Factors like affordability, academic excellence and delivery format are key considerations for any prospective student. When a student begins shopping online college programs, things get more complex. Does the department offer your particular concentration online? Is an on-site practicum required? Are coursework timelines suited to your learning and scheduling needs?
To help you find and weigh your program options, we’ve compiled two sets of lists of the best online colleges in the country using qualitative measures and data provided by IPEDS and schools themselves. The first list assesses two-year schools based on admissions, enrollment, retention, and graduation data; the second set uses the same criteria to rank four-year schools. All schools included in our rankings offer at least three fully-online degree programs. Each school in our list is a not-for-profit institution.
Why Online Education?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), one in three U.S. college students are now taking at least one class online. Many leaders in education predict digital learning will become even more of an everyday experience for college students and recommend that high schools require students to take one online course before graduation, a requirement many high schools have already adopted.
In terms of total enrollments nationwide, growth rates of online college program and course enrollment have exceeded traditional enrollments since 2002, when less than 10% of new students were enrolled in at least one online class:
Growth of Online College Enrollment
Digital learning is easily the most dramatic change to sweep higher education in over a century. Colleges are under a lot of pressure to expand their online program offerings to meet the rising demand for distance learners across the country. This is great news for prospective students. Academia, once synonymous with tradition and the slow and careful adoption of all things new, is changing for the better and there have never been more opportunities for a more diverse group of degree-seekers.
Consider the rapid growth in the number of online degree programs available between 2013 and 2014:
Growth of Available Online Degree Programs
It can be difficult to weigh the value and quality of one online degree over another. It’s good to keep in mind that whether a program is offered online or on-campus, all accredited college programs in the U.S. are held to the same academic and professional standards. These standards also extend to the full-time faculty and adjunct professors that these schools hire. Schools that fail to meet program and faculty quality requirements risk losing accreditation.
Due to the rapid evolution and development of online coursework, online programs are quickly becoming some of the most high-quality degree options available. Consider how the average admissions, enrollment, retention and graduation rates of the 25 four-year schools on our list compare to rates of all four-year colleges and universities nationwide:
How Our Top Online Schools Stack Up
Our rankings are a jumping off point to help you build a list of these prospective programs. Remember, many factors that contribute to the quality of a degree program are intangible. You won’t find datapoints here or elsewhere that fully capture the level of faculty support, peer networking or academic and professional stimulation found in one program versus another. Please contact your schools directly for more information.
Learn more about the methodology of our rankings, or start exploring the best online colleges offering two- and four-year online degrees below.