Online College Database Rankings Methodology

When it comes to college- and salary-related data, integrity is paramount. The College Database uses data from only the most trusted government and commercial entities on the web. Our primary sources and partners include:

  • NCES (http://nces.ed.gov/) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It provides consistent, reliable, complete, and accurate indicators of education status and trends.
  • IPEDS (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/) is the primary federal source for data on colleges, universities, and technical and vocational post-secondary schools in the U.S.
  • Carnegie Classification (http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/) is a framework widely used in the study of higher education, both as a way to represent and control for institutional differences, and also in the design of research studies to ensure adequate representation of sampled institutions, students, or faculty.
  • PayScale (http://payscale.com) is a leading provider of career-related data on a national, state, local, and individual basis. PayScale’s team of statisticians continually refines data collection methods to maximize accuracy and integrity.

Methodology: Demographic Lists

The methodology outlined below applies to the following rankings on The College Database:

  • 33 Most Popular U.S. Colleges For Hispanic Students
  • Most Popular Colleges For Students Who Learn Differently
  • Top 30 Colleges & Universities For Women
  • 50 Colleges Advancing Women in STEM

Each year, the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) collects academic, financial, and personal information from U.S. colleges and universities about their student bodies. This information includes data on college majors, enrollment status, financial aid awarded, race, ethnicity, gender, and more.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how we approached our demographic lists:

- Fully accredited colleges only

- Private, for-profit colleges excluded

- Must be degree-granting institutions

- Students officially registered as “Hispanic”, for “33 Most Popular U.S. Colleges For Hispanic Students”

- Students officially registered as Gender: Female, for “Top 30 Colleges & Universities For Women” and “50 Colleges Advancing Women in STEM”

- Students officially registered as having a learning challenge, for “Most Popular Colleges for Students Who Learn Differently”

Methodology: Finance-related Lists

The methodology outlined below applies to the following rankings on The College Database:

  • 50 Public Colleges with the Best Lifetime ROI
  • 34 Historically Black Colleges that Pay

Tuition figures come directly from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Both starting salary data and lifetime earnings data come from PayScale.com’s College Earnings Report for 2013.

The following detailed methodological breakdown applies to our finance-related lists:

- In-state tuition only

- Fully accredited colleges only

- Non-profit schools only

- Must be degree-granting institutions

- Starting salary data: salaries reported by undergrads immediately following graduation. For “34 Historically Black Colleges that Pay”

- 30-year ROI: estimated graduate salaries over 30 years, minus both tuition and fees and projected 30-year salaries of non-graduates

Methodology: Program-related Lists

The methodology outlined below applies to the following rankings on The College Database:

  • 50 Colleges Committed to Saving the Planet
  • 50 Colleges Advancing Women in STEM
  • 39 Colleges Where Environmental Science Matters
  • 39 Colleges With Psychology At Their Core
  • 50 U.S. Colleges Where Art Programs Abound
  • Top 50 U.S. Colleges & Universities For Engineering
  • Top U.S. Colleges & Universities For Teaching

Each year, IPEDS collects updated degree program data from U.S. colleges and universities, which includes program name and degree level awarded. The following criteria apply to The College Database’s program-related lists:

- Fully accredited colleges only

- Non-profit schools only

- Must be degree-granting institutions

- At least 12 students in the program. For “50 Colleges Committed to Saving the Planet”

- At least 50 programs in STEM fields (i.e., Physics, Psychology, Biology) Bachelor’s level and above, with 50% or greater female enrollment in these programs for “50 Colleges Advancing Women in STEM”

- Number of degree programs in environmental science, engineering, and/or conservation. For “39 Colleges Where Environmental Science Matters”

- Number of degree programs in psychology and counseling. For “39 Colleges With Psychology At Their Core”

- Number of degree programs in the fine arts, including painting, sculpture, drawing, and more. List does NOT include performing arts. For “50 U.S. Colleges Where Art Programs Abound”

- Number of degree programs in engineering sciences, including mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, etc. For “Top 50 U.S. Colleges & Universities For Engineering”

- Number of degree programs designed to prepare students for careers in teaching, education administration, curriculum development, and student counseling. For “Top U.S. Colleges & Universities for Teaching”