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Online colleges and universities are seeing an enormous increase in enrollment. In 2011, Babson Research reported that the number of students learning online had just surpassed 6 million. In 2013, Babson reported that this number was now over 7 million, a 15 percent increase in just two years.

Online study gives students unmatched flexibility in pursuing their education. With a laptop and internet connection, you are set to go. You can pursue an online education anywhere, at your own pace and with minimal disruption to your lifestyle.

Because of the explosive growth of online education, TheBestSchools.org decided it was time to update its ranking of the best online colleges (our last ranking was in 2012). Given the increasing number of schools that are providing online degree programs and expanding their range of offerings, this update was necessary.

Our ranking of the best online colleges is based on extensive research and focuses on such factors as academic excellence, scholarly quality of faculty, online teaching methods, cost, reputation, awards, financial aid, and number of degree programs.

wise choiceWe created this ranking of the best online colleges to help students make wise choices about their online education. The following list identifies colleges and universities that provide a high-quality online education. Note that we include traditional campus-based schools only if they provide an extensive and well-rounded offering of online degree programs.

1 Penn State World Campus
penn-state(State College, PA)

Penn State World Campus, the online campus of the highly respected Pennsylvania State University, has an impressive list of online programs, with more than 100 online degrees and certificates in fields including business, technology, education, engineering, healthcare and more.

The world-class faculty members who teach in the traditional campus-based program also teach the Penn State World Campus online courses.

Online students also have access to career academic advisers and student support services. Graduates of the online programs can join the Penn State Alumni Association, one of the world’s largest alumni associations. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools provides accreditation. Many of the programs have additional accreditations from important governing bodies.

U.S. News & World Report ranked Penn State University #37 in its 2014 edition of the Best Colleges in National Universities list, and #8 nationally among the top public schools. The same magazine also ranked Penn State University #1 in its Best Colleges for Veterans National Universities list and #3 in its Best Online Bachelor’s Programs list.

In addition, Princeton Review included Penn State University in its Best 378 Colleges 2014 list, while Forbes ranked the school #93 overall and #49 among research universities. Academic Ranking of World Universities (provided by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University) ranked Pennsylvania State University as #54 in the world and number #37 in the United States. Finally, the Wall Street Journal has ranked Penn State University graduates as the “most-prepared for work in their field.”

2 University of Florida Distance Learning
University of Florida(Gainesville, FL)

The University of Florida, a public research university, has over 150 research centers and institutes. Recognized for providing high-value education to students, the university provides a variety of online bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees via University of Florida Distance Learning.

Every online undergraduate degree program is an advanced-standing degree program. Students are generally required to have completed 60 or more semester hours of transferable credit.

The University of Florida offers prominent graduate programs through the Hough Graduate School of Business, the College of Medicine, Levin College of Law, and the College of Engineering. The university also has a prominent alumni community which offers multiple networking opportunities. University of Florida received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Forbes ranks University of Florida #74 overall and #41 among research universities. U.S. News & World Report ranked University of Florida #49 in its 2014 edition of Best Colleges in National Universities list, #5 in its Best Online Bachelor’s Programs list, and #3 in its Best Online Graduate Business Programs list.

Kiplinger’s ranked University of Florida #3 on its list of Best Values in Public Colleges, while Princeton Review ranked it #7 on the Best Value Public Colleges list, and also included the school on its 2014 list of Best 378 Colleges. Academic Ranking of World Universities (provided by the Center for World-class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University) ranked University of Florida #71 in the world and #43 in the United States

3 UMass Online
UMass Amherst(Shrewsbury, MA)

UMass Online, part of the highly respected University of Massachusetts system, provides more than 100 online degrees and certificate programs in areas such as business, liberal arts, management, education, public health, nursing, information technology, and more. The University of Massachusetts has provided distance education for more than 25 years.

The same high-quality instructors who teach the on-campus classes also teach all classes for the online college. The faculty includes recipients of some of the world’s most prestigious academic awards. UMass has a reputation for high-level research in many fields, including bioinformatics, nanotechnology, remote sensing, renewable energy, vaccine development, and chemistry. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges provides accreditation.

UMass Online has received the Excellence in Distance Teaching Education award from the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). The Times of London named UMass one of the world’s top 20 universities, while Forbes ranked the flagship campus, UMass-Amherst, as #89 among research universities. U.S. News & World Report also ranked that campus #91 in its 2014 edition of Best Colleges in National Universities and as the #40 top public school.

4 Boston University
Boston University(Boston, MA)

Boston University, one of the largest independent, nonprofit universities in the United States, includes a broad range of online graduate degrees, graduate certificates, and non-credit professional certificates, as well as an undergraduate degree completion program and two online doctoral programs.

The school provides online master’s degrees in fields such as music education, banking and financial management, criminal justice, computer science, art education, international marketing management, and more.

Boston University is a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite group of schools in the United States. The Carnegie Classification of Higher Education recognizes Boston University as a Research University/very high research activity. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. provides accreditation.

U.S. News & World Report ranked Boston University as #41 on its 2014 Best Colleges in National Universities list, #40 on its Best Business Schools list, #8 on its Best Online Graduate Business Programs list, and #2 on its Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs list.

Academic Ranking of World Universities (provided by Center for World-class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University) ranked Boston University as #75 in the world, while Princeton Review included the university on its Best 378 Colleges list for 2014. Finally, Times Higher Education ranked Boston University as #50 in its World University Rankings for 2013–2014.

5 Drexel University Online
Drexel University(Philadelphia, PA)

Drexel University Online provides more than 100 online degree and certificates for adults, including accelerated online bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. Drexel University Online also provides a variety of online graduate and undergraduate degrees and certificate programs in fields such as business, information science/systems, education, engineering, nursing & health professions, criminal justice, communications, technology, and more.

The faculty members who teach the on-campus programs also teach classes for the online university. Drexel University, a comprehensive national research university, has received recognition for its pre-professional programs in many fields, including engineering, business and nursing. The university also values experimental learning. Research has an important role at the Drexel University College of Medicine; the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems; the College of Nursing and Health Professions; and the College of Information Science and Technology.

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