Ranking the Online Colleges

U.S. News & World Report, which in the last three decades has become one of the most successful and controversial kingmakers in higher education, is taking preliminary steps to apply its rankings to the increasingly important realm of online colleges.

Meanwhile, a U.S. News spin-off site accidentally profiled a new program at an online institution considered by some authorities to be a "degree mill" — a mistake that, while it was swiftly corrected when brought to the attention of the editors, highlighted just how difficult it can be to size up online institutions in the current environment.

Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, this week sent out a memo to more than 1,000 officials at online colleges and university-based online programs notifying them that, over the next few weeks, the publication would be soliciting data from their institutions with an eye to ranking programs that are delivered at least 80 percent online. The target for release of the inaugural U.S. News online program rankings is mid-October.

“With the rapid growth of online programs in higher education, prospective students are asking for more, and more useful, data to make informed choices,” Kelly wrote in the memo. “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.”

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