Methodology: Best Online Business Programs Rankings

Learn how U.S. News computed its online master’s in business degree rankings.

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For the 2014 Best Online Business Programs rankings, U.S. News decreased the emphasis on admissions selectivity and peer reputation while increasing the weight of student engagement, faculty credentials and training, and student services and technology. 

Here is how each are currently weighted in the rankings. 

Student engagement (weighting: 33 percent – previously 28 percent): Quality business programs promote participation in courses, allowing students opportunities to readily interact with their instructors and fellow classmates as is practiced with colleagues in professional business settings. In turn, instructors are not only accessible and responsive, but they are also tasked with helping to create an experience rewarding enough that students stay enrolled and complete their degrees in a reasonable amount of time. 

Admissions selectivity (weighting: 20 percent – previously 25 percent): Student bodies entering with proven aptitudes, ambitions and accomplishments can handle the demands of rigorous course work. Furthermore, online degrees that schools award discriminatively will have greater legitimacy in the job market. 

Peer reputation (weighting: 20 percent – previously 25 percent): Industry opinion accounts for intangible factors on program quality not captured by statistics. Also, degrees with strong perceptions of quality among academics may be held in higher regard among employers. 

Faculty credentials and training (weighting: 13.5 percent – previously 11 percent): Strong online business programs employ instructors with academic credentials one would expect from a campus-based program, and have the resources to train these instructors on how to teach distance learners. 

Student services and technology (weighting: 13.5 percent – previously 11 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 learning assistance, career guidance and financial aid resources commensurate with quality campus-based programs. 

How the Rankings Were Calculated 

The process for computing overall scores has undergone a significant change for the 2014 rankings. Each ranking indicator is now standardized about its mean to account for statistical variance. 

U.S. News multiplied these standardized values by weights it selected, and then summed these values to compute total scores and the five separate category scores. 

Finally, each of these scores has been rescaled for display purposes so that the top-scoring school receives a score of 100 and the bottom-scoring school receives a score of zero. All scores are also now rounded to whole integer values. 

Numerical rankings are assigned to programs in descending order of their overall scores, with the highest-scoring program ranked No. 1. Schools with tied scores are tied in the rankings. This is a change from 2013 in which there were no ties because rankings were assigned to unrounded scores. 

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 rank and score for that school, but decided for editorial reasons not to publish it. 

In contrast, 14 schools that either offered an online program for the first time in academic year 2013-2014 or reported fewer than 10 students enrolled were designated as unranked. This means U.S. News did not calculate numerical ranks for these schools. All unranked and Rank Not Published programs, however, are still listed in the searchable directory. 

Data Collection  

Creating the 2014 Best Online Business Programs rankings required two steps. Step one was compiling a list of business schools offering master's degree programs online. Step two was collecting data from these schools. 

To complete step one, U.S. News & World Report sent statistical questionnaires to regionally accredited public, private and for-profit institutions that granted a master's degree in business. Respondents were asked to identify whether in academic year 2013-2014 they would be offering a master's in business/MBA program through Internet-based distance education courses. 

U.S. News defines a distance education program as follows (along the same lines as the U.S. Department of Education's definition): 

A program for which all the required coursework for program completion is able to be completed via distance education courses that incorporate Internet-based learning technologies. Distance education courses are courses that deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Note: Requirements for coming to campus for orientation, testing or academic support services do not exclude a program from being classified as an online master's in business degree program."

Between the start of data collection in July 2013 and the September 2013 closing date, 239 (23 percent) said they would be offering online master's degree business programs in accordance with the definition, while the rest either said they would not or chose not to respond. 

To complete step two, U.S. News collected additional statistical information from the same questionnaire on the 239 schools with online programs, and this information was scored as outlined in the table below. (Note: All student and faculty statistical data are of July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2013 cohorts, while the remaining data are of policies, services and technologies in place at the time of the questionnaire completion in summer 2013.) 

Student engagement (33% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Best practices 40 An index in which half the weight is based on a program having accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (half-credit for Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education accreditation); the other half is based on 10 equal factors: Americans with Disabilities Act policy, anti-plagiarism policy, certified instructional designers, collaborative course work, course evaluation required, course evaluation response rate, formal copyright policy, instructor office hours, students sign ethics statement, school tracks students after graduation.
Graduation rate 30 The percentage of students who graduate within a time determined by the program’s length.
Class size 10 A school’s mean class size and maximum class size each comprise half the weight.
One year retention rates 10 A school’s mean re-enrollment rate over four years.
Time to degree deadline 10 A school that requires students to complete their degree within 1.5 times the program length receives the full score. Other schools score progressively lower the longer their time to degree deadlines.
Admissions selectivity (20% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Undergraduate grade point average 30 The mean GPA of new entrants multiplied by the percentage of new entrants submitting GPA scores.
GMAT scores 30 The mean GMAT scores of new entrants multiplied by the percentage of new entrants submitting GMAT scores.
Experience 30 An index based on three equally weighted parts: the extent work experience and business undergraduate course work are required for admittance, requiring three letters of recommendation including one by a professional contact, percentage of new entrants sponsored by an employer.
Acceptance rate 10 A school’s admitted students divided by applicants.
Peer reputation (20% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Score 100 A school’s weighted mean of scores on a 1-5 scale as rated by online master’s in business degree programs.
Faculty credentials and training (13.5% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Ph.D. faculty 40 Schools employing at least 50 percent of faculty with terminal degrees receive the full score; schools with below 50 percent receive a score based on their percents of faculty with terminal degrees multiplied by 2.
Preparedness to teach distance learners 30 An index based two-thirds on whether the school finances training on online teaching best practices and the number of training hours required; one-third is based on whether continuing training is required and if a system of peer review is in place.
Tenured faculty 20 The percentage of full-time faculty who are tenured or tenure-track faculty.
Technical staff available to faculty 10 The ratio of full-time staff members employed to offer technical assistance to program faculty relative to the number of faculty at the institution to whom they are available.
Student services and technology (13.5% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Student indebtedness 50 Half of the weight is a school’s mean student debt at graduation compared with the median such value among other schools; the other half is the percentage of a school’s graduates with debt compared with the median such value among other schools. Only schools with below median debt levels for either were awarded scores.
Technological infrastructure 25 An index based on student access to 10 equally weighted technologies: application for smartphone; application for tablet; remote access to the following: chat rooms, recorded audio, recorded video, simulations, software-based readers, streaming audio, streaming video, visual software.
Support Services 25 An index based on student access to 10 equally weighted services: academic advising, bookstore, 24/7 tech support, financial aid services, live librarian, local area network, mentoring, live tutoring, writing workshops, career placement assistance.

Data Reporting 

Respondents were instructed to provide information specific to their online degree programs. This means they could not report on any of their campus-based programs. Exceptions were made for fully blended programs from which online and campus-based students were admitted from the same applicant pools and enrolled in the same courses. 

Questions asking for descriptive statistics on students and faculty – such as enrollment or graduation rates – requested aggregations of data only across schools' online business programs. For profile data, such as tuition or application deadlines, schools were instructed to report on their online business program with the largest enrollment. 

Peer Assessments 

Complementing 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. Deans of business schools with online graduate programs and top distance learning higher education academics were mailed postcards with links to online peer reputation surveys. 

Each program was sent two surveys. Between August 2013 and October 2013, higher academics responded by evaluating the academic quality of the other online graduate business 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. 

To increase the number of ratings for a better representation of schools, U.S. News aggregated the peer reputation data collected in 2013 with data collected in 2012. In total, 184 surveys completed by schools with online business programs were submitted. 

The two highest and lowest scores for each school in both years were removed from the totals before calculating the average peer score among those who rated the program. 

Some programs received fewer than 10 scores from other schools after this trimming, indicating very few of their peers were familiar with them. In such cases, U.S. News imputed their scores by assuming a rating of 1 for every additional rating needed for the school to have a total of 10 ratings, and then calculated an average score based on the sum of all scores. Programs with fewer than 10 ratings do not have their peer reputation scores published. 

Because the number of online business programs is continually growing, 15 of the 225 ranked schools were not included in the peer reputation survey and did not receive any ratings. For ranking purposes these schools were assigned the median peer reputation score derived from the data collected in 2013. These values are not published and will not carry over into future rankings.