U.S. News defends online college rankings amid harsh criticism

Researchers said they were satisfied with the level of participation in their rankings.

Creators of U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural ranking of online college programs continued their defense of the much-publicized list this week when they said their methodology would “evolve over time” and that students shouldn’t base their college selection on the magazine’s rankings.

What seemed to be an acknowledgment of online learning’s mainstream appeal and acceptance was quickly turned into a rallying point for campus technology officials disappointed with the list.

Some educational technologists panned the U.S. News list of the nation’s best online course offerings when it was released in early January, criticizing the compilation as one that lacked higher education’s full participation and expertise from campus officials with experience in web-based education.

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Ranking of online college programs meets scrutiny

A month after the rankings were picked apart in a blog post from WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a group that pushes for online course advancements in higher education, U.S. News researchers Bob Morse and Eric Brooks answered dozens of questions from WCET members who took issue with the finished product, which was hailed by schools on the list and disparaged by those who weren’t.

Morse and Brooks described their effort as a “first step” in meeting growing demand for “comparative information on the relative merits of online programs” that has yet to be compiled.

They refuted the claim that U.S. News did not consult online education experts, saying they contacted a “large number of academics” who helped formulate their questions.

The magazine’s first stab at ranking online schools would help fill an “information gap” encountered by students evaluating web-based course offerings before they commit to attending a school, the researchers wrote.

Many in higher education were irked that U.S. News, which describes itself as “a leading ranking resource” for prospective college students, called its online rankings the “best advice” for those evaluating their college options.