How We Rank Accounting Programs

If you plan to study accounting, then you understand the importance of numbers. Numbers provide objective information that can provide insight into a particular field. This list considers several numbers -- data points measuring different aspects of education value -- to provide a ranking of the best accounting programs in the country.

To create this ranking, we use a methodology unique to this website. We consider four main factors: affordability, student success, value, and online flexibility. Within those factors, we account for several subfactors that we break down into data points, such as student retention rate, net price of tuition, and student loan default rate. We chose these factors to deliver a ranking that focuses on high educational standards while considering the breadth of what makes a program valuable.

The data is mostly culled from publicly available statistics from national data tables. The majority of the data is collected from the U.S. Department of Education, specifically the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In addition, some data comes from research at Georgetown University. Keep in mind, these rankings rely entirely on the data. The list remains free of outside influence, meaning that schools or other stakeholders cannot pay to receive inclusion or a higher spot on the ranking.

This page explores how we assembled this ranking of accounting programs. It outlines specific data points we consider, why they hold significance, and how we weigh them in the overall ranking. You can also read more about our data sources below -- all of which offer unbiased statistics.

About the Data We Use

These rankings consider several factors based on various data measurements, which you can explore in the table below. The majority of the data comes from NCES, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. NCES collects data and statistics from colleges and universities across the country and provides the most centralized and reliable resource for higher education data in the country.

NCES also runs the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), where anyone can search publicly available data for specific schools and general higher education reports and analysis. Data points offer information such as enrollment numbers, retention rates, graduation rates, demographic statistics, and student-to-faculty ratios.

This ranking also uses data from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. Georgetown is a world-renowned research institution, and the center collects and publishes data on student return-on-investment when it comes to paying for college. In more specific terms, Georgetown calculates the net present value (NPV) for each school.

The NPV considers the value of your tuition now and your estimated earnings from your degree in the future. This statistic essentially predicts the value of your financial investment in your education. For this ranking, we consider 20-year NPV, or the net present value of students' tuition over the next 20 years.

A quality assurance team checks each school to ensure that the information is accurate. In addition, the team excludes any schools without enough data to make a comprehensive evaluation. We update our rankings when the NCES releases new data; therefore, you can consider these rankings current.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology


About Our Ranking Factors

This ranking considers several factors that indicate an accounting degree offers students a high-quality education. As shown in the table above, each of these factors are weighted. Student success accounts for 40% of the ranking, quality accounts for 30%, online flexibility for 20%, and affordability for 10%. We chose these factors because they are easy to understand and cover the full breadth of a degree's value. To understand the rankings with greater transparency, you can read about each subfactor and its significance below.

Subfactors for Affordability

Net Price In general, net price refers to the total amount you pay for something. This value accounts for all factors, such as any added costs (e.g. taxes) and anything that has been subtracted (e.g. discounts). In terms of college affordability, the net price includes the sticker price -- the price you see on the college's website -- minus any financial aid. Student financial aid can include scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs.
Financial Aid As an umbrella term, financial aid involves any money that helps you pay for tuition and fees. Scholarships, student loans, grants, and work-study programs all count as financial aid. Students can usually find two types of financial aid: merit-based and need-based financial aid. They can obtain merit-based aid with exceptional academic or athletic accomplishments. Learners who come from families that cannot afford college tuition qualify for need-based aid. Some students obtain both types of aid.
Loan Default Rate Student loan default occurs when someone does not keep up with their student loan repayments. A person is considered to have defaulted on student loans after roughly nine months of failing to pay back student loans. As of late 2019, the student default rate was about 10.1%, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A college or university where alumni possess a high student default rate can indicate a red flag.

Subfactors for Quality

Retention Rate When it comes to higher education, the retention rate refers to the number of freshman students who return to the same college for their second year. A high retention rate indicates that learners generally feel satisfied with their education. On the other hand, a low retention rate might signal a deeper problem at the institution that keeps students from returning. An average of about 81% of students return after their first year, according to the NCES.
Number of Programs Offered Colleges and universities vary greatly in the number of programs they offer by factors like the size of the institution and whether the school is a liberal arts college, state university, or research institution. Some colleges only offer programs in one area, like agriculture, business, religion, or the arts.
Student-to-Faculty Ratio This factor refers to the number of students versus the number of professors at a college. Institutions with more faculty members often provide students with more individualized attention from professors. Therefore, many learners prefer colleges with a low student-to-faculty ratio.

Subfactors for Student Success

20-Year NPV At its very core, the NPV measures your return on investment; in other words, was the money you paid for college worth it? If 20 years of your career earnings after college is more than what you paid for college tuition, then your investment in your education has a positive NPV. Therefore, schools with higher NPVs rank more highly.
Graduation Rate The graduation rate indicates how many students graduated from the college where they began their education. The latest NCES data show the national graduation rate in the U.S. is about 60%. A low graduation rate indicates that many students struggled to succeed while enrolled. A high graduation rate indicates a higher chance of student success, which in turn suggests the institution offers adequate support services and resources for learners.

Subfactors for Online Flexibility

Percent of Graduate Students Enrolled Partially Online About 38% of learners pursuing advanced degrees took some sort of distance learning course, according to the NCES. Online courses can make degrees more flexible for students. This subfactor considers higher education institutions that allow students to take at least some of their courses online.
Percent of Graduate Students Enrolled Fully Online Some universities offer entirely online degrees, which give students increased flexibility and accessibility, allowing them to study at top universities without relocating. This subfactor takes into account the percentage of graduate students who study fully online.