A new ranking of online university programs



Students interested in earning their college or higher degrees through an online program have a new resource to assess their options. It comes from Academic Influence, the company that uses artificial intelligence to arrive at its various rankings. Today, Academic Influence has applied its unique methodology to generate its first-ever ranking of dozens of online study programs at Associate, Bachelor, and Master levels.

Using the same methodology it is used to classify all kinds of higher education institutions, including liberal arts colleges, research universities, and international institutions, Academic Influence bases its approach on the simple principle but objective that over time, people affiliated to a school determine its quality.

Using machine learning technology developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Academic Influence searches open source data from two massive sources – Wikipedia and CrossRef – for articles, chapters, books and quotes to people around the world. Collectively, these databases contain billions of continuously updated data points on the accomplishments of millions of individuals.

Then, a specific program influence score is calculated by combining all the “mentions” of people who have been associated with that program as teachers, administrators or alumni. This score is then used to compare similar programs in terms of cumulative influence.

In order to control for confounding factors, the data searched is limited to the last ten years and the names of famous politicians, artists and performers are removed, which resolves the problem that they would otherwise exert a disproportionate influence on rankings. . Because the influence of individuals can be continuously tracked in real time, influence scores are updated quarterly and rankings are recalculated each year.

Currently, Academic Influence has published rankings for 30 online programs, seven at the associate level, 11 for the bachelor’s degree (including the RN-to-BSN degree), and 12 at the master’s level. The full list of programs is available here. Other rankings are being calculated and will appear soon.

For example, if you’re interested in cybersecurity, here are the best undergraduate programs, according to Academic Influence:

  1. University of Arizona
  2. University of Alaska Fairbanks
  3. University of South Carolina
  4. Syracuse University
  5. Roger Williams University

If you are considering an online BA in Criminal Justice, the top five are:

  1. Florida State University
  2. Sam Houston State University
  3. University of Cincinnati
  4. Portland State University
  5. University of Central Florida

How about a bachelor’s degree in accounting? Academic Influence has ranked the following online programs as the best:

  1. University of Arizona
  2. University of Arkansas
  3. University of Alabama
  4. University of Nebraskask — Lincoln
  5. University of South Carolina

Want to pursue an MBA online? Here’s Academic Influence’s take on the top five:

  1. University of Southern California
  2. Johns Hopkins University
  3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. Syracuse University
  5. Rice University

Another popular online graduate degree is Health Care Administration. Here are the top ranked programs, according to Academic Influence:

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. Loyola University of Chicago
  3. Samford University
  4. Marshall University
  5. Radford University

While the ranking of each online program was limited to the influence of students and faculty associated only with that program rather than the university as a whole, the online program’s influence score is the same as the score that would be assigned to its online program. campus version.

Is this lack of differentiation a problem? Here’s how Wayne Downs, a seasoned online education analyst and now CEO of Academic Influence, answered that question when I asked him the question:

“Because most online programs are run by the same faculty and use the same curriculum as their on-campus counterparts, the influence and reputation of a school or department should legitimately cover the online degree. If the faculty and the program are the same and the degrees are the same, then what other significant difference should be considered? “

“Even when online programs employ teaching assistants to supervise lessons, primary education is comparable. In most cases, online students watch lessons from head teachers, and the use of technical assistants to supervise lessons is not exclusive to online cases. In addition, employers generally do not know whether job applicants have taken programs online or in person; the diploma and the name of the school are the same on the curriculum vitae. Finally, many online students report having more engagement with their classmates and teachers through online education than teaching on campus because they have to present their ideas in online forums, whereas traditional classroom discussions are too often dominated by a few extroverts while introverts sit in silence.


According to the most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 5.4 million students, or more than a third of all students, have taken at least one course online. And more than 3 million students – about 16% of all college students – have taken classes online exclusively.

Online courses and programs are growing in popularity, and despite some disappointments associated with the huge pivot to online courses necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, online enrollment is expected to increase, particularly among mature students and those pursuing studies. graduate studies. In fact, as a percentage, graduate students are twice as likely as undergraduates to take online courses only.

All signs point to online higher education continuing to grow. It is more flexible and often less expensive than teaching in person. As to which of the two modalities has the best results, it is a complicated and always open question.

While any college ranking system is subject to a number of limitations and criticisms, it is also clearly useful to give students as much information as possible about the comparable value or quality of institutions and academic programs that they have. they might consider. The Academic Influence Ranking is a useful tool that provides a unique and objective benchmarking of these qualities.


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