Like other nontraditional college students, veterans and service members are older and more likely to work and have families. But they also face their own challenges, such as dealing with deployments or grappling with mental or physical wounds that can make it hard to adjust to life on campus. For some of these students, online programs provide an advantageous alternative to brick-and-mortar universities.
To help veterans choose a quality online program, U.S. News has released its second annual rankings of the Best Online Programs for Veterans. The rankings include bachelor's programs as well as master's programs in business, engineering, nursing and education. For the first time, U.S. News has also ranked online master's programs in computer information technology for veterans.
More than 500,000 veterans and their families have utilized Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits since the law’s enactment in 2008, according to a report by the American Council on Education. And that number is growing.
William Hubbard, spokesman for the nonprofit Student Veterans of America, says the No. 1 issue for veterans pursuing higher education is understanding their government benefits.
"Individuals need to take it upon themselves to inform themselves and ask serious questions, simply because it helps them not enter programs that have false promises," he says. "Frequently individuals who do make well-informed decisions are very successful."
All of the ranked Best Online Programs for Veterans are in some way tied to organizations working to improve the higher education experience for veterans. The programs belong to institutions that are certified for the GI Bill and participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, two federal initiatives that help veterans reduce the cost of school.
The programs are also affiliated with schools that are members of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium and offer at least one course in the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) catalog.
By associating with those groups, schools pledge to consider giving academic credit for military training and offer flexibility for online learners taking classes at multiple institutions.
[Learn about veteran graduation rates.]
To ensure academic quality, the 197 online degree programs included in these new lists first had to be numerically ranked in the U.S. News 2014 Best Online Programs rankings.
Those programs were assessed for various factors which, depending on the discipline, could have included their affordability, faculty credentials, student services and reputation.
Only regionally accredited degree-granting programs offering classes that were 100 percent online were considered.
Many schools featured in last year's rankings moved significantly this year due to a variety of factors. About 20 percent more schools submitted data across all categories, and peer review data based on programs' evaluations of each other were included in all of the rankings.
[Explore the pros and cons of online learning for veterans.]
Bachelor's: There was a great deal of movement in the rankings of online bachelor's programs for veterans, with only four of the programs in the top 10 keeping the distinction this year. Central Michigan University, No. 14 last year, took the top spot at the undergraduate level, cementing its reputation as offering one of the strongest online programs in the country. The school also tied for first in the bachelor's category in the 2014 Best Online Programs rankings.
Pace University, last year's top online bachelor's program for veterans, is not featured on this year's list because it was not offering a DANTES course at the time data were collected.