Ranking of online college programs meets scrutiny

A University of Florida official called the U.S. News rankings 'messy.'

U.S. News and World Report’s first-ever “Top Online Programs” ranking has met sharp criticism from online-learning organizations, including one that said the lists were flawed by “scattershot methodology” that revealed a lack of expertise in the rankings process.

The magazine, which has published a national college ranking since 1983, included online college programs in a separate ranking this year, breaking the lists into sections: faculty and credentials, student engagement and assessment, and student services and technology.

Colleges that ranked highly in every category were included in an honor roll listing.

Arizona State University was tops in the technology category, Westfield State University was ranked No. 1 in online faculty credentials, and Bellevue University in Nebraska was best in student engagement.

Schools had to offer at least 80 percent of their courses online to qualify for the U.S. News rankings.

Campus technology officials hailed the inclusion of online college programs as a widely-read acknowledgment that online classes have entered the mainstream, no longer seen as inferior to traditional brick-and-mortar classes.

The U.S. News rankings haven’t been exempt from critique, however, including a comprehensive critical analysis from distance-education advocates at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a group that pushes for online course advancements in higher education.