USF Online Education Receives High Marks

Graduate education and engineering programs earn spots on U.S. News & World Report rankings of best online education opportunities.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2012) – Graduate education courses offered online by the University of South Florida have earned honor roll status from U.S. News & World Report in its first-ever rankings of the nation’s top online education programs.


The university’s online graduate offerings in engineering also placed highly in the assessment.


U.S. News editors explain the honor roll distinction is given to “programs that consistently rank in the top third among their peers at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.” At the master’s level, programs must place in the top third of at least three out of four categories, including teaching practices and student engagement, student services and technology, faculty credentials and training, and admissions selectivity.


USF’s online graduate programs in education topped all other eligible institutions in the state in every area except admissions selectivity.


“We’ve made developing online programs a priority during the last several years, so we’re thrilled with this designation,” said Colleen Kennedy, dean of the College of Education, noting that the college currently offers 11 graduate degrees, 10 graduate certificates, and one endorsement program fully online and four graduate degrees and three certificates partially online. At least two of those programs, in autism spectrum disorder/severe intellectual disabilities and career and workforce education, are the only ones of their kind in Florida, she added. 


“It’s a great recognition of our faculty and its response to the continuing professional development needs of educators,” Kennedy said. “And it supports our ongoing efforts to provide more high quality instruction beyond the Tampa Bay region. We’ve worked very hard to make online learning a centerpiece of what we do.”


The university’s online graduate engineering programs also fared well in terms of two of the judging criteria, student services and technology — ranked 17th nationally — and faculty credentials and training — ranked fourth in the country, USF’s highest placement in any category.


Included in the U.S. News report are results of the Babson Survey Research Group's annual survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities, both nonprofit and for-profit institutions, showing that the number of college students enrolled in at least one online course increased for nine straight years.

The study, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,” reports that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online class during fall 2010 — a 10.1 percent increase from the year before. An online class is defined in the survey as a course where more than 80 percent of all content is delivered online, and there typically are no face-to-face meetings with instructors.

While that growth is substantial, it is the smallest increase since fall 2006, when enrollment in online courses increased 9.7 percent. In comparison, during fall 2009, online education experienced an increase of nearly a million students taking at least one online course, or a 21.1 percent spike from the prior year.


The U.S. News coverage goes on to say that certain disciplines within online education saw relative gains and losses in enrollment between fall 2010 and fall 2011. A larger proportion of education and psychology programs saw declines in enrollment, while conversely, engineering, which had the highest proportion of declining enrollment in 2010, saw marked improvement in 2011.

Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.