How We Rank Cybersecurity Programs

| CyberDegrees.org Staff Modified on March 22, 2022

How We Rank Cybersecurity Programs

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

Each of these factors contains additional subfactors, which we define in detail on this page. To provide the most useful program assessments, we weight each factor and subfactor according to its 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). The NCES is 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.


About the Data We Use

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

IPEDS comprises several interrelated surveys. These surveys gather information from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in federal financial aid programs.

School participation in these surveys is mandatory. This ensures comprehensive reports on enrollment, program completion, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, and financial aid.

IPEDS data offers an impartial look at U.S. colleges and universities, making NCES and IPEDS ideal sources for ranking cybersecurity programs. To further ensure the reliability and comprehensive nature of our rankings, our independent quality assurance team checks each school, excluding those without enough data.

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 our most popular cybersecurity rankings may receive updates more often than once a year. Smaller ranking niches may receive less frequent updates.

We are currently updating our major cybersecurity rankings. Before program rankings for any current year go live, we start from scratch, examine new NCES and IPEDS data, and go through the entire process for program evaluation. We never simply rebrand old rankings to make them appear current.

As of Jan. 21, 2022, IPEDS has released only provisional data for the 2019-2020 school year. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available — not necessarily the most finalized — at the time of publication. Both current and finalized data sets undergo all NCES quality control procedures.


A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

It's important to choose the right ranking methodology for cybersecurity degrees. 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.

Each factor is weighted differently according to the type of program being ranked. Review the following pie charts to see our weighted considerations for undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and online graduate degrees.




About Our Cybersecurity Ranking System Factors

Within each of the four main methodology categories (i.e., academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability), we also consider subfactors. These subfactors are weighted to highlight the most relevant figures within each category. Below, we identify the subfactors that make up 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 both the previous fall semester and the current fall semester. To rank cybersecurity programs, we include IPEDS data from 2018-19 regarding full-time retention rates. The average retention rate for all postsecondary institutions was 76.2%. High retention rates indicate high student satisfaction. Low retention rates may show that students feel unsatisfied or unsupported in their academic pursuits.
Graduation Rate
For this metric, IPEDS calculates the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduates who complete their programs within a certain timeframe. Graduation rates can help prospective students measure a school's academic quality. Higher graduation rates may indicate higher levels of student satisfaction. For our rankings, we include 2016 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 2019 IPEDS data points for student-to-faculty ratio and the proportion of full-time faculty. IPEDS defines "faculty" as those with titles like professor, associate professor, lecturer, instructor, or adjunct professor. Student-to-faculty ratio divides the number of full-time students by the number of full-time staff. Schools with higher ratios 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 more overall affordability. The IPEDS data point we use for this metric is the 2018-2019 average net price for students awarded grant or scholarship aid.
Students Getting Financial Aid
Schools that prioritize affordability tend to have a large percentage of students receiving scholarships and grants. These types of aid do not require repayment after graduation. To calculate this metric, we use IPEDS data on undergraduate financial aid from 2015-2016. These data points include the average amount of grant and scholarship aid. It also includes the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid (e.g., scholarships, grants, employer aid, work-study, tuition waivers, loans, and federal aid).
Students Getting Federal Aid
This metric deals with the amount of federal student loans taken out by college students. We measure this using IPEDS data points from 2015-2016 for undergraduate students. This data includes 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. For this reason, students might prioritize schools with higher percentages of grant and scholarship awards.
Post-Graduation Student Debt
To calculate college affordability, we must look beyond initial tuition costs and evaluate students' financial situation 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 (i.e., failure to repay). We measure this factor using IPEDS data from 2017 for average loan default rate and median debt for students who have completed degree programs.

Subfactors for Reputation

Percent of Applicants Admitted
Schools with the best reputations tend to attract large numbers of applicants each year. These schools are also highly selective in their admissions processes, limiting the number of new students they admit each year. This creates competition. Only a small percentage of qualified applicants end up receiving acceptance letters. For this metric, we use IPEDS data for admissions rates from 2019-20.
Admissions Yield
Prospective students do not always attend the universities that admit them. 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 2019-20.
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 schools with a high ROI tend to earn more and pay down their student debt more quickly. For this metric, we use the IPEDS data point from 2019 for average earnings of individuals aged 25 and over.

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 to attract more remote learners. For this metric, we use 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
Schools allocate varying amounts of funding and resources toward online learning. Similarly, they may 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. 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.

Featured Image: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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