How We Rank Teaching Degree Programs

Written by Mary Blowers assesses postsecondary institutions based on the educational factors that matter most to students. Our independent ranking methodology for teaching degrees remains objective, data-based, and specific to the needs of prospective teachers.

Our strict data collection process produces unique rankings that remain free of outside influence. Since we pull ranking data from federal statistics, a school cannot pay for a higher spot on our lists. Our site does use ad partners, but those advertising relationships do not affect our rankings.

Our ranking methodology for teaching degrees involves collecting, organizing, and applying data. This process also entails weighing major educational factors, such as academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability.

Within these major educational categories, we also weigh various subcategories. We may weight these subcategories differently based on the level or type of degree (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, and online graduate programs).

To communicate with complete transparency, this methodology page details the specific components of our ranking system and the data we use to score teaching programs.

About the Data We Use ranks schools based on reliable data collected by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Our ranking methodology for teaching degrees remains accurate through meticulous data collection and annual updates.

The statistics considered in school rankings come largely from The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a federal agency that collects educational statistics for ED’s Institute of Education Sciences. Students, parents, educational researchers, the media, and even Congress can use this research-based, public organization research educational information.

NCES analyzes and publishes data related to every level of education, and they have a special system dedicated specifically to college-level education. NCES conducts an annual system of interrelated, collegiate surveys through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

IPEDS is the authority on trends in postsecondary education. This data system offers statistical information on student enrollment, staff appointment, fund expenditure, and degree acquisition for schools across the country. If IPEDS offers insufficient data for a school, our quality assurance team excludes the school from our rankings.

Our education program ranking methodology remains current through the process of recollecting data each year. While we may still include older rankings, we never rebrand them for a new year. Instead, we reconstruct the data collection and analysis process when IPEDS publishes new educational statistics.

Since educational factors change constantly, we keep our school rankings current by updating ranked lists as new information becomes available.

Note: As of Nov. 3, 2020, IPEDS has released only a portion of its updated school data for 2020. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available at the time of publication.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Prospective teachers need to find schools that meet their educational needs. Our methodology for ranking teaching degree programs relies on academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability. We weigh these elements based on level and type of degree. The pie charts below display the weight of each category per type of degree.

Undergraduate Degrees

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Graduate Degrees

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Online Graduate Degrees

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About Our Ranking Factors

Within each weighted factor category, we apply data from several subfactors to determine scores. Subfactors include components that matter to degree-seekers, including graduation rates, student debt, return on investment, and online enrollment. We also weigh these subfactors to reflect the most relevant figures in each category.

Subfactors for Academics

Retention RateThis statistic refers to the rate at which students persist in their postsecondary program at an institution. This figure indicates the percentage of degree-seeking undergraduates who re-enroll in consecutive years or successfully complete programs.
Graduation RateThis figure demonstrates the total number of enrollees who complete their degrees within a six-year period divided by the revised adjusted cohort.
Robust FacultyRobust faculty refers to the proportion of full-time and part-time faculty working at a postsecondary institution. Faculty roles include instruction, research, and various administrative roles, including deans and provosts.

Subfactors for Affordability

Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships

The average institutional net price of education is generated by subtracting the average amount of federal, state, local, or institutional aid from the total cost of attendance. The total cost of attendance includes tuition, required fees, books, room and board, and other expenses.

In the 2017-18 academic year, the average net price of attendance for first-time, full-time undergraduate students reached $13,700 at public institutions, $27,000 at private nonprofit institutions, and $22,100 at private for-profit institutions.

Students Getting Financial Aid

Financial aid includes grants, loans, assistantships, scholarships, fellowships, tuition waivers, employer aid through tuition reimbursement, and other funds.

According to IPEDS, 86% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students received financial aid in 2017-18, indicating an 11% increase from the 2000-01 academic year.

Additionally, the average amount of grant and scholarship aid for first-time, full-time undergraduate students in 2017-18 varied based on the type of institution. Students received an average of $23,700 at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions; $8,100 at public institutions; and $6,600 at private, for-profit institutions.

Students Getting Federal Aid

Students can apply for federal student aid by completing FAFSA forms. Federal aid includes loans, grants, federal work-studies, and more.

In the 2018-19 academic year, the average amount of federal student loans received by first-time, full-time undergraduate students was $6,630. This figure is based on information from 5,698 institutions.

Post-Graduation Student Debt

Students may incur debt if they take out a loan to pay for educational expenses. Loan default occurs when a borrower violates the terms of the loan or fails to pay back a debt according to a predetermined schedule.

The following data was collected after a 12-year period:

  • According to IPEDS, 20% of students who borrowed in 2003-04 fully paid off their loans without defaulting, and 27% defaulted on at least one loan.
  • In the same 2003-04 cohort, the median amount owed for borrowers who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher was $11,700.

Subfactors for Reputation

Percent of Applicants AdmittedThis rate is calculated by dividing the number of admitted students by the number of total applicants for that academic term. Admission rates vary based on requirements like high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores.
Admissions Yield

In college admissions, “yield” indicates the percentage of students who enroll in a postsecondary institution after receiving an admission offer. The college enrollment rate indicates the percentage of students enrolled as undergraduate or graduate students in postsecondary institutions.

In 2018, the overall college enrollment rate for students aged 18-24 reached 41%. This statistic demonstrates an increase from 35% in 2000.

Return on InvestmentAn educational ROI is the ratio between net profit after earning a degree and the cost of educational investment. An educational ROI depends heavily on the salaries attained by graduates.

Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

Percent of Online Students Enrolled

Online or distance education involves courses offered virtually by postsecondary institutions. Students may choose to complete select courses virtually, or they may earn their degrees entirely online.

In the fall of 2018, 34.7% of students were enrolled in distance education courses at postsecondary institutions. This percentage has steadily increased since 2012, when just 25.5% of students participated in distance education. These figures reflect enrollment in 6,124 postsecondary institutions.

Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered

Institutions may offer online learning at any education level, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. Some courses may occur partially or entirely online.

In fall 2018, 34.5% of undergraduate students and 39.8% of post-baccalaureate students enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.