Ranking Online Programs — Again

Judith McDanielBy Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

On July 8, 2011, I wrote about US News’s proposal to rank online education programs. I concluded:

U.S. News’s efforts at analyzing and ranking new online programs will be good if:

  • the data collected enhances knowledge about online approaches to higher education;
  • gathering information into one searchable site provides comparative data on the effectiveness of online academic programs;
  • the publicity assists the public to better understand online learning and the opportunities it offers;
  • and then (perhaps) this collective effort will expand the market for adult students.

If the new rankings are simply perceived as another way for some institutions to enhance their revenue, then this effort will not benefit a public that needs and deserves this information

Now US News is one step further on in its ranking process, and today Inside Higher Ed reported that some schools had opted out of the ranking questionnaire while others had answered it and filed complaints.

Deb Bushway, interim President of Capella University, published an analysis explaining why they were not participating in the survey — and she raised some excellent points. Capella University, like many online programs, attracts nontraditional students. That is, students who are not in the 18-21 age range, students who have been out of school for some time, students who have work experience that quite probably replaces much of the learning (both content and style of learning) from their youthful education.

To rank an online program, as US News apparently intends to do, by giving more weight to what Bushway correctly calls “inputs” rather than looking at an institution’s “outputs” makes no sense when we are educating students who are nontraditional:

…where she finished in her high school class, her high school GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and her geographical location are not particularly relevant measures of quality or excellence. A far more relevant measure is the degree to which our students graduate having learned what we told them they would learn and whether that knowledge is applicable in advancing their careers.

When I look at transcripts of applicants for the MA online program in which I teach, I am often struck by the disparity between the indication of the quality of work a student did in her B.A. program and the quality of recommendations coming from colleagues and supervisors who know her in the workplace. In fact, we cannot insist on “academic” references from our students since many have been out of the academic environment for years and have no access to those professors of yore.

And I have found that the best measure of success in our program and in career placement following graduation from our program is not grades but enthusiasm or commitment. Last semester I had a student who took herself from a barely acceptable standard of writing to an excellent standard. How did she do it? She looked at comments I had made on all of the essays I returned to other students. She studied them to try and understand where the errors were. She revised every piece of writing she submitted — sometimes three or four times. What was the source of her commitment? She wants to bring reading skills to the homeless women she works with in her employment — so that they can read and be inspired by some of the authors she has found inspiring. She wants to pay her education forward.

Can we measure that dedication and that success? Perhaps. But it won’t be measured with points on a test score or a GPA. I know that.

I believe we need a common source where prospective students can find information about the programs they are interested in. But I know they will be much more interested in how well the students did when they left our programs than they will ever care about what “points” those students brought into the program with them.

We can do better than the US News rankings.

3 Responses

  1. […] Ranking Online Programs — Again By Judith McDaniel Editor, Web-based Course Design On July 8, 2011, I wrote about US News’s proposal to rank online education programs. I concluded: U.S. News’s efforts at analyzing and ra… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  2. […] Ranking Online Programs — Again By Judith McDaniel Editor, Web-based Course Design On July 8, 2011, I wrote about US News’s proposal to rank online education programs. I concluded: U.S. News’s efforts at analyzing and ra… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  3. Judith has some valid thoughts. We need a better way to describe students coming into on line courses and a better assessment of their progress. I liked the example she gave. Older students are capable of telling us what they want to achieve. Adults in literacy classes for example want to learn to read so they can read the Bible, so they can read stories to their children, some see it as improving their job skills and many other things. WE need to be aware of their hies and goals.

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