U.S. News & World Report, the pioneer in college rankings, is in the midst of conducting a new first-of-its-kind study: rankings of online universities. But according to “The Online-College Crapshoot” (by Laura Pappano, New York Times, November 4, 2011at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/the-online-college-crapshoot.html?ref=edlife&pagewanted=all) some of the biggest online universities, including Capella and Kaplan, aren’t participating.
Among their concerns is the concern that the criteria one might use to rank a traditional university do not apply to online universities. For example, because many of the students in online universities are non-traditional students, some of the information about class ranking in high school is less relevant.
Some of the issues are that the strengths of traditional and online universities differ. According to the article, traditional universities focus on research and promote the expertise of their faculties; online universities focus on teaching and learning support. (I think that sells both groups short; nearly all traditional universities have units that promote teaching and learning; some online universities focus on research).
In a related article, Pappano suggests some tips for choosing an online university now—before the ratings are available (Before Signing On: A Checklist, New York Times, November 4, 2011, at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/before-signing-on-a-checklist.html?ref=edlife).
To get information, speak to someone who “isn’t hawking courses, like a program director” rather than a recruiter.
- Course quality (what you’ll learn, assignments, and whether the instructor is qualified to teach the course)
- Educational support—that is, someone who will provide advice on courses and preparing for work after graduation—and do so on a timely basis
- Technical Support—that is, if the technology fails, how quickly will the problem be addressed (some programs only have support during normal business hours; most online students sign onto their courses on weekends and evenings
- Credit transfer, that is, if you decide to switch to another university later in your studies, will they accept your credits
- Accreditation—that is, will anyone recognize your degree? Most employers and universities only recognize degrees from accredited institutions.
- Costs, jobs, and other indicators—that is, the likelihood that your degree will translate into a job afterwards, based on the experience of previous graduates