Everyone’s college experience is different. But some are better than others.

Here at OSR we focus on online programs, which are just starting to blow up. Some schools have figured out how flexible and innovative online education can be – other schools are still trying to catch up.

So how do we measure an online program’s quality?

You want to get straight to the information – real numbers based on hard data.

So we stick to statistics. We developed a system to sum up a college’s merit based on six key stats. We pulled those stats from reputable sources, factored them together, and developed our ranking method.

Here’s a breakdown of how we rank programs and where we get our information:

Data Points


Student Satisfaction

A combined score from and The number is a score out of 5 with two decimal places.

Admission Rate

The actual percentage of students who applied who then got accepted in the 2016-2017 school year. Reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Online Presence

For bachelor’s degree rankings, the number of online bachelor’s programs offered at the university. For master’s degree rankings, the number of online master’s programs offered at the university. Reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Program Level

Popularity at School

The percentage of students at that school who graduated with a degree from the ranked program’s department in 2017. Reported by the Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Department Size

The number of online degrees offered within the ranked program’s department. Reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Median Debt by Program

The average debt for students who graduated with that degree at that school. Reported in College Scorecard’s “Preliminary Loan Debt Data by Field of Study.”


All schools that offered the degree in question online in 2016-17 are considered. The six data points above are pulled for all schools on that list. Each data point is then scaled to 100 against the other schools on the list. From there, the weights are added and combined into the OSR score.

The weights:

Student Satisfaction – 15%

Admission Rate – 10%

Online Presence – 10%

Popularity at School – 20%

Department Size – 15%

Median Debt by Program – 30%

After calculating a final score for each school, the scores are scaled to 100 against each other to determine the final OSR Score seen next to each school. The numbers displayed for each data point under the school are the actual, unmanipulated data points for each school.

Missing Data

For data points that were not reported or “Privacy Suppressed,” a penalized number was substituted during scoring. The ranking will still display “not reported” next to the data point.

For Student Satisfaction, Admission Rate, and Popularity within School, the average for all schools penalized by 15 percent is used.

For Online Presence and Department Size, the school is given a score of 1.

For Median Debt, the process is different for bachelor’s and master’s programs: for undergraduate programs, it’s the average debt of graduates at the whole university; for graduate programs, it’s the average debt of graduate students from all programs at all US schools, penalized by 15 percent.

Return on Investment

Return on Investment represents how much more a high school graduate would earn in 20 years if he or she went to that university rather than not attending college at all.

To calculate ROI for each school we start with the median earnings of graduates 10 years after finishing school, according to the Department of Education’s College Scorecard. We extrapolate their cumulative earnings 20 years after graduation, assuming they got a 2 percent raise every year starting right out of college. We subtract the Net Price of a degree from that school. We then calculate the difference between those cumulative earnings and the cumulative earnings of an average high school graduate 24 years after graduation. This assumes that students earn nothing during their four years of school but do receive financial aid.

ROI has no effect on the final OSR score or a school’s position in a ranking.


A final word:

We know the best colleges according to these six data points. They are authoritative and heavily researched.

But ultimately you are the final judge.

Consider several programs before you pick a school. Reach out to the staff, professors, and alumni to get a feel for the individual community each school fosters.

OSR is a tool that will help get you where you need to be. The rest is up to you.