You want to go back to school, but fitting classes around your job and your family and all of your other commitments? It can be a hurdle to completing your education.
That’s why more and more universities are offering options to obtain a degree online, taking advantage of the Internet to make going to college accessible.
But is it really as good as a brick-and-mortar education? Penn State World Campus says absolutely, and they have an independent assessment to back that up.
This week, U.S. News & World Report listed Penn State as No. 1 on the list of best online bachelor programs in the country. Other programs placing high included graduate programs in four disciplines.
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The online program’s rank went up from third place in 2014, topping three schools tied for second place this year: Daytona State College in Florida, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Western Kentucky University .
The scores in most ranked programs increased. The graduate education program was ranked fourth, up from No. 25 in 2014.
Want an advanced degree in computer information technology? That graduate program is also fourth, up two spots from last year. Online graduate business programs other than an MBA were fifth, a 12-slot jump from the previous ranking.
Only the graduate engineering program held steady at No. 5.
The online MBA program was a new category in 2015. The World Campus ranked seventh. Temple University in Philadelphia tied for first place, the only other Pennsylvania school to achieve a top score.
“Penn State’s online iMBA has prepared students for senior-level corporate positions for over 15 years, and our nearly 900 successful graduates are a testament to the value of the degree,” said Ashutosh Deshmukh, lead faculty member of the iMBA program and a professor at Penn State Erie. “We are very proud that the program, its faculty and students are being recognized this way.”
The magazine also ranks online graduate nursing and criminal justice programs. Penn State does not offer the criminal justice advanced degree online, and the nursing program was too new to qualify for this year’s rankings, according to Craig Weidemann, vice president for Outreach and vice provost for Online Education at Penn State.
According to U.S. News & World Report, more than 1,200 schools were assessed for the rankings, the third year the list has been compiled. There were about 300 in the bachelor’s degree program pool. Rankings are based on categories including student engagement, faculty credentials and training, peer reputation and student services and technology.
“We are excited that U.S. News recognizes Penn State as the best among its peers at providing bachelor degrees online and among the top institutions in the country for graduate degrees,” Weidemann said. “The university’s academic leaders, faculty and staff strive to provide a high-quality online education that meets the needs of busy adults who want to advance their careers.”
Weidemann credited the recognition to hard work across the campus and to a dedication by the university to make sure the World Campus programs are not just computerized versions of correspondence courses. Students who opt to attend Penn State online face the same admissions requirements and are taught by the same faculty, he said.
The university also pushes for an inclusive Penn State experience for distance learners. There is a World Campus alumni society, and graduates are more likely than traditional students to join the Penn State Alumni Association.
They participate in Thon and walk at graduation. The December 2014 student marshal for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at commencement was Lori O’Neill, an Arlington, Va., mother of two who maintained a 4.0 grade-point average.
Weidemann said the next challenge is to stay on top in the bachelor programs and keep advancing in the graduate programs, all while keeping the commitment to giving students what they need.
“Rankings are one thing, but we are really focusing on student success,” he said.