US News and World Report have released their ratings of the best online colleges for 2014. Long considered the best resource for students seeking information about on campus programs US News began compiling the same data for online colleges three years ago.
As they report in the article, their methodology for ranking online schools is “Online education is becoming an essential part of the higher education landscape. Students and employers are increasingly finding value in the way subjects can be mastered in a digital environment.” http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2014/01/07/why-us-news-ranks-the-best-online-pro
For the 2104 rankings, US News assessed nearly 1000 online degree programs, an increase of 16% from the 2013 compilation. It noted that the rankings are for programs, not schools. The report only ranks degree-granting programs that are 100% online, which is the federal government standard for qualifying as a distant learning program.
Schools were ranked based on their cumulative score across four broad categories:
- Faculty Credentials and Training
- Student Services and Technology
- Student Engagement
- Admissions Selectivity
Included within the broad categories are some very relevant subsets. One of the most intriguing is the one-year retention rate, which for the top ranked schools is well above 90% rate. The retention rate is a direct measure of how much value students are placing in the program, as well as how accurate the admissions committee is in admitting new applicants. The rankings also include peer review data based on the evaluation of online schools’ evaluation of each other’s’ programs.
Following is a summary list of the top two schools in each of the categories that US News ranks:
Best Online Bachelor’s Programs
- Central Michigan University – Mount Pleasant, MI
- SUNY College of Technology – Delhi, NY
Best Online Graduate Business Programs
- Indiana University-Bloomington, IN
- Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ
Best Online Graduate Education Programs
- Northern Illinois University – DeKalb, IL
- Indiana University – Bloomington, IN
Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs
- Columbia University – New York, NY
- University of California – Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Best Online Graduate Info Tech Programs
- University of Southern California – Los Angeles, CA
- Boston University – Boston MA / Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, VA
Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs
- St. Xavier University – Chicago, IL
- Medical University of South Carolina – Charleston, SC
US News, while arguably the most prestigious of the ranking listings, is by no means alone in presenting lists. As is the case for most things, doing your own homework is by far the best methodology to use in selecting the right program for you. One of key attractions of online degree programs is that the student is no longer tied to any particular geographic location. All you need is access to the internet, and you are good to go.
A significant and realistic factor in determining what online degree program is best for you is often the cost. Just as with traditional brick and mortar schools, tuition costs vary widely between online schools. A number of publicly supported state schools charge higher out-of-state tuition fees for online degree programs, although that seems to be gradually changing as more public universities seek to enter the online education market. It is, however, a factor to be aware of when comparing costs.
There are a number of online guides that permit you to search for online courses by programs, states, student reviews, and cost. These are good places to start and are useful in narrowing down your search. However, it can be more difficult to determine the accuracy of program rankings using these various guides since their methodology for ranking are often hard to discern.
Schools that offer both online degrees and on-campus degrees carry the highest reputation for quality. Arizona State University is highly regarded for both their online education programs as well as their on campus programs. Penn State, through their Penn State World Campus program, offers a full range of distant education degrees and consistently ranks high in both categories.
It is important to have a clear set of goals when determining what the best online degree program is for you. If your goal is acquiring knowledge, then your focus will likely be on the reputation of the faculty and breadth of course offerings. On the other hand, if your goal is to obtain a degree specific to your career then you may want to focus more on school that match your specific focus. The good news is that you will find no shortage of guides and articles offering you suggestions and the websites of most programs are quite comprehensive in outlining each program and each school.
Most roads for obtaining an unbiased and objective review of the best online programs will lead you back to the US News and World annual rankings. The information is clearly presented, and the methodology for determining the rankings is pure.