scale
  • Professionally accredited by AACSB
  • 100% online, does not require students to attend any part of the program on campus
  • Only include Not-For-Profit institutions

The five criteria represent one possible, straight-forward, personalized algorithm for defining BEST online MBA programs among many that are possible. We define “best” here as most affordable, AACSB-accredited, 100% online, with minimum 3.0 GPA requirement, at only not-for-profit institutions online MBAs. The 13 online MBA programs that fit our hypothetical criteria are shown in the table above.

But clearly there are other combinations of criteria available in our database that are more relevant to you. Resist the temptation to use marketing websites that promise the best but deliver limited information and use our database instead!

Data & Tools Designed To Meet Your Needs

Because you start your selection process with very close to the universe of available programs, your free reports are very unique and valuable products.  We help you cut through the misleading information offered elsewhere and give you what you really need to be sure you complete an accurate search: a personalized BEST online program list from the most accurate and complete source of online program information available.

The free report that identified this list of programs provides additional information about these institutions. It includes the location (state), degree name, and public/private institution status.  It also includes a link to the program website of the online MBA, so you can continue your research on your own. And, we’ve recently added more detail about the universities, which you can reach via a link on the free report too.

Create your personalized “Best Online Program” short-list today!