As more veterans return to higher education, they are finding different approaches that suit their needs.
While some are ready to head to campus, rubbing shoulders with younger undergraduates with drastically different life experiences, others feel like it's more comfortable -- or convenient -- to pursue their studies online. For example, in 2013-2014, an average of 11.2 percent of the students in the 141 online bachelor's programs that reported the data to U.S. News in an annual survey were either veterans or members of the military.
For veterans interested in earning a degree on their own schedule, U.S. News has released its third annual rankings of the Best Online Programs for Veterans. The rankings include online bachelor's programs as well as master's programs in business, engineering, nursing, education and computer information technology. This year, for the first time, U.S. News has ranked online graduate criminal justice programs for veterans, and it has created a stand-alone ranking of online MBA programs.
[Find out how the veterans-focused rankings were calculated.]
"Oftentimes, especially for those on active duty, distance-learning solutions are great options," says Walter Tillman, director of programs for Student Veterans of America. "It gives you the flexibility to take courses when it's convenient. It helps you have the experience of taking courses if you are raising a family or working."
Pennsylvania State University--World Campus earned bragging rights this year, ranking No. 1 in the online bachelor's rankings and placing in the top 10 in five graduate categories. The online arm of Indiana University--Bloomington's Kelley School of Business, known as Kelley Direct, also performed well, tying for the top online MBA program and earning the No. 1 spot for its other online graduate business programs.
To qualify for the Best Online Programs for Veterans rankings, the 737 online degree programs featured first had to be among the top 75 percent of schools ranked in the 2015 Best Online Programs rankings. For those rankings, U.S. News evaluated regionally accredited degree-granting programs on a number of factors, which, depending on the discipline, could have included their affordability, faculty credentials, student services and reputation.
Secondly, the programs had to belong to institutions that are certified for the GI Bill and participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, two federal initiatives that help veterans reduce the cost of school. Public schools that don't participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program still qualified if they offer in-state tuition to student veterans from out of state.
Many more programs were included in this year's rankings as a result of changing criteria. The U.S. Department of Defense discontinued two programs that U.S. News previously factored into its analysis: the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium and the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) catalog.
[Follow these steps to connect with veterans in an online bachelor's program.]
Bachelor's: There was significant movement in the rankings of online bachelor's programs for veterans, with only three of the programs in the top 10 for 2014 keeping the distinction this year.
Central Michigan University, last year's No. 1 school, is now tied for the 12th spot.
MBA: Indiana University--Bloomington, Temple University in Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill all tied for the top spot in the inaugural Best Online MBA Programs for Veterans rankings. Arizona State University's online MBA program earned the fourth spot.
Business (master's): Among non-MBA online graduate business programs, Indiana placed No. 1 for its offerings. Arizona State's Carey School of Business -- last year's No. 1 -- tied with the University of Connecticut for the second spot.
Criminal justice (master's): In the first year of the online criminal justice programs rankings for veterans, the University of California--Irvine claimed the highest rank, followed by Arizona State, Boston University and New York's Pace University, which all tied for second. Sam Houston State University in Texas placed fifth.
[Consider the pros and cons of online learning for veterans.]
Engineering (master's): Among online master's in engineering programs, Columbia University (Fu Foundation) in New York ranked No. 1 for veterans, followed by the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering at No. 2 and Purdue University--West Lafayette in Indiana at No. 3. All schools in the top 10 were new to the list this year.
Nursing (master's): Medical University of South Carolina earned the No. 1 spot among the online graduate nursing programs for veterans. Illinois' St. Xavier University, which placed first last year, snagged the second spot. Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the University of South Carolina tied at No. 3.
Education (master's): University of Houston took first place this year among the top online master's in education programs for veterans. The Texas school was followed by Florida State University in second and Northern Illinois University in third.
Computer information technology (master's): The University of Southern California landed the top spot among the best online master's in computer information technology programs for veterans. Virginia Tech came in at No. 2, followed by BU at No. 3.
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.