Finishing a degree can be a challenge for veterans and service members. Active-duty troops often move from base to base, making it difficult to complete an academic program at one location.
Veterans, some of whom struggle with mental or physical wounds, can find it hard to adjust to civilian life on campus. For these students, online programs provide a good alternative to attending brick-and-mortar universities.
To help veterans choose a quality online program, U.S. News has launched its first rankings of the Best Online Programs for Veterans.
These programs have taken steps to improve the higher education experience for veterans. Their commitment takes on extra relevance in the wake of reports of educational institutions, particularly for-profit schools, engaging in misleading recruiting processes, including persuading veterans to take out costly loans and not disclosing key graduation and employment data.
[Read what veterans think about online degrees.]
There are certainly plenty of online programs available for veterans – the difficulty may be choosing the right one. Since Sept. 11, 2001, educational institutions have increased their marketing and outreach strategies to attract more veterans and military personnel, according to a July 2012 report by the American Council on Education.
"The challenge for online student veterans to some degree is helping them make the right choices … and making sure those student veterans know and are informed consumers of what those programs offer and don't offer," says Curtis Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
[Learn about efforts to help veterans choose the right college.]
All of the ranked Best Online Programs for Veterans 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 once course in the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) catalog.
By associating with those groups, institutions pledge to consider granting academic credit for classes and training completed in the military and offer flexibility for distance learners taking courses at several schools.
To ensure academic quality, the 153 online degree programs included in these new lists first had to be numerically ranked in the U.S. News 2013 Best Online Education Programs rankings. Those programs were assessed for various factors which, depending on the discipline, could have included their affordability, accessibility and reputation.
The Best Online Programs for Veterans includes bachelor's programs as well as master's programs in education, nursing, engineering and business. Only regionally accredited degree-granting programs that were 100 percent online were considered.
[Explore tips for how veterans can succeed in college.]
Bachelor's: At the undergraduate level, Pace University earned the top spot, cementing its reputation as offering one of the strongest online programs in the country. The New York City-based school also placed first in the bachelor's category in the 2013 Best Online Education Programs rankings.
Mark Poisel, associate provost for student success at Pace, says the university has designated a "veteran friendly" employee in every office at the school, so if veterans need help with transcripts or financial aid issues, they will have someone who understands their concerns.
"We should do whatever we can for people who have served the ways these adults have done," he says. "Why wouldn't we?"
Brandman University, a private school based in California, took second place in the rankings, followed by Bellevue University in Nebraska. Virginia's Regent University placed fourth, followed by the University of Nebraska—Omaha, which was ranked fifth.
Business (master's): Washington State University, the top program in the 2013 Best Online Graduate Business Programs rankings, also placed first among the graduate online business programs for veterans. Other distinguished programs include Central Michigan University (No. 2), University of Nebraska—Lincoln (No. 3), Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management (No. 4) and West Virginia University (No. 5).