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Methodology | Best for Vets: Colleges 2016

November 9, 2015 (Photo Credit: John Harman/Staff)

We invited colleges and universities across the country to fill out a rigorous survey, comprising well over 100 questions, about their operations involving current and former service members and their families. Schools that identified themselves primarily as career and technical institutions were considered for the Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges rankings published last month; all other schools were considered for these rankings.

To create the rankings, we evaluated schools’ survey responses based on what veterans have told us is more important to them, as well as on our own editorial judgment. We also factored in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database. Broadly speaking, schools were evaluated in five categories: academic outcomes/quality, university culture, student support, academic policies and cost and financial aid. While the value of each section was comparable, academic outcomes/quality and university culture were worth the most in the survey, and cost and financial aid was worth the least. Many factors other than those listed in the chart were considered when developing the rankings.

Best for Vets: Colleges 2016 — our top 175 schools

2014 enrollment data are as reported by the schools in our survey for the fall 2014 semester, except where otherwise indicated. Military enrollment figures are measured similarly and apply to service members and veterans actually tracked by a school, not just students using military-related benefits, except where otherwise indicated.

Policy agreements columns show which of three major military and veteran education agreements a school has signed on to: the Principles of Excellence, 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success and the most recent Defense Department Memorandum of Understanding.

Charged at or below Post-9/11 limits means a school indicated that no Post-9/11 GI Bill recipient at the school, eligible at the 100 percent benefit level, was charged a tuition rate above what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers during the 2014-15 school year. Public schools must not charge out-of-state tuition rates for this to happen; private schools must not exceed the $20,235.02 cap.

Yellow Ribbon rates a school’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon program, under which a school and the Veterans Affairs Department partner to partially or completely make up the difference between a school’s tuition rate and the Post-9/11 GI Bill payment cap. Schools with “n/a” indicated that the Post-9/11 GI Bill fully covered their tuition costs in the 2014-15 school year, so Yellow Ribbon was not needed. Stars are awarded based on the proportion of students receiving Yellow Ribbon scholarships and the value of those awards. Best rating = 4 ★★★★.

Charged at or below TA cap shows whether a school’s tuition rates were at or below the $250-per-credit-hour limit set for most military tuition assistance in the 2014-15 school year.

Staff support rates the number of staff members a school dedicates to veterans issues as a proportion of its military and veteran student population; the amount of time they spend on veterans issues; and the scope and frequency of military-related training for teachers and administrators throughout the school.

Academic support rates the types of academic help a school provides, such as tutoring, mentors and learning communities, as well as whether there is a separate version of these types of support for veterans. The ratings also consider a school’s withdrawal and re-enrollment policies for deployed service members.

Extracurriculars rates the number and activity level of student veteran groups at a school, as well as whether the school supports those groups financially. The ratings also consider initiatives to support military spouses and families, as well as nonacademic school events, such as service projects, Veterans Day programs and others.

Accreditation indicates a school’s institutional accreditation. [R] indicates regional accreditation, which is generally the most respected type of accreditation in the academic community and usually makes it easier to transfer academic credit to another school. ACICS: Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools; HLC: The Higher Learning Commission (North Central Association of Colleges and Schools); MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; NCCU: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; NEASC: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; SACS: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges; WASC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission; WASC-ACCJC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

Money per student on instruction data from the Education Department shows the average amount of money spent on instruction per full-time-equivalent student.

Military course completion shows the rate at which military and veteran students earn academic credit for the courses they attempt, as reported by schools in our survey.

Retention rate data shows the proportion of a school’s students who returned to classes in the fall 2014 semester after they started at the school in 2013. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time freshmen, both full-time and part-time. The military rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and includes both freshmen and transfer students in their first semester at the school. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the retention rate for first-time, full-time students starting in 2012 and continuing in 2013, the most recent years for which data is available, was 80 percent at four-year schools and 60 percent at two-year schools.

Graduation rate data shows the proportion of a school’s students who graduated within 150 percent of the expected completion time for the degrees they pursued. This measures new students starting at a four-year school in 2008 and graduating by 2014, as well as new students starting at a two-year school in 2011 and graduating by 2014. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time, full-time students, a category into which current and former service members rarely fall. However, the rate can provide some indication of academic success for the general student population. For schools that reported the information, the number in parentheses is the transfer-out rate for the same timeframe, which, if added to the graduation rate, may give a more accurate representation of student success. The military rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and is not limited to first-time, full-time students. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average graduation rate was 59 percent at four-year schools and 29 percent at two-year schools for students graduating by 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

Default rate data, from the Education Department, indicates the percentage of students from the 2012 graduating class, the most recent data available, who defaulted on loans within two years of beginning to repay them. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average default rate was 9 percent for four-year schools and 19 percent for less-than-four-year schools.

After six years employed and salary data, from the Education and Treasury departments, show employment data for students six years after they start at a school.■

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