For students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees, online learning offers a more flexible option, enabling many of them to boost their careers as they continue working full time.
More than 6 million students enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2015, with private nonprofit schools experiencing the fastest growth, according to a 2017 report. Experts say online programs vary in flexibility – some offer classes with self-paced learning while others include real-time videoconferencing.
Many students cite career aspirations as their main reason for earning an online degree, with plans to either switch fields or attain more senior roles in their companies. Prospective students interested in an online program can turn to U.S. News’ 2018 Best Online Programs rankings, released today, to compare their many options.
For the seventh year, U.S. News ranked online bachelor’s degrees along with master’s degree programs in business, computer information technology, education, engineering and nursing. U.S. News also ranked online criminal justice master’s degree programs for the fourth year, and online MBA programs were once again ranked separately from other business degrees.
U.S. News also once again ranked the Best Online Programs for Veterans. To be eligible for this ranking, a program must rank within the top half of schools in the 2018 Best Online Programs. An online program must also belong to a school that’s certified for the GI Bill and helps veterans reduce tuition costs via the Yellow Ribbon Program or by offering in-state tuition to out-of-state veterans.
Starting last year, U.S. News required schools in the veterans rankings to enroll a critical mass of students with military backgrounds to become eligible: a total of 25 veterans and active service members at the undergraduate level, and 10 total for each graduate-level ranking.
Temple University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University tied for the No. 1 spot in the 2018 rankings of online bachelor’s programs for veterans.
Nearly 1,500 online degree programs submitted data to U.S. News this year. U.S. News ranks programs that are completely online, though one can still be ranked if it has orientations, clinical requirements, support services or other in-person elements. The rankings don’t differentiate between for-profit and nonprofit programs and don’t include blended programs, which combine on-campus and online learning.
U.S. News ranks accredited online programs based on various factors, including faculty credentials and training, student engagement, peer reputation, and student services and technology. All programs except for online bachelor’s degrees also weigh admissions selectivity.
Some programs saw major gains or drops in the rankings, typically due to schools completing survey questions they hadn’t in the past and minor adjustments to the methodologies. The total number of programs submitting data continues to rise each year, which also has an impact.
Here are some of the top online degree programs in the 2018 rankings.
Bachelor’s: Ohio State University—Columbus earned the top spot among online colleges, a jump from a tie at No. 8 last year. Embry-Riddle, formerly No. 1, dropped to a tie at No. 2 with Temple, which maintained its previous rank. Arizona State University stayed at No. 4.
Among more significant changes, Utah State University rose to No. 5 from No. 14 last year, and the University of North Carolina—Wilmington leapt to a tie at No. 7 from a tie at No. 76.
MBA: Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business again ranked No. 2, tying with Indiana University—Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business, which rose from No. 3 last year.
[Discover the top 20 online MBA programs.]
Business (master’s, non-MBA): Villanova University topped the rankings of online business master’s programs after ranking in a tie at No. 4 last year. The Arizona State University Carey School of Business jumped one spot to No. 2 this year, tying with Kelley, which ranked No. 1 last year. The University of Texas—Dallas dropped two spots to No. 4.
Education (master’s): Many online master’s in education programs made dramatic moves in the rankings. Ranked in a tie at No. 10 last year, Clemson University’s Moore School of Education soared to No. 1 this year. Creighton University jumped from last year’s tie at No. 61 to a tie at No. 2 with the University of Florida, which fell from the top spot. The University of North Texas ranked No. 4, up from a tie at No. 16 in the 2017 rankings.
Nursing (master’s): Among online nursing graduate programs, St. Xavier University remained No. 1, while Ohio State University and the Medical University of South Carolina swapped spots, ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The University of Colorado jumped to No. 4 from a tie at No. 9.
Engineering (master’s): The online engineering program at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science earned the top spot this year, rising from No. 3 last year. The University of California—Los Angeles Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering tied for No. 2; those schools had tied for No. 1 last year.
Computer information technology (master’s): Last year’s No. 1 online computer information technology program at the University of Southern California held its spot in the 2018 rankings, while New York University and Virginia Tech tied for No. 2. North Carolina State University saw a move up in the rankings to No. 4 from a tie at No. 6 last year.
Criminal justice (master’s): Sam Houston State University stayed at No. 1 in this year’s rankings of online criminal justice programs, while Boston University shifted to No. 2 from No. 4 last year. The University of California—Irvine remained at No. 3, tying with the University of Nebraska—Omaha, which previously ranked No. 2.