Annual tuition numbers for these schools were manually researched and represent the bachelor's degree level if the school offers at least one online bachelor's degree, or the master's degree level if the school offers at least one master's degree but zero online bachelor's degrees. Out-of-state tuitions were used unless in-state tuition is offered to all online students. Tuition was calculated assuming full-time status. Unless otherwise stated, bachelor’s programs were assumed to require four years to complete and master’s programs were assumed to require two years.
Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for our rankings if the amount of in-person work was limited to less than two weeks worth of in-person requirements. This allows students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.
Program data including available degrees, tuition rates, and details about program coursework were collected from schools' official websites, reflecting data for the 2017-2018 school year. Programmatic accreditations and profit statuses of schools were collected from official websites of the accreditation agencies or from the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES is the primary governmental entity for gathering and presenting data related to education. The NCES data is updated annually as soon as it becomes available. The NCES does not release data into downloadable formats until the federal entity has approved it, so the most currently available data will not be for the most recent academic year.
The data used to determine the Military-Friendly score is from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill Comparison Tool, a tool aimed at providing servicemembers and veterans with the information they need to make decisions about their education. The GI Comparison Tool is updated annually and pulls data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education databases.
We collected data from over 500 institutions and evaluated them on the basis four categories: military culture, online support, financial aid, and flexibility. The data points collected from the GI Comparison Tool were entered in an internal algorithm to determine an overall score using a weighted average. Military culture and online support were weighted most heavily in order to ensure that our list represents the best online military education options. To be considered for this list, schools must offer 10 or more online degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level. The Top Yellow Ribbon Online Schools are schools that offer unlimited support through the Yellow Ribbon Program and were ranked based on their weighted military-friendly score.
Military Culture: Military culture refers to the level of support offered to military students. Each of the Top Yellow Ribbon Online Schools, for example, is a signatory to the Department of Defense Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum of Understanding. Participating schools agree to provide academic support to military students, offer them meaningful information about the cost of attendance, and refrain from using deceptive recruitment practices. Schools that have agreed to this Memorandum of Understanding can accept military tuition assistance funding. A college’s military culture also depends on the number of GI Bill Beneficiaries and whether they comply with the Principles of Excellence, implement the 8 Keys to Veteran Success, participate in Military Tuition Assistance, and have a student veteran group.
Online Support: Each of these colleges and universities offers online degree programs. High-ranking schools in this category provide a strong level of support to their online students. Does the school have a dedicated point of contact for support services for veterans, military servicemembers, and their families? What is the retention rate for veterans who take online courses? Each of these questions contributes to a college’s online support score.
Financial Aid: Military students can pay for their education through a variety of tuition assistance benefits, and colleges may offer additional incentives such as in-state tuition, scholarships, fee waivers, textbook grants, and tuition discounts. Schools that rank highly in this category offer a significant amount of financial aid to active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and military spouses and dependents. Schools also report whether or not they participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Participants in the Yellow Ribbon Program agree to provide additional benefits to military students beyond those offered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. All colleges on the Top Yellow Ribbon Online Schools are Yellow Ribbon Program participants, offering support to an unlimited number of students as well as offering unlimited contributions per student.
Flexibility: Flexibility is measured by assessing a college’s policies on course transfer, prior learning credit, and leave and withdrawal. Credits earned at regionally accredited schools are most easily transferable. Many colleges award credit for military training and experience, and allow students to earn credit by demonstrating prior learning by taking examinations or putting together an experiential learning portfolio. Military students can be called to duty and may be required to pause their studies. Flexible schools allow their students to withdraw from courses and return to school with no financial penalties.