Every year the Open Education Database releases its ranking of colleges that offer online education options for their undergraduates. This year, for the first time, the rankings are broken down into subject areas, with separate lists released for programs such as computer science, marketing, accounting and education.
OEDb has been a pioneer in the area of online college rankings, having released their first list in 2007. The 2013 Online College Rankings are the most comprehensive publication yet, especially for prospective students and their families who are weighing the pros and cons of online education.
Among the schools topping the list are some of the most prestigious names in American higher education, like Pennsylvania State University – which has the best online undergraduate program in Psychology – and the University of Delaware, which shares the same honor for its nursing (BSN) program.
To compile the list, OEDb relied exclusively on objective data collected from trusted third parties such as the U.S. Department of Education. In the initial stages, researchers put together a list of all U.S. colleges that offer online undergraduate programs as of November 2012. The candidate institutions were selected from the College Navigator Database maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Of the initial 3,000 schools that made the cut, only those that offer online-only undergraduate programs in the eleven most relevant subject areas targeted by OEDb – nursing, psychology, business administration, marketing, accounting, education, paralegal studies, criminal justice, computer science, IT and graphic design – were included in the final report.
The programs were then ranked by a number of metrics including graduation rate, student retention, institution-based financial aid, student loan default rate and job placement rate, among others. All the metrics selected were quantitative and were measured officially by the schools themselves or by a trusted third party.
In order to be considered for the OEDb rankings, the schools had to have available data covering at least two-thirds of the metrics considered.
For schools with multiple branches that offer identical online programs, we only used the data from the school's online-specific entry in College Navigator. If this was not available, we used the data from the school's main campus or headquarters. In the event that a school with multiple branches had no online-specific entry in College Navigator, main campus, or headquarters, we used the data from the branch with the largest student population because this is likely the branch with the most student resources available.
The final list of 852 was then organized according to how well each school scored on the metrics for which data was available.
A more detailed description of the methodology employed by OEDb is available on their website.
Also available on the website is the breakdown of the results by each of the metrics used so prospective users can find out, for example, which of the ranked schools scored best on the lowest-tuition metric and which ones have the best full-time faculty/part-time faculty ratios.
In addition to schools listed above, topping the list in their respective majors were
- Business Administration: University of Michigan
- Marketing: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- Accounting: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- Paralegal: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
- Criminal Justice: Saint Louis University
- Education: University of Findlay
- Computer Science: Oregon State University
- IT: University of Denver
- Graphic Design: Savannah College of Art and Design
As the cost of college continues to grow and the job market for college graduates remains soft, potential students can take comfort in the information gleaned from the list that ranks the schools by the student loan default rates. The top 27 schools listed all tied for first place with 0% default rates for graduates of their online undergraduate programs. Among the top 100 schools, the worst had a default rate of only 3%.
Similarly good news can be found in the list that ranks schools by the success their graduates have had obtaining employment. Although not every school made such data publicly available, among the 38 schools that did, the top 12 – including East Carolina University, Chabot College, Jacksonville State University, and Clark State Community College – all boasted a 100% job placement rate.
Even though a growing number of students are beginning to encounter online courses in high school and even earlier, there remains a knowledge gap when it comes to assessing the quality of online programs at college levels. Since 2007, the OEDb has stepped in to fill this gap by providing objective and thorough reports, allowing both students and their families to compare online education providers against each other.
The 2013 edition goes even further by moving beyond schools themselves, and looking at the quality of their specific programs, thus giving potential applicants more tools to make informed choices about their higher education.