Respondents were instructed to aggregate statistical data, such as total enrollment and one year retention rates, only across all their online bachelor's degree programs instead of their entire schools. For profile data that may vary and should not be aggregated—such as tuition or application deadlines—schools were given separate instructions.
Schools without rigid barriers between distance and non-distance education students and faculty were asked to make explainable estimates of their distance education populations and report on these cohorts consistently throughout the questionnaire.
How the rankings were calculated
To compute the Best Online Bachelor's Programs rankings, responses to the statistical questionnaire were linked to different possible achievable point values, which were then summed into overall scores for each eligible school. The highest overall score a school could possibly achieve if it performed strongest in every single ranking indicator was 100.
Numerical rankings were determined by sorting the programs' weighted overall scores in descending order, with the highest scoring school ranked No. 1. No two schools share a rank because although U.S. News rounds overall scores to one decimal place for display purposes on the website, the rankings themselves are based on longer unrounded scores that are all unique.
Schools performing in the bottom 25 percent of overall scores are categorized as Rank Not Published. This means that U.S. News calculated a numerical ranking and score for that school, but decided for editorial reasons not to publish it.
In contrast, 24 schools that either offered an online program for the first time in academic year 2012-2013 or reported fewer than 10 newly enrolled students in 2011-2012 were designated as Unranked. This means U.S. News did not calculate a numerical ranking for these schools. All Unranked and Rank Not Published programs, however, are still listed in U.S. News's searchable directory.
Ranking criteria and weights
Here is how different factors were weighted in the rankings.
• Student engagement (weighting: 50 percent): Students can readily interact with their instructors and fellow classmates in a quality online bachelor's degree program. In turn, instructors not only are accessible and responsive, but they also are tasked with assessing student learning outcomes and helping create an experience rewarding enough for students to stay enrolled and complete their degrees in normal time.
• Faculty credentials and training (weighting: 25 percent): Strong online bachelor's programs employ instructors with academic credentials one would expect from a reputable college or university, and have the resources to train these instructors on how to teach distance learners.
• Student services and technology (weighting: 25 percent): A program that incorporates diverse online learning technologies allows greater flexibility for students to take classes from a distance. Outside of classes, a strong support structure provides career guidance, academic assistance, and financial aid resources commensurate with quality campus-based programs.
Corrected 1/28/13: An earlier version of this article did not correctly define the scoring process for the “technologies accessible to students” ranking indicator. Earlier, on 1/16/13, the article was updated to include an expanded definition of Unranked programs.