Best for Vets: Colleges 2020 rankings

We invited institutions of higher education across the U.S. to fill out a detailed survey, numbering around 150 questions, about their operations involving current and former service members and their families.

To create the rankings, we evaluated colleges’ survey responses based on what veterans have told us is important to them, as well as on our own editorial judgment. Broadly speaking, institutions were evaluated in five categories: university culture, student support, academic policies, academic outcomes/quality, and cost and financial aid. While the value of each section was comparable, university culture and student support carried the greatest weight in our evaluation, while academic outcomes/quality, and cost and financial aid carried the least weight.

Many factors other than those listed in the chart were considered when developing the rankings.

2018 enrollment data are as reported by the colleges in our survey for the fall 2018 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.

Vet center indicates what type of services schools offer for their military-connected students in consolidated veteran spaces. We define a “Center” as a stand-alone area or building where military-connected students can meet, socialize, study or get academic help. An “Office” is a stand-alone area or office, other than the school’s main financial aid office, that is used to process VA, DoD and analogous state benefits, as well as to counsel students on use of these benefits. “Virtual” indicates that schools replicate these services for online students.

TA eligible shows whether a school indicated on our survey that it has agreed to the Defense Department’s Memoranudm of Understanding for military education, which is required for participation in military tuition assistance.

GI Bill gap coverage rates how well schools reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket tuition costs for Post-9/11 GI Bill users. This can be done both by bringing school costs to a level that will be covered by the GI Bill and by using the Yellow Ribbon program to help make up the difference between tuition costs and what the benefit covers. In the 2018-19 school year, public schools had to offer in-state tuition to all eligible GI Bill users to have all tuition costs covered by the benefit, while private schools had to stay under the $23,671.94 cap. Schools that exceeded these limits could participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, under which the school and the VA partner to partially or completely make up the difference between a school’s tuition rate and GI Bill coverage limits. Stars indicate how thoroughly a school addressed potential gaps in tuition costs covered by the GI Bill through both of these methods. Best rating = 4 stars.

At or below TA limits 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 2018-19 school year.

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. DEAC: Distance Education Accrediting Commission; HLC [R]: The Higher Learning Commission; MSCHE [R]: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; NECHE [R]: New England Commission of Higher Education; NWCCU [R]: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; SACS [R]: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges; WASC [R]: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission; WASC-ACCJC [R]: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Retention rate data shows the proportion of a school’s full-time and part-time students, with connections to the military, who returned to classes the fall after they started at the school. The rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and includes both freshmen and transfer students in their first semester at the school in fall 2017 who returned in fall 2018, unless otherwise indicated.

Graduation rate data shows the proportion of a school’s students, with connections to the military, who graduated within 150 percent of the expected completion time for the degrees they pursued. Students pursuing 4-year degrees must graduate within 6 years to count as graduating; students pursuing 2-year degrees must graduate within 3 years. The rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey.