U.S. News and World Report released its most recent ranking of the 2016 Best Online Programs on Jan. 12, with USF ranking in the top 25 for several categories.
This year, USF ranked in the top 25 in three of the eight categories the list covered. USF St. Petersburg ranked in the top 25 in one. USF came in at No. 22 for Best Online Graduate Business Programs (Excluding MBA), tying with Oklahoma City University, Missouri University of Science and Technology and Bentley University. In Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs, USF came in at 14, tied with Pace University. USF was also ranked No. 20 in Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs.
The number of students in online degree programs is on the rise, with 6.7 million students taking at least one online course in fall of 2011, according to Online Learning Consortium (OLC). OLC reported 32 percent of higher education students taking at least one online course in 2012.
Online courses and programs were popular in the past but have recently reached a plateau, U.S. News Senior data analyst Eric Brooks said. As far as information on the quality of these programs, he said, there isn’t a lot of information out there.
Brook said the U.S. News rankings focus on quality. The purpose, he said, is to show consumers who are interested in these online degree programs the best options available.
“The purpose … is not to effect universities, it’s to give consumers or prospective students a guide, an insight into the strength of online programs,” Brooks said.
USF St. Petersburg was ranked No. 14 in Best Online MBA Programs, tying with the University of North Texas, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Pepperdine University (Graziado) and North Carolina State University (Jenkins).
USF Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox said in a press release that the university is proud of its rankings.
“These online STEM and business focused graduate degrees are a critical component of our strategic effort to increase student access and provide high-quality programs that align degree offering and workforce needs,” Wilcox said in the release.
Other categories included graduate criminal justice programs, graduate nursing programs, graduate education programs and bachelor’s programs. USF ranked 36 in Best Online Graduate Education Programs, tying with the University of Colorado-Denver, Georgia State University, Creighton University and Angelo State University.
The rankings were based off of assessments made of the programs using five categories. These included student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, admissions selectivity and peer reputation. Evaluation in these explored aspects such as graduation rates, retention rates, class size and delivery. For each program, the amount of weight each category carried was different. However, the same standards for each category were applied to each evaluated program.
U.S. News did not include schools without regional accreditations. It also did not count hybrid programs or online programs with on-campus components past things such as orientation or student services. Some rankings had other specific accreditations requirements or criteria for schools and programs to meet in order to qualify.
“Our rankings are based on whether these online programs meet … the metrics of quality one would associate with a traditional program,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he feels online programs will continue to be around in the future. He said the demand is high for these degrees, as people want the flexibility distance learning offers and the respected degrees students can get from them.
“There are people who cannot be full time students, who cannot attend campus every day, people who work,” Brooks said. “… With getting a master’s (degree) being increasingly important for some fields and the value of higher education, there’s going to be more people already in the work force with families and life commitments who are going to want to be able to get an advanced degree in their discipline.”