High speed Internet is a popular commodity on college campuses. It offers flexibility in how courses are received and delivered, increases the accessibility of academic support services, and facilitates networking among students and faculty. The first edition of the U.S. News Most Connected Colleges ranking is a measure of schools' effectiveness in providing these online services.
This ranking is computed entirely from school responses to U.S. News's Best Colleges statistical survey collected during the spring and summer of 2012, which is primarily used to rank the overall quality of undergraduate programs in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings.
Within that survey were questions asking schools to report on their technological offerings during the 2011-2012 academic year. Based on this information, U.S. News computed a Connectivity Index for each school: the sum of all point values awarded to schools based on their responses to the technology questions. The higher a school's Connectivity Index, the better its Most Connected rank.
U.S. News has published ranks for all schools scoring 50 or higher in their Connectivity Index to showcase the schools that are closest to achieving the highest level of connectivity possible.
Altogether, 278 out of 1,471 schools that supplied connectivity data, or 19 percent, were ranked. The Most Connected Colleges numerical rankings were assigned in descending order of schools' unrounded Connectivity Indexes. A perfect Connectivity Index score is 100, and the lowest possible score is 0.
The Connectivity Index is comprised of the following four measures, each worth exactly one fourth of the Index.
Internet speed (25 percent): Fast data transfer speeds allow for shorter times downloading or uploading materials, and enable students to perform complex programming operations such as those needed for high performance computing.
This measure has three components: what schools reported as being the most prevalent wireless bandwidth on campus (40 percent of the Internet speed score), the most prevalent wired bandwidth on campus (40 percent), and the fastest bandwidth speed available to undergraduates anywhere on campus (20 percent).
For all three components, schools selected from a list of bandwidth ranges they made available to students on their campuses. The 17 bandwidth ranges started as low as 100 Mbps or less and went up to faster than 30 Gbps. Higher point values were awarded on a graduated level of faster Internet speeds.
Internet access (25 percent): Students can best take advantage of their school's online applications and resources when they are accessible from anywhere on campus.
This measure has five components, with the heaviest weight given to places on campus in which Wi-Fi access is available (including classrooms, libraries, main auditoriums, main dining hall, and main athletic center)—worth 36 percent of the Internet access score. For this component, schools received the full score if Wi-Fi was available in all listed places.
Other components worth 16 percent each are the number of simultaneous users the campus Wi-Fi network can manage relative to total enrollment, the number of wireless access points on the campus relative to total enrollment, the number of wired Internet connections on campus relative to total enrollment, and the percentage of campus housing units with personal Wi-Fi access.
For the first three components, schools received the full score if the ratio of connections to students was at least 1:1. For the fourth component, schools received the full score if 100 percent of housing units had this access, while all other schools had their percentage of housing units with access multiplied by the 16 percent weight.
Applications (25 percent): Access to high speed Internet is of greatest value to students when schools provide services that make use of it. This measure has four components: learning management system features (36 percent of the applications score), additional online functions (24 percent), online technical support available to students (20 percent), and school support for student websites (20 percent).