Best Online Degrees in 2013: What the Rankings Say
February 1st, 2013

online degree rankingsWe are a rankings- and ratings-obsessed nation. Nielsen ratings help determine which TV shows stay on the air, and the ratings that reviewers post online help us decide which products to purchase.

Higher education is certainly no stranger to the rankings universe – U.S. News & World Report has been ranking colleges since 1983. But this is only the second year that the news magazine has ranked online education programs.

Nearly 860 online education programs (up more than 20 percent from the 2012 list) were evaluated by U.S. News for 2013. Only degree-granting programs that met the federal standard of 100 percent online course delivery were evaluated – no blended learning here. As U.S. News has stated from the start, it is ranking programs, not schools. Also note that the rankings make no distinction between nonprofit and for-profit schools’ programs.

In its inaugural year, U.S. News did not provide numeric rankings on overall program quality, opting instead to offer non-numerical honor roll lists of online programs. This year, however, U.S. News is going all in and confidently assigning scores to online programs. (Though, as U.S. News writer Brian Kelly points out, “We don’t pick favorites – the numbers do.”)

The best online bachelor’s degree programs were determined by factors such as graduation rates, indebtedness of new graduates, and academic and career support services offered to students. Here are the top 10:

Best Online Bachelor’s Programs 2013

1. Pace University (New York, NY)
2. Daytona State College (Daytona Beach, FL)
3. St. John’s University (Queens, NY)
4. Westfield State University (Westfield, MA)
5. Graceland University (Lamoni, IA)
6. Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, MI)
7. Colorado State University – Global Campus (Greenwood Village, CO)
8. Brandman University (Irvine, CA)
9. Bellevue University (Bellevue, NE)
10. Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA)

Graduate degree programs were scored using similar categories (e.g., student engagement, faculty credentials and training, and student services and technology) and separated by discipline – business, education, engineering, computer information technology, and nursing. The top online master’s degree programs include Washington State University (business), University of Southern California (engineering and computer information technology), St. John’s University in New York (education), and Ferris State University in Michigan (nursing).

It’s no surprise that schools are psyched when their programs make the coveted list.

“Receiving a top 10 national ranking among online universities from U.S. News & World Report helps quantify our commitment to educational excellence,” says Regent University president Dr. Carlos Campo.

No doubt – and it’s great press for the highly ranked schools. No ranking system will be perfect, but if students can use it as a starting point to compare hard data about programs of interest, it has served its purpose.

For those who still feel disenchanted by the online rankings, U.S. News promises to continue to refine the data sets and expand the categories. In other words, the rankings – like just about everything else in life – are a work in progress.

–Robyn Tellefsen

Robyn Tellefsen

Robyn Tellefsen is an NYC-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in career education. In addition to writing for The CollegeBound Network and Employment Network's suite of sites, she provides proofreading and copyediting services for various publishing companies. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Wheaton College (IL).

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