Methodology: Best Online Engineering Programs Rankings

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

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

Here is how each are currently factored in the rankings.

Student engagement (weighting: 30 percent – previously 23 percent): Quality engineering programs promote participation in courses, allowing students opportunities to readily interact with their instructors and fellow classmates. 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.

Faculty credentials and training (weighting: 25 percent – previously 23 percent): Strong online engineering 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: 20 percent – previously 17 percent): A program that incorporates diverse online learning technologies allows greater flexibility for students to take classes and labs 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.

Peer reputation (weighting: 15 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.

Admissions selectivity (weighting: 10 percent – previously 12 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.

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.

Just one school was designated as unranked because it reported having fewer than 10 students enrolled. This means U.S. News did not calculate a numerical rank for this school. All unranked and Rank Not Published programs, however, are still listed in the searchable directory.

Data Collection

Creating the 2014 Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs rankings required two steps. Step one was compiling a list of engineering 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 public, private and for-profit institutions that granted a master's degree in engineering. Only schools housing at least one engineering program that is ABET accredited at the bachelor's level or higher were surveyed. Respondents were asked to identify whether in academic year 2013-2014 they would be offering a master's in engineering degree 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 engineering degree program."

Between the start of data collection in July 2013 and the September 2013 closing date, 74 (25 percent) said they would be offering online master's degree engineering 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 74 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 (30% of ranking)
Ranking indicator Category weight (percent) Scoring process
Graduation rate 36 The percentage of students who graduate within a time determined by the program’s length.
Best practices 28 An index of 10 equally weighted 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.
Class size 12 A school’s mean class size and maximum class size each comprise half the weight
One year retention rates 12 A school’s mean re-enrollment rate over four years.
Time to degree deadline 12 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.
Faculty credentials and training (25% 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 (20% 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.
Peer reputation (15% 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 engineering degree programs.
Admissions selectivity (10% 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.
Math GRE scores 30 The mean math GRE scores of new entrants multiplied by the percentage of new entrants submitting math GRE scores.
Experience 30 An index based on three equally weighted parts: the extent work experience and engineering 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.

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 engineering programs. For profile data, such as tuition or application deadlines, schools were instructed to report on their online engineering 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 engineering 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 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.

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, 89 surveys completed by schools with online engineering 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, 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 engineering programs is continually growing, three of the 73 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.