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2013 Online College Rankings

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Each year, we rank online schools to help prospective students get the most for their education dollar. Quality and affordability are the two main yardsticks by which we evaluate schools. In a time of rising costs, these are the factors we feel students should weigh most heavily when selecting a school.

Our rankings aren’t a beauty contest – we don’t rely on soft metrics like "reputation" to assess quality. We rely instead on the actual experience of students during and after school, plus objective factors like retention and repayment. For a full description of our ranking methodology, see below.

As a result of this approach, our top online schools may surprise you, and that’s an important goal as well. No ranking is or ever can be perfect for each and every prospective online student, so we hope our online school ranking makes you think, consider a wide range of schools, and find the one that is truly best for you. We also hope to broaden your horizons geographically, since the freedom of truly online learning may mean your best option is in a location you never would have thought of!

Overall Rankings

For 2013, we have created 4 unique rankings categories; best overall, best non-profit, and best for-profit colleges as well as best associate and certificate programs. The table below shows the top 25 online colleges and universities. Click a school’s name and you will be directed to an informational page where you can read more about available programs, accreditation, financial aid, and request admissions information. If you would like to learn about the data we used to arrive at our rankings check out our methodology section below.

Rank School School Type Repayment Rate Retention Rate Annual Tuition?
#1 Western Governors University Non-Profit 95% 89% Annual Tuition $5,870 - $6,140
#2 South Dakota State University Non-Profit 97% 75% Annual Tuition $9,350
#3 California University of Pennsylvania Online Non-Profit 94% 78% Annual Tuition $13,825
#4 Dakota State University Non-Profit 94% 60% Annual Tuition $8,612 - $9,901
#5 National University Non-Profit 95% 58% Annual Tuition $11,736
#6 Bellevue University Non-Profit 97% 17% Annual Tuition $6,300
#7 University of Nebraska at Kearney - Online Non-Profit 97% 79% Annual Tuition $12,190
#8 Columbia Southern University For-Profit 95% 65% Annual Tuition $4,895 - $6,360
#9 Park University Online Non-Profit 93% 61% Annual Tuition $9,788
#10 Texas Tech University-University College Non-Profit 94% 81% Annual Tuition $15,941
#11 University of Illinois-Springfield Non-Profit 95% 72% Annual Tuition $16,272
#12 Minnesota State University at Mankato Non-Profit 97% 70% Annual Tuition $15,010
#13 California State University-East Bay Non-Profit 96% 75% Annual Tuition $17,967
#14 Ashford University For-Profit 90% 39% Annual Tuition $10,938
#15 Clarion University Non-Profit 95% 71% Annual Tuition $12,810
#16 University of Minnesota Non-Profit 97% 91% Annual Tuition $18,709
#17 Saint Leo University Online Non-Profit 91% 73% Annual Tuition $19,370
#18 Columbia College - Online Non-Profit 91% 65% Annual Tuition $6,739
#19 Eastern New Mexico University Non-Profit 85% 52% Annual Tuition $3,170 - $9,861
#20 Western Carolina University - Online Non-Profit 93% 74% Annual Tuition $15,522
#21 Fort Hays State University Online Non-Profit 95% 68% Annual Tuition $13,680
#22 Sam Houston State University Online Non-Profit 92% 75% Annual Tuition $15,032
#23 Northern Arizona University Non-Profit 92% 76% Annual Tuition $9,272
#24 University of South Florida Non-Profit 95% 40% Annual Tuition $14,429 - $16,456


It is important that students make an informed decision when considering the possibility of pursuing an online education. The goal of these rankings is to create a standard by which to judge the quality of online educational institutions using criteria that is important to the average student. The data and statistics used in these rankings have been compiled from The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—the primary governmental department responsible for gathering education-related data.

The following criteria were used to rank the schools (in order of weight):

  • Recommendation Rates:
    Student feedback was the primary criterion used to rank online schools. We examined all reviews, by institution, on our comprehensive reviews database and adjusted rankings based on how students reported feeling about the school and/or program.
  • Cost of Tuition (including textbooks):
    College tuition is a deciding factor for many students when choosing a school. Our rankings take into account this consideration and weigh a college’s overall tuition heavily.
  • Retention Rate:
    According to FAFSA, a school’s retention rate is the percentage of a school’s "first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year". Retention rate is an effective indicator of the overall quality of an institution. An online college with a poor retention rate likely indicates student dissatisfaction.
  • Repayment Rate:
    Compiled by the U.S. Government, this metric shows the percentage of students that pay back their loans within the allotted time and without resorting to default. Considering the current economic situation, this statistic is particularly useful.
  • Accreditation:
    Regional accreditation is widely regarded as the most selective and prestigious of all accreditation types. Students may also transfer credits between regionally accredited institutions more easily. All schools on our 2013 online college rankings are regionally accredited.
  • For-Profit vs. Not-For-Profit Status:
    For-profit schools educational institutions are run by private, profit-seeking companies while non-profit schools are more typical of traditional private and public colleges and universities. This metric was not weighted in our calculations for rankings, but is provided in our data tables. To learn more about for-profit institutions, please visit the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

Rankings Archive

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Our tuition numbers reflect data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics.