U.S. News & World Report plans online education rankings

online college rankings

U.S. News & World Report recently announced plans to collect in-depth data on all online bachelor's and five master's degree programs in the United States, with the aim of publishing a directory of online education programs later this year.

"With the rapid growth of online programs in higher education, prospective students are asking for more, and more useful, data to make informed choices," U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly wrote in a letter to college presidents. 'We are creating a site that will bring the same quality of information to online consumers, and the same opportunity for schools to connect with those students, that we've brought to brick and mortar institutions over the last three decades."

According to U.S. News' Eric Brooks, the aim is to address three major deficiencies in the data currently available on online education: there's no objective way to assess the quality of online education offerings, there's no universal standard of what an online degree constitutes, and there's no comprehensive listing of accredited online degree programs.

"In conjunction with the rankings, U.S. News will be constructing searchable profiles of online education programs and their characteristics," Brooks writes. "These characteristics will be wide-ranging and specific, and examples include listing a program's in-person attendance requirements, and noting whether it offers its students an app for streaming classes on a smartphone. This kind of information will assist prospective students with finding the right types of online programs for their learning preferences and lifestyles."

Inside Higher Ed's Steve Kolowich reports that Robert Morse, the director of the rankings, has not yet finalized the criteria for assessing online programs. "The plan is to solicit a wide range of data, and then decide on criteria based on a combination of what makes sense, according to scholarly research into online course effectiveness and interviews with online education authorities, and what comes back, said Morse," Kolowich writes.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education's Rachel Wiseman and Jeffrey R. Young, the real challenge may lie in persuading colleges and universities, particularly for-profit institutions, to participate in the survey. "When asked if they would join in, several college leaders interviewed by The Chronicle this week revealed a common refrain: Show us the questions first," Wiseman and Young write.

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