2016 Best Colleges for Veterans Methodology Changes

We first launched our Best Colleges for Veterans Rankings in 2014.  We have since received a great deal of positive feedback on them but also recognized opportunities for improvement. It is with that continual focus on excellence that I am proud to announce the release of our 2016 Best Colleges for Veterans Rankings.

Methodology Changes

This article will outline some of the changes to this year's ranking methodology.

Inclusion of Schools Serving Non-Traditional Students

Most veterans are considered "non-traditional" students in that they are either not first-time students or are not full-time students or are not seeking a formal degree. While there are many schools that focus on serving such students, most of them are not properly ranked in traditional rankings.

Last year, our rankings were no different.  This year, they are.

With this year's rankings release, we now include all of the non-traditional colleges that we rank in our Best Colleges for Returning Adults ranking. This important ranking identifies quality schools for non-traditional students by ignoring factors that are not usually relevant to that audience (like SAT scores) and factoring in things important to adult students (like accreditation, flexible course offerings and student spending).

For more information on why this is so important and how we do this, please see the following article: Why traditional rankings are failing veterans

Leveraging New Data

There is new data that we now have access to that we have included in this year's ranking:

8 Keys to Veterans' Success

The 8 Keys is a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education, Veterans Affairs, and Defense that highlights steps that post-secondary institutions can take to assist Veterans and Service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, and obtaining career-ready skills.

Using data now available through the VA, we award points to schools that are a part of this program and have thus committed to these steps.

Learn more about the 8 Keys to Veterans' Success.

GI Bill Complaints

The VA GI Bill Feedback System enables veterans to submit complaints about colleges for Principles of Excellence-related issues. 

Using data recently released by the VA that details the complaints lodged against each school, we took the the total number of complaints and divided that by the total number of GI Bill recipients at the school to get a relative number of the % of students complaining. This, in  our opinion, is the only fair way to account for the fact that a larger school is naturally going to have a larger number of complaints.

Using this relative measure, we then award points to colleges based on how low their complaint rate is. So, the higher the complaint rate, the lower a school will rank. Schools that have zero complains earn the maximum number of points for this factor.

Heightened Cash Monitoring Status

Heightened Cash Monitoring (HCM) is a checks-and-balances process that allows the Department of Education to provide additional oversight over institutions for a number of financial or federal compliance issues.

Using data now available through the VA, we award points to schools that are NOT on heightened cash monitoring, thus decreasing the ranking of those the are.

Credit for Military Training

We have supplemented the data we have about colleges that accept ACE credit recommendations with new data from the VA about whether or not a college gives credit for military training. A college that does either will now get points.

Dedicated Veteran Contact

We have supplemented the incomplete data we had about Veteran Offices with new data from the VA about schools that have a dedicated veteran contact. A college that has either now gets points.

Recognized Veteran Student Organization

We have supplemented the data we had about SVA chapters with new data from the VA about colleges that have a recognized veteran student organization.  Those that have either now get points.

Other Changes

Housing Costs Covered Removed

Last year's ranking included a factor that looked at the estimated housing allowance for the school's zip code and compared it to the estimated living expenses provided by the school for off-campus students. The greater the benefits relative to the estimated cost, the more points the college received.

We chose to remove this factor for the following reasons:

  • The college has little control on the cost of living in the area surrounding or the benefits awarded based on that, so judging the school based on that didn't make sense to us anymore.
  • The actual cost of living for a veteran is very unique to them based on their circumstances and can vary widely, which makes it hard to base things on an average.
  • The benefits are supposed to be tied to the relative cost of living in an area, which makes this factor not very meaningful as a way to distinguish between colleges.
  • With the addition of non-traditional schools, many of whom offer primarily online classes, basing the estimated costs (which are often not available) and/or benefits on the schools headquarters didn't make sense and often gave extra points to some schools that really didn't deserve them.

Percentage of Classes Offered Online Removed (Sort Of)

With the inclusion of our Best Colleges for Returning Adults ranking, which already includes a measure of the percentage of classes offered by a school online, having this as a direct factor in the veteran rankings would be duplicative, so we removed it since it was already represented in another way.  

This new way of incorporating this factor is better because it is used just to judge non-traditional schools, rather than being used to judge, and perhaps unfairly hurt, traditional schools as well. 

Changes Implemented at the Majors Level

All of the changes noted above were carried down to our Best for Veterans rankings by major. This means that all of the above benefits noted above, including the inclusion of non-traditional schools, are now reflected in our veteran rankings for each major.

The best school for nursing is very different from the best school for criminal justice and is very different from the best school for business. It is at the major level, when our new veteran ranking methodology is combined with our unique major ranking methodology, that the power of our methodologies really shines and a veteran can truly start to identify some great schools perfect for the career and major they are interested in pursuing.

Go Beyond Rankings

As advanced as our rankings are, they represent only the starting point of the decision tools we have to help veterans get the best fit education their money can buy.

Maximize your benefits by finding the best matched career, college and major based on your natural strengths, interests and goals.  Our tools are FREE to veterans and you can start reviewing matches in less than 10 minutes.


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