Respondents were instructed to provide information at the online degree program level rather than the entire engineering school level; therefore, questions asking for descriptive statistics on students and faculty—such as enrollment or graduation rates—requested aggregations of data only across schools' online engineering programs. For profile data that 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.
New this year, and a complement to the statistical data from this questionnaire, was a separate peer reputation survey administered for U.S. News by Ipsos Public Affairs, a market research firm. Engineering school deans and top distance learning higher education academics employed by schools from the 2012 U.S. News Top Online Engineering Programs directory were mailed postcards with links to online surveys.
Each program was sent two surveys. Between August 2012 and October 2012, 31 percent of those surveyed responded by rating the academic quality of the other online graduate engineering degree programs listed on the survey on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding), or by responding "don't know" to any program with which they were unfamiliar. The two highest and lowest scores for each school were trimmed from the totals before calculating the average peer score among those who rated the program.
A minority of programs received fewer than 10 scores from other schools after this trimming, indicating most of their peers were unfamiliar with them. In such cases, the schools' total scores were divided by 10 instead of the number of schools rating them in order to calculate their average peer scores.
Programs submitting data to U.S. News for the first time in 2012 were not included in the reputation survey. They automatically received the median peer reputation score.
How the rankings were calculated
To compute the Best Online Engineering Programs rankings, the weighted results of the reputation survey and 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, four schools that either offered an online program for the first time in academic year 2012-2013 or reported fewer than 10 students enrolled 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.
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.