Tuesday, Jan. 25, will mark the 10th annual release of U.S. News’ online degree program rankings. As always, these rankings assess offerings whose core requirements are predominantly accessible to distance learners.
We do not know exactly how many such programs exist in the U.S. We can only count those electing to participate in our surveys, which we believe reflect the majority of dedicated online programs but definitely not all. Although the number of schools we have been able to rank over time has grown significantly, this could be due to the growth in online education overall as well as interest in our rankings.
The inaugural 2013 edition had 237 online bachelor’s degree (completion) programs who reported to U.S. News. The upcoming edition will have 381; plus for the second year, there will be subject-specific undergraduate rankings in business and psychology.
Why the increase? There’s no doubt there is greater awareness of U.S. News’ rankings, especially compared with the earlier years. But perhaps improvements in online course delivery and student access to technology have incentivized more schools to offer these programs, which has had a reciprocating effect of online programs gaining credibility among employers. This credibility leads to further demand for flexible offerings — and has caused some brick-and-mortar programs struggling with enrollment to repurpose themselves into online degree programs.
Altogether, the upcoming edition assessed 1,728 online programs active for 2021 to 2022 across the seven master’s degree rankings in criminal justice, education, engineering, information technology, MBA, non-MBA business and nursing; plus the general bachelor’s ranking. This is a nearly 8% increase from the 1,605 programs that participated in these same fields for the 2021 edition, and the growth was relatively evenly distributed across the different subject areas.
By comparison, the 2021 edition had a 2% increase in programs, which had been more typical of recent years. We will see if the accelerated interest in this modality continues following the recent meteoric disruption to higher education.
Regardless, we will continue to produce these rankings — both the ones for the general public and the ones designed specifically for veterans and active-duty service members. Our goal, as it has been the past 10 years, is to aid prospective students in researching which online programs are strongest in academics, course delivery, support services and affordability. We do this by looking deeper than the reputation of the parent institutions to help students discover where they may have the best experiences.
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