Data Collection to Start for Online Education Programs

Robert J. Morse and Eric Brooks

Starting August 21, U.S. News will be commencing its online data collection for our second Top Online Education Programs rankings in both the bachelor's and graduate levels for all disciplines. As was done in 2011, we will send questionnaires to a pre-selected number of regionally accredited bachelor's degree programs (1,766), as well a number of master's degree programs in business (958), computer information technology (313), education (1033), engineering (292), and nursing (473). We'll ask whether the programs administer their programs online, and if so, to report statistical and profile information that U.S. News will use to rank them and construct searchable individual profile pages.

If you would like to know which programs at your school will be receiving surveys or who at your institution is currently set to receive them, contact

This year's questionnaires are revised to ease the reporting burdens on schools, to more closely reflect how distance education programs collect data, and to incorporate additional suggestions from schools and stakeholders. One result of these changes is that data will not be solicited this year on Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree programs. A future blog post will elaborate further on the new questionnaires.

U.S. News also is changing its definition of "online degree" to better align with the new U.S. Department of Education's terminology and broader data collection efforts in distance education.

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education will for the first time request that institutions supply data on students enrolled in "distance education courses" and "distance education programs." U.S. News will borrow heavily from these definitions when asking schools whether schools offer their degrees online; applying the same government standard that all required coursework aside from orientations, testing, or academic support services is able to be completed by students who are separated from their instructors.

The new U.S. News definitions will be replacing Sloan Consortium's "80 percent of course content or greater" definition of an online course, from which we defined online degree programs in 2011. The reason for the switch is to achieve consistency between data that schools report to U.S. News and what they report to the federal government. Ideally, this will fortify the reliability of respondent submissions and help spare researchers from duplicative information gathering efforts.

In the future, government data on schools offering distance education may help U.S. News develop more narrow and targeted groups of schools that receive the Top Online Education Programs questionnaires.