We invited institutions of higher education across the U.S. to fill out a rigorous survey, numbering around 150 questions, about their operations involving current and former service members and their families.

To create the rankings, we evaluated colleges’ survey responses based on what veterans have told us is important to them, as well as on our own editorial judgment. We also factored in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database. Broadly speaking, institutions were evaluated in five categories: university culture, academic outcomes/quality, student support, academic policies, and cost and financial aid. While the value of each section was comparable, university culture was worth the most in the survey. Academic outcomes/ quality were weighted second highest for four-year, two-year and online schools, while student support was the next highest weight in the ranking of career and technical colleges. Cost and financial aid was worth the least in all cases. Many factors other than those listed in the chart were considered when developing the rankings.

2016 enrollment data are as reported by the colleges in our survey for the fall 2016 semester, except where otherwise indicated. Military enrollment figures are measured similarly and apply to service members and veterans actually tracked by a school, not just students using military-related benefits, except where otherwise indicated.

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Vet center indicates what type of services schools offer for their military-connected students in consolidated veteran spaces. We define a “Center” as a stand-alone area or building where military-connected students can meet, socialize, study or get academic help. An “Office” is a stand-alone area or office, other than the school’s main financial aid office, that is used to process VA, DoD and analogous state benefits, as well as to counsel students on use of these benefits. “Virtual” indicates that schools replicate these services for online students.

Policy agreements show which of three major military and veteran education agreements a college has signed on to: Principles of Excellence, 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, and the most recent Defense Department Memorandum of Understanding. Whether an institution signed on to the Principles of Excellence or 8 Keys is based on VA data; information on the DoD MOU was reported by schools in the survey.

GI Bill gap coverage rates how well schools reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket tuition costs for Post-9/11 GI Bill users. This can be done both by bringing school costs to a level that will be covered by the GI Bill and by using the Yellow Ribbon program to help make up the difference between tuition costs and what the benefit covers. In the 2016-17 school year, public schools had to offer in-state tuition to all eligible GI Bill users to have all tuition costs covered by the benefit, while private schools had to stay under the $21,970.46 cap. Schools that exceeded these limits could participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, under which the school and the VA partner to partially or completely make up the difference between a school’s tuition rate and GI Bill coverage limits. Stars indicate how thoroughly a school addressed potential gaps in tuition costs covered by the GI Bill through both of these methods. Best rating = 4 stars.

Charged at or below TA cap shows whether a school’s tuition rates were at or below the $250-per-credit-hour limit set for most military tuition assistance in the 2016-17 school year.

Staff support rates the number of staff members an institution dedicates to veterans issues as a proportion of its military and veteran student population; the amount of time they spend on veterans issues; and the scope and frequency of military-related training for faculty, administrators and staff throughout the school.

Extracurriculars rates the number and activity level of student veteran groups at a college, as well as whether the school supports those groups financially. The ratings also consider initiatives to support military spouses and families, as well as nonacademic school events, such as service projects, Veterans Day programs and others.

Accreditation indicates a school’s institutional accreditation. [R] indicates regional accreditation, which is generally the most respected type of accreditation in the academic community and usually makes it easier to transfer academic credit to another school. DETC: Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission; HLC: The Higher Learning Commission (North Central Association of Colleges and Schools); MSCSS: Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools; MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; NCCU: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; NEASC: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; SACS: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges; WASC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission; WASC-ACCJC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Money per student on instruction data from the Education Department shows the average amount of money spent on instruction per full-time-equivalent student.

Retention rate data shows the proportion of a school’s full-time and part-time students who returned to classes the fall after they started at the school. The military rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and includes both freshmen and transfer students in their first semester at the school in fall 2015 who returned in fall 2016, unless otherwise indicated. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time freshmen starting in 2014 and continuing in 2015, the most recent years for which data is available. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the retention rate for first-time, full-time was 81 percent at four-year schools and 61 percent at two-year schools. Part-time retention rates are typically lower.

Graduation rate data shows the proportion of a school’s students who graduated within 150 percent of the expected completion time for the degrees they pursued. This measures new students starting at a four-year school in 2009 and graduating by 2015, as well as new students starting at a two-year school in 2012 and graduating by 2015. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time, full-time students, a category into which current and former service members rarely fall. However, the rate can provide some indication of academic success for the general student population. For schools that reported the information, the number in parentheses is the transfer-out rate for the same timeframe, which, if added to the graduation rate, may give a more accurate representation of student success.

The military rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and is calculated the same way, except it considers only students with military ties and is not limited to first-time, full-time students.

Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average graduation rate was 59 percent at four-year schools and 29 percent at two-year schools for students graduating by 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

Default rate data, from the Education Department, indicates the percentage of students from the 2014 graduating class, the most recent data available, who defaulted on loans within two years of beginning to repay them. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average default rate was 11.5 percent – 11.3 percent for public schools, 7.4 percent for private schools and 15.5 percent for for-profit institutions.