Best Accredited Online Colleges and Universities for 2015

For each section there are specific qualities that we graded by compiling and analyzing information from various public data sets and reports, referenced in each section’s explanation. We then weighted each college’s grades, and compared them for specific academic programs to create a final ranking. It is important to note that our rankings compile data for both online-only colleges as well as colleges offering online and traditional programs. In some cases, the ranking provided for an online program is influenced by institutional data, which includes both its online and on-campus components. We assume for these rankings that the quality of online education is comparable to that of its on-campus counterparts, where applicable. Read More

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CTo update our official rankings for 2015, we refreshed each data set and grade to reflect the most recent research available from the 2013-2014 school year.

Methodology

Our methodology consisted of four weighted sections:

  1. Institutional Characteristics (17.5 percent)
    • Quality of Accreditation (10 percent)
    • Diversity of Online Programs (2.5 percent)
    • Institutional Resources (5 percent)
  2. Affordability and Student Debt (25 percent)
    • Tuition and Debt (5 percent)
    • Student Loan Default Rate (10 percent)
    • College Financial Aid (5 percent)
    • Percentage Change Across Three Years (5 percent)
  3. Enrollment, Graduation, and Retention Rates (25 percent)
    • Distance Education Enrollment Rates (5 percent)
    • Graduation Rates (10 percent)
    • Retention Rates (10 percent)
  4. Student and Institutional Success (32.5 percent)
    • Salaries of Graduates (15 percent)
    • Student and Alumni Awards (2.5 percent)
    • Other Institutional Rankings (5 percent)
    • Strength of Faculty (10 percent)

1: Institutional Characteristics

  • Quality of Accreditation (10 percent): Both programs and schools had their level of accreditation reviewed. Whether the institution received a national and/or regional accreditation status, and from what granting body, contributed to this grade. We used the OPE Accreditation Database compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education (OPE).
  • Diversity of Online Programs (2.5 percent): We factored in educational platforms offered to students, such as asynchronous, synchronous, or hybrid methods of teaching, as well as the availability of campus access. More options give students the widest choices of teaching styles and learning flexibility, resulting in a higher grade.
  • Institutional Resources (5 percent): The key resources we feel impact a student’s success are access to career and employment advisors, tutoring assistance, and library access. Traditional students benefit greatly from these resources, and no online student should be without access to them either. Schools providing students online access to these departments are graded higher.

2: Affordability and Student Debt

Data for all four factors below was collected from The Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Tuition and Debt (5 percent): We researched every school’s cost of tuition, average federal student loan debt total, and percentage of students graduating with federal loan debt. We then created a debt metric that analyzed a student’s vulnerability to debt, depending on the school, to assign grades. Lower debt loads were given higher grades. Also, because focusing on an absolute metric like total debt load or tuition can be misleading, we have balanced this factor with the student loan default rate, explained in the next step.
  • Student Loan Default Rate (10 percent): Each school’s student loan default rate is indicative of the strength of the institution. Specifically, top tier schools would have lower default rates because they are able to produce graduates who obtain opportunities with salaries large enough to pay back federal loans. Lower quality schools would have higher default rates, even those with lower absolute tuition and debt loads, because their graduates have a smaller chance of obtaining strong enough careers to fully pay back their debt. Lower default rates were given the highest grades.
  • College Financial Aid (5 percent): Beyond federal student loans, students receive other forms of financial aid, such as scholarships, tuition reductions, fellowships, and waivers. Institutions with a larger percentage of their students receiving this type of aid were awarded top grades for this factor.
  • Percentage Change Across Three Years (5 percent): Each of the three affordability factors above were finally compared across three-year gaps. It is important to understand the trajectory of a school’s improvement or decline in regard to debt load and financial aid. Schools with promising rates of change, like a downward trend of student loan default rate or an upward trend of providing more financial aid to students, were given the highest grades.

3: Enrollment, Graduation, and Retention Rates

Data was compiled from The Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for the three factors below.

  • Distance Education Enrollment Rates (5 percent): We examined each college’s enrollment rates for their distance education programs, and then separated it into three sub-groups: Students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, students enrolled in at least one but not all distance education courses, and students not enrolled in any distance education courses. The rates alone for enrollment are not significant indicators of a college’s performance, but calculating the rate of change across a three year span help establish an institution’s improvement or decline with regard to the health of their online student body.
  • Graduation Rates (10 percent): A school’s graduation rate is a useful metric to gauge the effectiveness of its programs. Schools with larger percentages of students graduating within the standard four-year time frame show their programs prepare students more than others to complete all requirements on time, and therefore save tuition costs as well. This methodology used a four-year rate instead of a five or six-year rate because schools generally promote their programs as within four years to completion (or four years or more) and the U.S. Department of Education defines a normal time for completion of a bachelor’s degree as four years.
  • Retention Rates (10 percent): Freshman-to-sophomore retention rates are useful metrics to rank a student’s overall satisfaction with their college. Generally a high fall retention rate means a high degree of student satisfaction. Conversely, schools with low retention rates have less students re-enrolling for the next fall, meaning freshman were not satisfied or supported well enough to continue their program.

4: Student and Institutional Success

  • Salaries of Graduates (15 percent): While not the perfect measurement of a college’s effectiveness, salary statistics are still important to prospective students. For many, a college’s ability to prepare them for a successful well-paying career influences their final decision. Our salary statistics were derived from PayScale.com’s database, which we feel is a legitimate source of real world data, with surveys from both employees and employers on every type of common profession. We took PayScale’s data for graduates 1-4 years out, 5-9 years out, and 10-19 years out. Finally, PayScale’s rankings for best colleges by salaries was also included in our criteria.
  • Student and Alumni Awards (2.5 percent): There are many organizations awarding successful students and alumni, such as The Rhodes Scholarship and Forbes’ annual lists of business leaders. Colleges and specific programs with higher amounts of awarded students and graduates received higher grades. We used these notable awards for our rankings:
  • Other Institutional Rankings (5 percent): We analyzed other publication’s rankings and guides for colleges to grade programs by their perceived prestige and effectiveness. Each publication has their own unique proprietary ranking data and methodology, and combining them with our own allows us to factor in other popular publication’s original research, grading criteria, and opinions. We used these notable college rankings:
  • Strength of Faculty (10 percent): Understanding a student’s satisfaction with their professors is another useful metric to see how well a college is performing. A high degree of student satisfaction with their faculty indicates students feel properly supported by their professors and received at least an adequate form of instruction and guidance, all of which are factors that contribute to a student’s ability to succeed in their program. RateMyProfessors.com was used because of the data sets (1.5 million professors and over 13 million evaluations) and also due to the general acceptance of its legitimacy. Each college and program had its professors averaged and then converted into a grade.

Best Online Colleges by Subject

Best Online Accounting Degree Program

175 Forest St.
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-4705
Total Enrollment: 5,647 | Acceptance Rate: 31 percent | Graduation Rate: 84 percent | Retention Rate: 95 percent

About This School:
Bentley University refers to its undergraduate programs as an “unparalleled fusion of business and the arts.” Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in its online accounting programs. Founded back in 1917, the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance has evolved over the years to incorporate cutting edge technology, with the ultimate goal to provide its students with all of the tools they’ll need for success in their career. In addition to preparing students for their CPA examination, Bentley University also has a master’s program dedicated entirely to accounting, as well as a doctoral program for students interesting in earning their PhD in accountancy. Put simply, Bentley University is a great school for prospective students that wish to study the connections between business, society, and technology.


Best Online Biology Degree Program

6823 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70118

About This School:
Tulane University offers an exhaustive choice of fields for  potential Biology students. This level of detail helps to separate Tulane from other educational institutions as it provides the general scientific background to students while also allowing them to customize their education and graduate with enough knowledge to give them an advantage in their chosen career. While all of Tulane’s Biology majors provide students with a Bachelor’s Degrees in Science, it’s not a stretch to say the level of knowledge these majors provide will still help students interested in leveraging their major to start a career in a wide variety of fields.


Best Online Business Degree Program

105 Main St., Thompson Hall
Durham, New Hampshire 03824-3547

Total Enrollment: 15,267 | Acceptance Rate: 22 percent | Graduation Rate: 77 percent | Retention Rate: 86 percent

About This School:
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) continues to add new and exciting classes to its distance learning programs. Currently, the school offers bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in many areas, including business. UNH offers students a BS in Business Administration as well as a Master’s in Business Administration. Students can take courses year-round, allowing them to get ahead during the summer months and finish their degrees sooner if they so desire. Most programs are designed for working adults who are seeking additional education to put themselves in the position for promotions or new careers. Students can complete their degrees in as little as two years of full-time study, or take as much as six years if they choose to attend school part-time while working and raising a family.


Best Online Criminal Justic Degree Program

3141 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

About This School:
Drexel University prides itself on Drexel University Online. A relatively new endeavor, online education at Drexel offers students the option to complete Associate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice while doing so with a flexible schedule that allows them to learn at a pace that is comfortable. Best of all, Drexel University Online makes no distinction between degrees earned through traditional classes and those earned online.


Best Online Early Childhood Education Degree Program

Livingston, Alabama 35470

About This School:
The University of West Alabama boasts as many online students as on-campus students. The school was chartered in 1835 in Livingston, Alabama. In addition to Bachelor’s and Certification programs, UWA’s School of Graduate Studies offers three different Master of Education, Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Science in Continuing Education programs.


Best Online Engineering Degree Program

3400 N Charles St. Mason Hall
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2688
Total Enrollment: 20,871 | Acceptance Rate: 35 percent | Graduation Rate: 92 percent | Retention Rate: 97 percent

About This School:
Johns Hopkins Engineering For Professionals (EP) has offered online classes since 2001. They consistently deliver high quality academics and overall positive educational experiences. Engineering programs are accredited by the ABET Foundation. The engineering programs   Johns Hopkins, an Elkridge, Maryland school, have been ranked twelfth by U.S. News & World Report Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs.

Engineering programs offered include environmental engineering, systems engineering, electrical and computer engineering and information systems engineering. These programs are offered through the JHU Whiting School of Engineering and give students opportunities for worldwide networking.


Best Online Graphic Design Degree Program

1000 Morris Ave
Union, NJ 07083

About This School:
The Graphic Design program is offered through the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University. This prestigious program features a bachelor’s degree curriculum that engages its students to think outside the box and develops them into professional practitioners. Kean University has an extensive online program that provide the opportunities for online classes that may meet some of the Graphic Design program requirements.


Best Online History Degree Program

Ballantine Hall 742
1020 East Kirkwood Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405-7103

About This School:
Indiana University offers history classes to online students. Through the IU Online, enrolled students are entitled to the same high-quality professors that this campus is known for. Along with being a member of the North Central Association, this school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Best Online Human Resources Degree Program

8000 York Road
Towson, MD 21252

About This School:
Towson University delivers quality online courses that are aimed at Business Administration Majors. With a Human Resource Management Track, the major includes 21 units or credited hours of required track courses, and once it is complete, students can enroll in one of three Human Resource Development Master’s programs.


Best Online Information Technology Degree Program

900 South Crouse Ave.
Syracuse, New York 13244
Total Enrollment: 21,029 | Acceptance Rate: 26 percent | Graduation Rate: 82 percent | Retention Rate: 92 percent

About This School:
Syracuse University is proud that their iSchool online education programs were ranked at number nine on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Online Computer and Technology Programs. Syracuse has offered graduate-level distance education degrees since 1993. Syracuse is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. All of its programs are also registered with the New York State Education Department.

Online master’s degrees are available in Network Management, Information Management, MS in Telecommunications and Network Management for Executives. Online certificates of advanced study include information innovation, data study, information security and information systems and telecommunications.


Best Online Interior Design Degree Program

2100 Foxhall Road, NW
Academic Building 223
Washington, DC 20007

About This School:
George Washington University has been known for its leading career preparedness programs. The Interior Design program at GWU includes a significant value for students that want to learn under the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences School. Focused curriculum includes artistic and technical phases in Interior Design for both GWU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and Master of Fine Arts degree.


Best Online Math Degree Program

700 College St.
Beloit, WI 53511

About This School:
Beloit College offers students a chance to change the world by earning a degree from an institution that seeks to transform lives. Offering a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics, the college believes the study of mathematics to be one of the most important aspects of a liberal arts education. Several classes are offered online, as are virtual faculty office hours enabling students to meet with professors through virtual means such as e-mail and live chat.


Best Online Marketing Degree Program

1201 S State St.
Big Rapids, Michigan 49307-2251
Total Enrollment: 14,533 | Acceptance Rate: 32 percent | Graduation Rate: 44 percent | Retention Rate: 70 percent

About This School:
Ferris State University offers a number of online certification programs that provide students with the skills they’ll need to specialize in their career. Among the certification programs that can be completed entirely online are business-to-business marketing, direct marketing, e-commerce marketing, and general marketing. These certificates serve as the perfect complement to a business-oriented bachelor’s degree, such as the business administration degree that is also offered at Ferris State University. By earning these certificates in addition to the Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, students will have a solid foundation from which to secure employment upon graduation.

Best Online Medical Assistant Degree Program

InterCoast_Colleges_Orange
3745 W. Chapman Avenue #100
Orange, California 92868
Total Enrollment: 322 | Graduation Rate: 77 percnt | Retention Rate: 71 percent

About This School:
InterCoast Colleges-Orange offers certification programs for both medical assistants and administrative medical assistants. Prospective students interested in administrative medical assistance will be pleased to learn that the entire program can be completed online. By contrast, general medical assistants must work closely with InterCoast Colleges in a blend of online coursework and traditional coursework. This is due to how medical assistant certification works, which requires a basic number of hours spent in a training facility before certification can be granted. As such, medical assistants will need to spend 180 hours training with InterCoast Colleges in order to become a nationally-certified medical assistant.


Best Online Nutrition Degree Program

33 Gilmer Street SE
Atlanta, GA

About This School:
Georgia State University has a program whereby students can earn their BS or MS Degree in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. Four nutrition classes are available online covering topics like Food Safety, Nutrition and Health for Health Professionals and Introduction to Clinical Nutrition. Most course work is completed on campus, but students do have the option to earn their degree partly online.


Best Online Photography Degree Program

Total Enrollment: 32 | Graduation Rate: 77 percent | Retention Rate: 83 percent

About This School: 
A nationally-accredited program, this trade school teaches students everything they need to know to succeed in a photography career. Learning skills in digital imaging, desktop publishing, darkroom techniques and more allows students to learn at their own pace while gaining valuable skills. Awarded a Best of Business Award, the school combines the technical skills of photography with skills needed in self-employment such as advertising and marketing techniques, client meetings and contracts and forms.


Best Online Psychology Degree Program

325 N. Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60654

About This School: 
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. They also have an active membership with the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. They offer a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree online in a program that is perfect for adult learners and working professionals to finish their education.

The Chicago School is proud to be considered one of the top, cutting-edge institutions specializing in the study of psychology. Degrees feature several concentrations including Child and Adolescent Psychology and International Psychology.


Best Online Special Education Degree Program

Gustafson Hall – Room 103
3264 Campus Road Stop 9021
Grand Forks, ND 58202-9021

About This School: 
Caring students can earn a master of science degree in special education from the University of North Dakota that can include a selected emphasis of their choice. For instance, designer classes include online and distance learning coursework in visual impairment, intellectual disabilities, gifted-talented, autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and many more.


Best Online Sociology Degree Program

Cherry Creek Building
1111 W. Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80204

About This School: 
Community College of Denver (CCD) offers online and hybrid classes. CCD is also a member of the Colorado Community College System online consortium.  The fully online courses taken through CCC Online are transferable to any of the 13 member institutions as well as public state colleges. The Sociology classes herein are intended only to fulfill a general education requirement, and are taken mostly by associate degree seekers.


Best Online Social Work Degree Program

201 Presidents Circle, ROOM 203
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9008
Total Enrollment: 32,388 | Acceptance Rate: 38 percent | Graduation Rate: 59 percent | Retention Rate: 88 percent

About This School: 
The University of Utah has designed its comprehensive social work program to incorporate elements of online learning while still offering plenty of field experience that is absolutely crucial to the success of a student in their social work career. In particular, the University of Utah offers a certification program for its social work undergraduates that will allow them to become experts in alcohol and drug abuse treatment. Students that are interested in this certification program, or the general mix of online and traditional classes offered by this program, would do well to look into the University of Utah for further details.


Best Online Web Design  Degree Program

4425 West Jose Regueiro (20th) Avenue
Hialeah, FL 33012

About This School: 
Florida National University (FNU), founded in 1982, offers students an Associate in Science Degree in Computer Development. The degree, emphasizing Web Design and Development, combines web design, programming and information technology into an all-around program that prepares students for various jobs. Many graduates go to work for web development companies, while others work for computer programming companies or serve as help consultants or technical advisors. All degrees are completed 100 percent online, making them very convenient for working adults or those with family responsibilities and obligations.