Ranking identifies the 50 best online colleges for 2016

AffordableCollegesOnline.org, a site for higher education information and resources, has released its ranking of the Best Online Colleges for 2016.

The site analyzed more than a dozen unique data points to identify the colleges and universities providing students with the highest quality and most affordable online learning options today.

“We wanted to highlight the schools that offer the best combination of degree program cost, quality, and flexibility,” said Dan Schuessler, CEO and Founder of AffordableCollegesOnline.org. “These schools continue to adopt and scale innovative learning methods to help students realize academic success.”

To qualify for the list, colleges must have regional accreditation and hold public or private not-for-profit standing. Schools earning a spot on the ranking also had at least ten online degree programs and an annual in-state tuition under $25,000. To see the full ranking of Best Online Colleges and the methodology used to rank them, please visit the following page:

The full list of universities recognized for having outstanding online learning platforms includes:
Belhaven University
Clemson University
Colorado Christian University
Columbia College
Concordia University – Saint Paul
Davenport University
Dickinson State University
East Carolina University
Emporia State University
Fort Hays State University
Goodwin College
Great Basin College
Indiana State University
Iowa State University
Judson College
Kansas State University
Keiser University – Fort Lauderdale
Liberty University
Mercy College
North Carolina Central University
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
Northern Arizona University
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Oklahoma State University – Main Campus
Oregon State University
Saint Leo University
Siena Heights University
Southwestern College
SUNY Empire State College
Texas A & M University – College Station
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Tiffin University
Troy University
University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Arizona
University of Central Florida
University of Central Missouri
University of Florida
University of Houston – Victoria
University of Idaho
University of Illinois at Springfield
University of Louisiana at Monroe
University of Memphis
University of Missouri – Columbia
University of Northern Colorado
University of Southern Mississippi
University of Toledo
Washington State University
Webster University
Western Kentucky University


Rutgers launches open textbook project

A new open textbook project from Rutgers University includes a grant program administered by Rutgers University Libraries that will give incentives to faculty or department groups that replace traditional textbooks with free, low-cost or open alternatives.

The Open and Affordable Textbook Project (OAT) has the potential to save students across the university as much as $500,000 within its first year.

At least one Rutgers course is proactively moving in this direction, business librarian Mei Ling Lo said.

“Students taking the course Aggregate Economics are using our e-books this semester and the savings are substantial,” Lo said.

The course has a required textbook with a list price of $89.99 in print. An e-book version is available for $69.99. Thanks to the the Libraries’ Springer e-books collection, Rutgers students can access and download a free PDF or purchase a paperback copy for $24.99. In December, the Libraries will work with OAT Project grant recipients to identify similar cost-saving course materials.

(Next: How the Open Textbook Network is raising awareness about textbook costs)


Is it time to rethink the term nontraditional student?

Should higher education rethink what makes a “traditional” student today? Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on students applying for financial aid highlight the ever-increasing need for colleges and universities to diversify their programs and make more available online education.

The data, culled from the most recent student financial aid information (2011-12), and discussed in the NCES brief, “Demographic and Enrollment Characteristics of Nontraditional Undergraduates,” examines prevailing characteristics in enrolling students, and argues that knowledge of these characteristics should further urge institutions to diversify their services.

The brief begins by differentiating traditional and nontraditional terms as researchers do, explaining that nontraditional students have the following characteristics:

  • Independent of parents for financial aid reasons
  • Having one or more dependents
  • Being a single caregiver
  • Not having a traditional high school diploma
  • Delaying postsecondary enrollment
  • Attending school part time
  • Being employed full time

“While undergraduates who possess these characteristics are often thought of as nontraditional, a large proportion of undergraduates have these characteristics,” state the brief’s authors (Dr. Alexandria Walton Radford, program director of Transition to College for RTI International; RTI Project Director, Melissa Cominole; and Paul Skomsvold education analyst III of RTI). According to NCES data, about 74 percent of all 2011-12 undergrads had at least one nontraditional characteristic.

It’s also a percentage that has remained either consistent, or on the rise, since 1995-96 when at least 70 percent of undergrads possessed at least one nontraditional characteristic.

“Examining nontraditional characteristics is important not only because a high percentage of postsecondary students possess them, but also because students with these characteristics can be vulnerable to challenges that can affect their well-being, levels of stress and satisfaction, and likelihood of persisting and attaining a degree,” notes the brief.

With so many students considered nontraditional by these research standards, not only could the definition of a traditional student be outdated, but technology-supported online programs, flexible degree programs, credentialing and badging, and the reinvention of the credit hour may help increase institutional enrollment and curb dropouts or transfers of these more at-risk students.

(Next page: What the data shows on nontraditional students)


25 great community colleges for low-income students

As policymakers tout the importance of higher education in helping students secure jobs and succeed in the workforce, equity and affordable higher education is now almost constantly in the spotlight.

Ensuring that low-income students have a chance to secure a solid educational foundation before they enter the workforce is critical to U.S. society’s success. And as student loans spiral out of control, loan repayment timeframes and salaries after graduation are crucial pieces of information for low-income students.

These public two-year colleges enroll over 40 percent low-income students at the school, and have relatively high outcomes for those students, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

In total, low-income students at these schools averaged at least $30,000 in earnings 10 years after they first enrolled at the school. In addition, over 70 percent of all borrowers at these schools were successfully repaying their loans three years after they left school.

Both the college that students select and the program they enroll in can have an impact on post-college earnings. For instance, schools that offer more technical or health programs, or where a lot of students transfer to a four-year college, often have higher earnings.

(Next page: The 25 community colleges on the Department of Education’s list)


Cengage acquires WebAssign

Cengage, an education and technology company, announced the acquisition of WebAssign, a provider of digital learning solutions for higher education.

The acquisition strengthens Cengage’s position as a market leader in science, technology and math offering three unique platforms for faculty and institutions.

WebAssign’s flagship product (also called WebAssign) is a highly regarded assessment and homework solution for the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math). More than 30 publishers, academic institutions and OER providers use WebAssign to deliver content to over 1.5 million students each year. Cengage currently uses Enhanced WebAssign as the core platform for its digital offerings in math, statistics and physics. With 360 titles, including the world-renowned Stewart Calculus franchise, Cengage and WebAssign serve more than 1 million students annually.

“Cengage continues to evolve as an education and technology company offering superior digital course solutions,” said Michael Hansen, CEO, Cengage. “The acquisition of WebAssign is a logical next step as we aggressively invest in student-focused digital products and platforms. Adding WebAssign to our offerings will give our customers more choices of platforms, including our own MindTap and Learning Objects.

“Cengage and WebAssign share complementary values and place a strong focus on the student experience. And WebAssign’s experienced workforce brings expertise to Cengage’s growing product technology team,” Hansen continued.

“WebAssign is a trusted provider of high-quality content, robust tools and superior personalized services to instructors and students,” said Alex Bloom, President and CEO, WebAssign. “We are proud to offer a wide selection of content from many academic publishers and OER sources, a commitment that will continue. Cengage has been a valued partner and the acquisition enables us to strengthen our service to the academic community.”

In addition to WebAssign for digital homework and assessment, Cengage offers the recently-launched MindTap for Math and Statistics, a complete course solution, and Learning Objects, a comprehensive program solution. Cengage acquired Learning Objects in September 2015.

Terms of the WebAssign acquisition were not disclosed. Tyton Partners, a leading M&A advisory firm within the global knowledge sector, served as the advisor to WebAssign’s majority shareholder. For media questions, contact Susan Aspey at Susan.Aspey@Cengage.com or Nancy Enloe at nenloe@webassign.net.


4 ways higher education is smartening up when it comes to data

Colleges and universities are home to the most advanced thinking and research in all fields: medicine, law, mathematics, business and beyond. Ironically, such schools haven’t always been as smart when it comes to higher education data. This has been unfortunate, because the data needs of today’s two and four-year degree granting institutions are as diverse and multidimensional as they come.

But many academic institutions are learning new tricks by adopting self-service analytics. The following are four ways higher education is smartening up when it comes to data.

1. Empowering people to work with data

Like other industries and organizations, the traditional way of dealing with data in higher education was fragmented and slow. The IT department—and only the IT department—had access to the data, which was doled out in reports that were slow to come. IT was like an ivory tower within the ivory tower, and the faculty, staff and administrators who needed the data spent most of their time waiting for reports that would be out-of-date on arrival.

This cycle of long waits, static results and general inefficiency is going the way of chalk and blackboards at many schools, like the University of Washington (UW), which has been using UW Profiles since 2012. This project is a set of 23 dashboards that give administrators and faculty more flexible and powerful insight into data, such as performance, retention and support.  Now inquisitive UW leaders have a recursive relationship with their data where answering one set of questions leads them down a path of seeking answers to a deeper set of questions.

2. Bringing serious speed to data

Self-service analytics is all about the democratization of data, which inherently creates a faster journey to insight: the people who are experts in the data can start working with their data quickly, with minimal training or IT knowledge. Just like people are used to finding the answer to a question on their phone, laptop or tablet at home, they can get business or academic answers at work.

But, that speed has many dimensions.

For example, the University of Indiana—a huge research university—has been enjoying the fast pace of self-service analytics for years. Enrollment and recruiting officers use dashboards to dive into student data from any angle and depth necessary at high speeds. Trends that used to take weeks or months to identify can now be spotted in hours or minutes.

Another aspect of self-service analytics is the significant reduction in ramp time. Training and adoption are a matter of hours rather than months. Departments that need answers quickly appreciate rapid deployment, and it makes trying new tools less of a risk.

(Next page: 2 more ways higher education is getting the jump on data)


University of Maryland launches transformative initiative to “Do Good”

The University of Maryland has launched an ambitious ‘Do Good’ Initiative to create a permanent and visible entity on campus that will become a hub of activity for philanthropy, nonprofit management, public policy, social change and leadership.

A campus-wide initiative headquartered in the School of Public Policy, the program aims to leverage philanthropy and leadership to transform idealism to impact through rich learning experiences built on real-world application.

This cross-campus initiative launches the Do Good Institute to train the next generation of Do Good leaders and establish the University as the first Do Good college campus in the country.

Support for Do Good programs is expected to top $75 million from individual and family philanthropy, state funding, corporate and foundation grants, and university resources.

“The ‘Do Good’ Initiative establishes the University of Maryland as a global leader in advancing social change, philanthropy and nonprofit leadership,” said President Wallace D. Loh. “We believe that our ‘Do Good campus’ will lead to a ‘Do Good world,’ where we will have a positive impact on all of the world’s citizens.”

The ‘Do Good’ Initiative includes support for:

  • The new Do Good Institute to serve as the campus-wide hub of social innovation and as a center of research and thought leadership in philanthropy and social change. From orientation to graduation, the Do Good Institute will engage the entire student body in initiatives aimed at ensuring every student will be informed and motivated to “do good” in their communities, both local and worldwide;
  • The new Do Good Accelerator to provide promising Do Good ventures (projects, nonprofits, businesses) with leadership coaching and mentoring, creative community space, networking opportunities, financial support and educational training;
  • Three new faculty endowments to contribute research and further support the School’s new undergraduate major in Public Policy and proposed Nonprofit and Social Change Leadership minor and focus;
  • A new headquarters building for the School of Public Policy and the Do Good Institute.

“This effort builds on the amazing success and impact of the School of Public Policy and its Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and Do Good Challenge,” said Robert Orr, Dean of UMD’s School of Public Policy. “We are now expanding our programming and outreach to every UMD student in every school and college within our campus.”

Demonstrating the potential of UMD’s scaled-up Do Good Initiative, recent Do Good students have:

  • Sparked a national student movement and new public policies to address food waste through the Food Recovery Network (FRN), which started at UMD and has grown into an award-winning nonprofit headquartered in Maryland with 191 college campus chapters and 1.4 million pounds of food recovered;
  • Raised $100,000+; built multiple schools and developed a long-term partnership between the university and communities in Honduras through UMD’s Students Helping Honduras;
  • Developed the company Hungry Harvest that sells “ugly produce,” is headquartered in Maryland, and earned a $100,000 investment on ABC’s Shark Tank (January 2016);
  • Created Terps Against Hunger, which is mobilizing over a thousand UMD students to package and deliver over one million meals to local food bank partners this year.

“The Do Good Institute will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world,” said Robert Grimm, Director of the Do Good Institute. “We are reinventing the college experience by producing a new Do Good Generation that will produce transformational results in Maryland and around the world.”

The Higher Education Research Institute recently reported a fifty-year high in the percentage of students today who say that helping others is a “very important” priority. The “Do Good” Initiative is built on the tenet that learning is not a passive activity, but instead requires active participation and deep, practical application. With this core value, this effort will help develop the next generation of leaders and spur innovation both on campus and throughout our communities.


Reuters: Top 100 most innovative universities

Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University top the second annual Reuters Top 100 ranking of the world’s most innovative universities.

The Reuters Top 100 ranking aims to identify the institutions doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and help drive the global economy. Unlike other rankings that often rely entirely or in part on subjective surveys, the ranking uses proprietary data and analysis tools from the Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters to examine a series of patent and research-related metrics, and get to the essence of what it means to be truly innovative.

In the fast-changing world of science and technology, if you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s Reuters 100. The 2016 results show that big breakthroughs – even just one highly influential paper or patent – can drive a university way up the list, but when that discovery fades into the past, so does its ranking. Consistency is key, with truly innovative institutions putting out groundbreaking work year after year.

Stanford held fast to its first place ranking by consistently producing new patents and papers that influence researchers elsewhere in academia and in private industry. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ranked #2) were behind some of the most important innovations of the past century, including the development of digital computers and the completion of the Human Genome Project. Harvard University (ranked #3), is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and has produced 47 Nobel laureates over the course of its 380-year history.

Some universities saw significant movement up the list, including, most notably, the University of Chicago, which jumped from #71 last year to #47 in 2016. Other list-climbers include the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology (#73 to #44) and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (#66 to #46).

The United States continues to dominate the list, with 46 universities in the top 100; Japan is once again the second best performing country, with nine universities. France and South Korea are tied in third, each with eight. Germany has seven ranked universities; the United Kingdom has five; Switzerland, Belgium and Israel have three; Denmark, China and Canada have two; and the Netherlands and Singapore each have one.

For more on the Reuters Top 100, including a detailed methodology and profiles of the universities, visit www.reuters.com/most-innovative-universities-2016.

The Reuters Top 10 of the World’s Most Innovative Universities:

1. Stanford University

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

3. Harvard University

4. University of Texas System

5. University of Washington System


7. University of Michigan System

8. University of Pennsylvania

9. KU Leuven

10. Northwestern University

For the full list, visit: www.reuters.com/most-innovative-universities-2016.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Marketplace trend update: 4 ed-tech developments

Remaining a tech-savvy educator means keeping on top of the myriad changes and trends in education, how technology can support those trends, and how teaching and learning can best benefit from near-constant change.

Below, we’ve gathered some of the latest and most relevant marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio for iPad app has merged the benefits of mobile technology with the power of learning and engagement through feedback. This release gives students the power to submit papers, analyze similarity reports (to check for originality), and review instructor feedback on the go. An enhanced interface for instructors offers streamlined grading on- and offline. More than ever, students use mobile devices to manage their assignments. With the Feedback Studio app for iPad, institutions can ensure that students are not only able to complete and submit assignments on their iPad, but they also have immediate access to their instructors’ comments, feedback, and grades where and when they need it. Read more.

Ten university finalists have been selected for the 2016 National Cyber Analyst Challenge, a competition that supports top students currently pursuing cyber-related degrees in the nation’s leading programs. The competition will send 10 teams to Phase 2 advanced cyber training and the subsequent Phase 3 finals. The finalists (in alphabetical order) are: Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Iowa State University, Penn State University, Syracuse University, Temple University, University of Maryland University College, University of South Florida, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Villanova University. Each team will receive an award of $6,000 to $12,000 to support student, faculty, and curriculum development. The winning team will be selected by a panel of industry experts and will receive $25,000. Read more.

On Sept. 20, the New York University Tandon School of Engineering cut the ribbon on its new MakerSpace, a collaborative work space and lab that will encourage new kinds of iterative, interdisciplinary teamwork using cutting-edge tools for rapid prototyping and digitally driven production. In addition to numerous 3D printers, laser cutters, vacuum formers, and soldering stations, the bi-level, 10,000-square-foot space includes several pieces of equipment that students do not typically access unless they are in specialized graduate laboratories. Read more.
In a statewide effort, California Community Colleges are rapidly expanding the use of NETLAB+ to give students round-the-clock access to Career Technical Education (CTE) training and virtual labs. Nearly 50 colleges are using the virtual lab system for courses that prepare students for jobs in IT. A regional sharing model enables participating colleges to offer courses that support training for Certifications from the industry’s most recognized providers like Cisco, CompTIA and VMware. Instructors receive training on how to use NETLAB+ and easily access virtual lab equipment and curriculum for classes installed on the system. In the first eight months of usage, nearly 15 instructors in the Northern Region taught classes using NETLAB+ and the demand for courses is growing. Read more.


5 ways to help campus users combat common data breaches

Security breaches grab headlines and fill TV airtime, especially when they affect big-name retail, healthcare and financial brands. Higher education institutions certainly aren’t the exception to the rule; but thankfully, there are steps and best practices that IT staff at higher education institutions can take to mitigate security risks while allowing students and faculty to thrive and be productive.

Large quantities of student and faculty information, complicated information systems, and distributed environments spread across departments make higher education institutions just as much at risk for security breaches as large corporations.

According to a 2015 study by the Ponemon Institute, the average total cost of a data breach is $3.79 million; for education institutions the average cost per lost or stolen record can be upwards of $300. With this staggering figure, even a small breach is a worst-case scenario for university presidents and department IT staff. Several higher education institution breaches have recently taken place, including Washington State University, Southern New Hampshire University, Southern New Hampshire University and Arkansas State University.

The possibility of hacks such as these can be intimidating, but higher education institutions shouldn’t despair. By understanding the most common types of data breaches and the kinds of institutions that are most vulnerable to each, IT staff at higher education institutions can strike the right balance between user autonomy and smart IT controls, and protect students and faculty.

The first step implementing a successful IT security management strategy is recognizing that breaches come in all shapes and sizes, but can largely be categorized into three types: 1) malicious or criminal attacks, 2) system glitches and 3) human error.

(Next page: The most common types of data breaches and 5 steps to help combat them)