Online College Rankings Are On the Horizon
August 4th, 2011

College rankings, a hotly debated issue, are making their way to the online education arena, to the delight (and chagrin) of many.

In June, U.S. News & World Report sent a letter to college presidents, soliciting their help in completing a cadre of surveys about the makeup, requirements, and quality of their online education programs. This is the rankings giant’s first foray into online degrees; it plans to collect data from all online bachelor’s degree programs in the country, along with online master’s degree programs in business, computer information technology, education, engineering, and nursing. U.S. News will not be ranking online colleges as a whole; for now, it will focus solely on specific degree programs.

The formulas for the rankings have not yet been determined, which will make it difficult for colleges to play to the rankings, since they don’t know what U.S. News is looking for. The organization will solicit a wide range of data and choose criteria after they see what comes back. Not the most sophisticated strategy, but it’s only the first attempt, after all.

Aside from all the usual issues that ranking colleges brings up, some worry that ranking online education programs can be even dicier than measuring their brick-and-mortar counterparts. But surveys will only be sent to schools with proper accreditation, so degree mills should not be rearing their heads in these rankings.

The goal, of course, is to give students some hard data so that they can make more informed choices about their education. And for those seeking to compare online programs the way they might compare traditional programs, the new rankings could be a real time-saver. It’s tough to fight your way through every school’s promo copy, and rankings are one way to give consumers black-and-white info on what a college really provides.

The rankings are just in the preliminary stages, but they’re already garnering lots of attention from well-wishers and naysayers alike. A positive note: the fact that a major college guide is turning its attention to online degrees speaks volumes about the rise of online education and its legitimacy in the public eye. We don’t know if U.S. News will “get it right” – but we’re hopeful.

It’s worth noting that GetEducated.com already ranks online degrees, but only by affordability. Online college rankings based on public perception and student satisfaction appear to be in the works. College Choices for Adults is another site that collects data on online colleges, though it does not rank them.

Keep an eye out for the U.S. News online degree rankings to be released in mid-October.

–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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