The goal with our 2015 Best for Veterans Rankings was to provide an additional quality resource for veterans and active duty service members to find colleges that are dedicated to helping them succeed. We are in the business of helping students make better decisions about what major to pursue and which college to do it at. We can think of no other group of students that more deserves a quality affordable education than our veterans.
What Makes Our Rankings Different
We Rank All Colleges
While this isn't entirely true, as there are some colleges that we do lack data for, our methodology allows us to rank a large number of schools (1,394 4-Year Colleges). College Factual is now working together with Military Times, publisher of Best for Vets Rankings since 2010, to provide the military community with a broader survey of options and rankings by major and geography.
Colleges Cannot Choose to Opt Out
A college ranking based on survey data only works if every college responds, and colleges who think they may not do well in the ranking can simply choose to opt out. No data is better than bad data and ignorance is bliss. Well, except for veterans attending those colleges that don't have an unbiased resource to understand how that college stacks up to other options they are considering.
Part of what allows our methodology to rank more colleges is that we don't rely on survey data. We aggregate over 20 different data points from various sources (mostly government) in order to create our rankings.
A More Accurate Gauge of Veteran Affordability
Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits, while quite generous, doesn't cover all costs at many schools. A better understanding of this is important. The following are some of the ways we have addressed this issue that we believe makes our rankings stand out:
- Simply stating that a colleges costs are above or below the TA or GI Bill caps leaves out a lot of detail. A college that is just barely over the cap gets punished the same as a college that is well above it. We look at the percentage above or below these maximum benefit amounts and then rank order the colleges to truly identify the most affordable to least.
- Not factoring in resident (in-state) versus non-resident (out-of-state) status gives a narrow view of costs. We look at both. We furthermore factor in whether or not a school is a public college in a state that allows veterans to pay in-state tuition regardless of their residency status.
- Simple existence of the Yellow Ribbon Program is not good enough. What about colleges that don't participate in the program but already had costs below the caps? Those schools get punished when they are likely to be more affordable due to the fact that many schools limit how many students can participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program or cap how much they can receive. Speaking of which, we have data on those limits now and will be factoring that in soon, so stay tuned and be prepared to watch colleges drop in the rankings that "participate" in the program but don't actually help most veterans make their college more affordable.
- What about the housing allowance and living expenses? Those are important, and in fact are often where veterans and their families fall short. We compare the housing allowance for that college to the estimated living expenses for that college (which are related to the local cost of living) and then similarly calculate how far above or below the allowance those costs are and rank order the colleges to factor in which colleges are the most affordable from the perspective of living expenses.
We Update Our Rankings More Frequently
Updates to the data we use in our rankings is coming out on a monthly basis. We think withholding the most recent data from veterans and forcing them to look at information that is up to a year old doesn't make any sense. That's a lifetime in today's digital age. This is particularly true of veterans who tend to not follow the typical college selection timeline and could be searching for a college at any time of the year. We think they should have the most up-to-date information available.
One-Size-Fits-All Ranking Lists Aren't Good Enough
There is no single answer to the question "What is the best college for veterans?". It entirely depends on the individual and their circumstances.
We view rankings simply as a starting point. From there we allow veterans to quickly create their own list of rankings specific to their location, major and academic ability. We also allow some creation of custom rankings based on how important each person thinks the various factors in our rankings should be (stay tuned for more of that coming soon).
A College Isn't Veteran "Friendly" If Its Not a Good College
It doesn't matter how friendly a college is if a veteran walks away with a degree they can't use, or even worse, doesn't graduate at all and simply burns up all their benefits. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that veterans are first and foremost students in pursuit of an education that can help them advance in life. Not factoring in the actual quality of the education a college offers does not serve our veterans.
This is why we include our Best Colleges ranking as a factor. This also highlights another benefit of our website in that we have many innovative rankings to examine. We can help a veteran get a full picture of how a college will serve them as a "veteran-student", not just as a "veteran".
What's the Point?
There are many great resources out there to help veterans find their best-fit college. This article is not meant to dissuade veterans from taking advantage of other resources and rankings. In fact, there is some interesting data survey-based rankings can include that we currently do not (ie. veteran services at a college).
However, there are also many advantages to our way of ranking that we believe can greatly help the active-duty and veteran student population. The point of this article is to highlight some of the differences and advantages our rankings have and how they can be helpful to the searcher. We seek to add to the broader discussion of how colleges can better serve those that have served us. We hope that these rankings, and the other tools we have created for veterans, provide some supplements to the other useful resources already out there that veterans can and should use to make their best college selection decision.