Best Online Schools
Criteria used to evaluate the best online schools consider several factors, such as accreditation and years of service provided by an online school. Accreditation is especially important in regards to the validity of degrees offered by the school and indicates that a nationally recognized accrediting agency has carefully examined the school’s curriculum quality, investigated education levels of its instructors and evaluated reports from employers who have hired graduates of the school. The U.S. News and World Report magazine annually publishes a list of the best schools offering online programs. Consistently found in the list is Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Other areas a student should research to determine whether an online school will provide exceptional educational programs leading to viable degrees include availability of federal financial aid and accessibility of counselors, instructors and school representatives who can assist students with problems in a timely manner. The best online schools will be eligible to offer Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, scholarships and payment plans in order to facilitate a student’s ability to earn a degree. Having an extensive support service to accommodate the needs of students distinguishes excellent online schools from average or below-average schools.
As one of the oldest and most respected financial and business magazines still in publication, Forbes has been publishing their own list of best colleges in the U.S. since 2008. Although this list tends to emphasize liberal arts colleges, it can still give someone considering online school an idea of the best online schools as well as statistics indicating how Forbes arrived at its conclusion.
When determining the quality of traditional universities and online higher learning entities, Forbes considers several items, such as the graduation rate of the school, if any instructors appear in the annual volume Who’s Who in America, professor evaluations as reported by students on the website RateMyProfessor and amount of accumulated debt a student has after completing a four-year degree. Forbes also investigates whether any of the school’s professors or students have earned national awards or honors for exhibiting exceptional qualities during the course of their career.
The U.S. Department of Education defines a retention rate (as applied to a technical college, four-year college or university) as the number of students enrolling for the first time who remain long enough as a registered student to enroll the following year. The Department of Education and many accrediting agencies view a higher education facility’s retention rate as indicative of a school’s overall quality.
The best online schools have high retention rates–above 75 percent–a statistic generally signifying that the school meets or exceeds industry standards concerning the following:
- Professors are degreed, knowledgeable instructors capable of teaching not only the important fundamentals of a certain major but also the skills to engage in critical thinking, logical analyses and successful problem-solving formulas
- Trained representatives provide timely and accurate assistance regarding financial aid, class scheduling, tutoring services and help in all areas that are of concern to students.
- The online school has job placement programs for those who complete the degree program in which they enrolled. The best online schools sometimes have contracts with employers who are always looking for bright and ambitious students to hire, especially in the vocational fields such as HVAC, computer technology and nursing.
- Students should have several ways with which to access their instructors. When a student emails an instructor with a question about homework, the student should not have to wait two days to receive a reply. Retention rates in schools with apathetic instructors are notoriously low.
- Curriculum should be composed of relevant and up-to-date 21st Century information regarding the student’s major
- Any problems or questions encountered by a student should be addressed in an efficient and courteous manner.
When a student graduates from high-quality online schools, he or she should have sufficient knowledge about their major to step directly into an applicable job and perform that job as as well if not better than another recent graduate starting the same job. Schools with low retention rates tend to have low expectations of their students and simply rush them through classes with little interest in whether the student is receiving an exceptional education. Unfortunately, these schools only care about one thing–money.
The best online schools are accredited by regional as well as national agencies that have been recognized by the USDE (United States Department of Education) and the CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). This conglomeration of accrediting organizations also grant traditional universities and colleges with accrediting statements as well.
The six regional accrediting agencies are:
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement(NCA)
- Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
- Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU)
When students earn their degrees from an online school that has been accredited by one or more of these agencies, they can be assured that they are receiving a valuable degree as valid as one earned from a private or public brick and mortar university.
One other accrediting organization accepted by the USDE is the DETC, or Distance Education Training Council. Although most employers readily accept graduates of an online school that has been accredited by the DETC, be aware that some regionally accredited online schools do not recognize course credits from schools accredited by the DETC.
To find out if you will be attending one of the best online schools, go to the United States Department of Education database United States Department of Education database and search for the school to determine whether it is has been accredited.