‘U.S. News’ Sizes Up Online-Degree Programs, Without Saying Which Is No. 1

U.S. News & World Report has published its first-ever guide to online degree programs—but distance-education leaders looking to trumpet their high rankings may find it more difficult to brag about how they placed than do their colleagues at residential institutions.

Unlike the magazine's annual rankings of residential colleges, which cause consternation among many administrators for reducing the value of each program into a single headline-friendly number, the new guide does not provide lists based on overall program quality; no university can claim it hosts the top online bachelor's or online master's program. Instead, U.S. News produced "honor rolls" highlighting colleges that consistently performed well across the ranking criteria.

Eric Brooks, a U.S. News data research analyst, said the breakdown of the rankings into several categories was intentional; his team chose its categories based on areas with enough responses to make fair comparisons.

"We're only ranking things that we felt the response rates justified ranking this year," he said.

The rankings, which will be published today, represent a new chapter in the 28-year history of the U.S. News guide. The expansion was brought on by the rapid growth of online learning. More than six million students are now taking at least one course online, according to a recent survey of more than 2,500 academic leaders by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board.

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