Our Ranking Methodology
To find our top 40, we looked at over 350 programs from 84 universities. We took care to only look at universities with third-party accreditation and those offering at least one degree program that could be completed online. We also deliberately excluded for-profit schools from our list. While for-profit schools can still offer high-quality degrees, at Intelligent.com, we want to make sure that the program you choose isn’t at risk for making profit a higher priority than education.
Then, we evaluated each university based on three factors:
First, we looked at how each program ranked in leading college evaluators like U.S. News. These organizations have the resources to go in-depth and create trusted assessments of each program. We created an algorithm which collects and analyzes the multiple rankings into one score to easily compare each university. This ranking score gave us insight into whether the university is considered to have a rigorous program with highly-regarded professors and coursework.
Schools that consistently ranking highly across multiple agencies did particularly well here. Arizona State University always ranked in the top forty universities, and so received higher marks in this category.
Next we looked at how active each program is — how many students choose, like, and complete each degree program. We looked at a few factors like how many students are currently enrolled, how well represented men and women are in each program, and the graduation rate of each program. This helped give us a glimpse into whether each program is successful at attracting a diverse student body, and how successful each school is at helping its students graduate on time.
While this metric had a smaller role in creating our Intelligent Score than Program Strength or Return on Investment Potential, we used it to affirm that each school has an active program and is interested in making sure that you complete your degree on time.
Return on Investment Potential
Then we looked at how easy it would be to earn back the cost of each degree program. The average weekly wages of public school teachers are 17% lower than other college-educated professionals — twenty-five years ago, that gap was just 1.8%. We wanted to focus on programs which can be paid off quickly, so you can spend your increased wages on anything other than student debt.
To do so, we looked at the number of credits it would take to complete each program as well as the average cost per credit. While the average cost sometimes depends on the particular program within a university, and whether the university charges out-of-state tuition, this gave us a good figure to compare the potential return on investment for each degree.
The University of Texas at Arlington did particularly well, since it charges the least per credit hour, and only requires thirty credit hours to graduate. On the other hand, the University of Southern California lost points for being more expensive to attend, even if two of its programs only require twenty-four or twenty-eight credit hours for graduation.
We used these three factors to create our Intelligent Score, measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being perfect. Each school on our list fell into a tight ranking. Eighteen of our top thirty universities earned at least 97 points out of 100, and only one university scored less than 90 points.
The only exception was the University of Southern California. Its higher tuition rates meant a lower Intelligent Score than our other top picks — 83.91. However, its strong reputation, active student body, and fast-paced programs earned the University of Southern California an honorary spot in our top five online Master’s in Education programs.
This Degree Isn’t For Everyone
There’s something to be said for pursuing knowledge for its own sake. Earning a Master’s in Education can open doors into a new specialization, help you focus on a particular field, and expand your knowledge of techniques and teaching methods.
That said, if you’re primarily interested in making a larger paycheck, there’s a couple things you should know.
Pay increases vary by state and by district. If you’re a teacher in Washington state, getting a Master’s in Education makes sense — you can increase your maximum earning potential by $20,000 per year. However, if you’re in Ohio, that pay bump only looks like $1,000 per year.
Not all states pay more for higher education degrees. Texas and North Carolina have both eliminated pay bumps for advanced degrees. This means that teachers in these states will be paid based on experience and personal merit, without consideration for their level of education.
This means two things. First, if you’re looking for a pay increase and are flexible about where you live, you might be able to make more money by moving to a district which pays more. Second, if you know where you want to live, you can look up the typical salary expectations of that district to see whether earning a Master’s degree makes financial sense.
First, read through our list of the Top 30 Online Master’s in Education, and check out the websites of programs you’re interested in. Request informational packets and reach out to program directors to see which degree is a good fit for you and your career goals.
Research financial aid opportunities like fellowships and scholarships, and apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Student Aid (FAFSA) no later than June 30th. Also watch out for the individual deadlines for program applications — some schools might not admit on a rolling basis.
If you’d like to see how quickly you can earn your degree back based on the state you want to teach in, the National Center for Education Statistics has your back. They collect data on salaries for teachers based on highest degree attained, level of experience, and school type and location.
Next, if you’re planning on earning a licensure through your online degree (not available from every program), you’ll want to look into your local state’s licensing requirements. While the U.S. Department of Education maintains national standards for online education, some states have stricter regulations, and may not recognize a degree completed out of state as authorization for licensure. If in doubt, contact your local department of education for more information.
Finally, you’ll want to do a quick check into whether your local school district will recognize your online program’s accreditation. Not all of the universities on our list have been accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Sometimes called NCATE, CAEP accreditation is the gold standard for educators and means that your degree will be accepted by employers nationally. If a university doesn’t have CAEP accreditation, it’s not a deal-breaker — they’re still rigorous programs that have accreditation from other agencies. You’ll just need to ask your local department of education to make sure your degree will be recognized by local employers.