Ranking the Best Online Universities

Millions of students are now pursuing their higher education degrees and certifications through online colleges and universities. Traditionally, these were once viewed somewhat negatively since many of the original online colleges and universities such as the University of Phoenix, Corinthian Colleges and Capella University were primarily for-profit, private institutions that often ran afoul of federal student loan rules and regulations. However, over the past decade, most major state and even private, non-profit colleges and universities have developed highly respected online programs that carry the same prestige as their on-ground programs. Consequently, most reports indicate that there are around 7 million online university students in the United States out of an overall higher education population of about 21 million or so. Thus, this represents a significant percentage of higher education students that pursue some sort of online higher education but recent research reveals that this number has declined over the past few years by about 8.7% or so which amounts to some 66,000 students. In the following passages, we attempt to highlight some of the best of these programs as well as offer an overview of some of the original online degree offering universities.

One of the problems with attempting to determine the best online colleges and universities lies with the measures that one uses to determine what “best” means. Thus, we utilize a series of 3 performance metrics to measure the best online colleges and universities and these are: 1) overall value, 2) overall reputation in the marketplace, and 3) affordability factors. Based on these metrics, one could consider institutions such as Western Governors University or WGU to be the online institution with the most value because its annual tuition averages about $5,780 per academic year while the American Public University System is a close second in value at some $7,500 per academic year. These institutions do not have the reputation of some other major degree granting organizations but they do offer solid educational opportunities combined with low cost and practical degree programs. In contrast, those online universities that carry the most stellar reputation include Stanford University which has a high annual tuition exceeding $20,000 but carries with it a reputation for academic excellence, research and respectability. Likewise, both Duke University and Columbia University also offer highly respected online degree programs that are $59,000 and $31,000 per academic year respectively but which ensure the graduate’s degree will be recognized by employers and other institutions alike. In terms of pure economic cost, the absolutely most affordable online colleges and universities have lowered tuition rates below the $5,000 a year threshold. These are institutions like South Texas College which has managed to place its base tuition at $3,450 per academic year.

It is apparent that traditional colleges and universities have seen the usefulness of developing solid online degree programs to accompany their on-ground degree programs. Yet, the other more traditional online colleges and universities are still viable options for students that are intent on getting their degree online. These are those institutions such as the University of Phoenix and Capella University. While the University of Phoenix is a viable option for achieving various degrees such as Bachelors, Masters and even PhD degrees, it has a lot of complaints posted about it online and has been sanctioned by the US Department of Education at various points in time over the past decade. The point is that if an individual is determined to complete his or her college degree online, great attention should be paid to the reputation of the school as much as the cost and value of the institution as well. In this regard, we would rate the very best top ten online colleges and universities to be the following:

  1. Western Governors University (overall value)
  2. Stanford Online (reputation and selection of courses)
  3. University of Maryland University College (comprehensiveness of undergraduate & graduate degrees)
  4. Harvard University: Online Learning (based on reputation alone)
  5. Strayer University (based on online selection, functionality & value)
  6. Indiana University-Bloomington (best overall MBA degree program online)
  7. Capella University (selection of online professional graduate degrees)
  8. Kaplan University (recognized professional acceptance in the market)
  9. Liberty University (affordability combined with high ethical standards)
  10. Brigham Young University (reputation and selection)


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