How We Rank Cybersecurity Programs

We evaluate and rank cybersecurity programs using a unique methodology created to address the specific needs of this website. This methodology is based on four main factors commonly prioritized by prospective college students: academics, affordability, reputation, and online availability.

Each of these main factors contains additional subfactors, which we define in detail on this page. To provide the most useful program assessments, we place different weights on main factors and subfactors according to their importance and the type of degree being reviewed. You can see how we break down and apply these weighted percentages in the charts below.

To support our ranking methodology for cybersecurity degrees, we source reliable data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) — an impartial federal entity that collects, analyzes, and publishes U.S. education statistics. The next section details where we obtain data, how often we update rankings, and other key considerations of our quality assurance team.

While our site works with advertising partners, these relationships never impact ranking results. Schools cannot pay to secure a higher spot in our ranked lists.

We take pride in offering prospective students the most comprehensive, transparent, and objective cybersecurity program rankings on the web. Explore the rest of this page to learn how we work to share the information that matters to you in a simple format that is easy to understand.

About the Data We Use

The NCES is an entity located within the Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. It fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, analyze, and publish complete U.S. education statistics. The NCES operates the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), where we obtain data for ranking cybersecurity programs.

IPEDS comprises several interrelated surveys gathering information from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in federal financial aid programs. School participation in these surveys is mandatory, ensuring comprehensive reports on enrollment, program completion, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, and financial aid.

NCES and IPEDS data offers an impartial look at U.S. colleges and universities, and provides ideal sources for use in ranking cybersecurity programs. To further ensure the reliability and comprehensive nature of our rankings, our independent quality assurance team checks each school and excludes those that do not have enough data.

Generally, we strive to update our rankings at least once a year to provide new groups of prospective students with the most timely information. We may also update rankings when significant new data is released by the NCES. This means the most popular cybersecurity program rankings may receive updates more frequently than once a year, and smaller ranking niches may receive less-frequent updates.

We are currently re-ranking our major cybersecurity rankings for 2021. At the time of your visit, older rankings may still exist on the site, but we never simply rebrand old rankings for use in a new year. Before 2021 program rankings go live, we start from scratch, examine new NCES and IPEDS data, and go through the entire process for program evaluation.

As of Nov. 3, 2020, IPEDS has released only a portion of its updated school data for 2020. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available at the time of publication.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Choosing the right ranking methodology for cybersecurity degrees is extremely important. For our rankings, we focus on academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability. These factors help us rank degrees according to key student priorities like return on investment, academic rigor, and the flexibility to study online.

We give each factor a different weight according to the type of program being ranked. Take a look at the following pie charts to see our weighted considerations for undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and online graduate degrees.

About Our Ranking Factors

Within each of the four main methodology categories — academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability — we consider additional subfactors. These subfactors are also weighted to highlight the most relevant figures within each category. Below, we identify the subfactors that comprise each category and discuss their importance in ranking cybersecurity programs.

  • Subfactors for Academics

    • Retention Rate: For this metric, IPEDS counts all full-time, first-time undergraduates who enrolled in the previous fall semester and enrolled again in the current fall semester. To rank cybersecurity programs, we look at IPEDS data from 2018 regarding full-time retention rates. The average retention rate for all postsecondary institutions was 75.5%. High retention rates tend to demonstrate high student satisfaction. Similarly, low retention rates may indicate that students feel unhappy or unsupported in their academic pursuits.
    • Graduation Rate: For this metric, IPEDS calculates the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduates who complete their program within a certain timeframe. Graduation rates can help prospective students measure the academic quality of a school, since higher graduation rates may indicate higher levels of student satisfaction. For our rankings, we look at 2018 IPEDS data counting students who graduated within 150% of normal time to completion (i.e., within six years from initial enrollment).
    • Robust Faculty: We base our robust faculty metric on the 2018 IPEDS data points for student-to-faculty ratio and proportion of full-time faculty. IPEDS defines faculty as those with titles like professor, associate professor, lecturer, instructor, or adjunct professor. In 2018, 54% of all postsecondary faculty were employed full time. Student-to-faculty ratio divides the number of full-time students by the number of full-time staff. Schools with higher numbers of full-time faculty and lower student-to-faculty ratios typically offer smaller class sizes and a more personalized education experience.

  • Subfactors for Affordability

    • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: Many college students pay less out of pocket than the advertised tuition costs on a school’s website. IPEDS measures this total, called net price, by calculating the average amount charged to first-time, full-time undergraduates after deducting financial aid. Lower net prices translate to greater overall affordability. The IPEDS data point we use for this metric is the 2017-2018 average net price for students awarded grant or scholarship aid.
    • Students Getting Financial Aid: Schools that prioritize affordability tend to maintain a sizable percentage of students receiving financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants, which do not need to be repaid after graduation. To calculate this metric, we use IPEDS data on undergraduate financial aid from 2017-2018. These data points include the average amount of grant and scholarship aid, and the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid (including scholarships, grants, employer aid, tuition waivers, loans, and federal aid).
    • Students Getting Federal Aid: This metric deals specifically with the amount of federal student loans taken out by college students. We measure this using IPEDS data points from 2017-2018 for undergraduate students, including the percentage of students awarded federal student loans, and the average amount of these loans. Unlike scholarships and grants, loans must be repaid after graduation, making them a less preferred form of financial aid. Students may want to prioritize attending a school with a higher percentage of grant and scholarship awards.
    • Post-Graduation Student Debt: To truly calculate college affordability, we need to look beyond initial tuition costs and evaluate the financial situation of students after graduation. Higher amounts of post-graduation student debt typically accrue more interest, take longer to pay off, and involve a greater risk of going into default (meaning failure to repay). We measure this factor using IPEDS data points for average loan default rate in 2016 and median debt for students who have completed programs (six years after entry) from 2018.

  • Subfactors for Reputation

    • Percent of Applicants Admitted: Schools with the best reputations tend to attract large numbers of applicants each year. These schools also tend to be highly selective in their admissions process, limiting the number of new students they admit each year. This creates competition, and only a small percentage of qualified applicants end up receiving acceptance letters. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data point for admissions rates from 2018.
    • Admissions Yield: Prospective students who receive an acceptance letter do not always commit to the university offering them an enrollment slot. The percentage of admitted students who actually accept offers is calculated as the admissions yield. Colleges with top reputations and competitive admissions tend to maintain a high admissions yield, since prospective students are eager to attend. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data point for enrollment rates from 2018.
    • Return on Investment: Return on investment (ROI) is a financial performance metric used to determine the profit of an investment relative to its cost. For college students, ROI involves comparing the total cost of attendance to expected post-graduation income. Students who graduate from a school with a high ROI tend to earn more and pay down student debt faster. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data point from 2018 for average earnings of students working six years after entry.

  • Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

    • Percent of Online Students Enrolled: Not all online programs are created equal. The best online schools dedicate significant funding and resources to their distance learning efforts. These efforts tend to attract larger numbers of remote learners. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data points for the percentage of students enrolled in online programs (by degree level) and the percentage of students enrolled online overall. Note that we do not consider this subfactor when ranking cybersecurity programs that are not online specific.
    • Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered: In the same way schools allocate varying amounts of funding and resources toward online learning, they may also prioritize certain degree levels over others. Certificates and associate degrees typically make up a larger percentage of the programs available at technical schools, for example, while some four-year universities offer a higher percentage of master’s and doctoral degrees. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data point covering the percentage of degrees offered at each level of education.

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