U.S. News Rankings of Online Programs: Clues for the Future?

U.S. News has recently issued its rankings of online programs that award bachelor’s degrees or graduate degrees in business, engineering, education, nursing, and information technology, and we come away from our review of the rankings with two main thoughts:

(1) Could the highly ranked programs provide an indication of how well a university will do when it expands its online offerings to resident students? and

(2) Could the U.S. News methodology for online rankings be a sign that the magazine is shifting from its current over-emphasis on a school’s financial resources?

A positive answer to the first question is far more likely than it is for the second.  This is unfortunate, because the methodology used for ranking online programs is much better.

We will begin with the rankings themselves, focusing on graduate programs for business and engineering.  Many of the best ones are centered at the major public universities that we follow, while many of the bachelor’s programs are from lesser-known institutions.

According to the magazine, Washington State has the number one-rated MBA online program.  Our congratulations to WSU, and to Arizona State, Indiana, and Florida, whose MBA programs were ranked two, three, and four, respectively.  Penn State’s World University was number 2 in engineering, Purdue number 4, Michigan 5, Auburn 6, and NC State 7.

Special congratulations to Penn State, Auburn, NC State, Arizona State, Florida, and Washington State for having top 50 programs in both engineering and business.  Auburn and South Carolina also ranked second and fifth, respectively, for their online graduate programs in education.

Below are the top public university online MBA programs:

1. Washington State
2. Arizona State
3. Indiana
4. Florida
7. Auburn
8. Connecticut
9. UT Dallas
17. Nebraska
22. Massachusetts Amherst
27. Rutgers
28. Temple
29. West Virginia
37. Oklahoma State
42. North Carolina State
44. Mississippi
77. Alabama

The leading major public universities with online graduate programs in engineering are the following:

2. Penn State (World University)
4. Purdue
5. Michigan
6. Auburn
7. NC State
8. Wisconsin
11. UCLA
12. Mississippi St
13. Virginia Tech
15. Ohio State
21. Texas A&M (Kingsville)
22. South Florida
23. Arizona State
25. Arkansas
26. Florida
27. Alabama Birmingham
28. South Carolina
30. Ohio University
33. Washington St
34. Alaska Anchorage
37. Kansas State
39. Clemson
42. Illinois
44. Arizona
47. Alabama Huntsville
49. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
50. Texas Tech

More about the ranking methodology:

Unlike the popular Best Colleges rankings, the online rankings do not over-emphasize financial factors, focusing instead on “outputs.”  This approach is much friendlier to public universities and is fairer overall.  For the online rankings, graduation rates are extremely important (deservedly so), as are retention rates, class size, time-to-degree, faculty quality and training, use of best practices, and student indebtedness.

GRE math scores and acceptance rates are used in the engineering rankings, and GMAT scores and acceptance rates are used in the business rankings.