Top Online Programs | Beaufort County Now | In a year when seemingly everything went virtual, online masterís degree programs in business, criminal justice, education and nursing at East Carolina University have been named among the best in the nation in a new ranking.

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Top Online Programs

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Crystal Baity.

The fountain and Wright Auditorium sparkle in the sun in 2017. | Photos: Cliff Hollis

  In a year when seemingly everything went virtual, online master's degree programs in business, criminal justice, education and nursing at East Carolina University have been named among the best in the nation in a new ranking.

  ECU's business and nursing graduate programs also were recognized as best for veterans in the 2021 U.S. News Best Online Programs released Jan. 26. ECU nursing was the highest ranked UNC institution for veterans.

A cold winter day envelopes ECUís Cupola.
"These rankings of our online programs validate our mission to serve nurses at every level of their education and career, providing online options that are known not only for their convenience but for their quality," said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. "We recognize the needs of working nurses and provide them rigorous web-based programs that prepare them for new possibilities as nurse leaders."

  ECU ranked 27th out of 194 online master's nursing programs, placing ECU's program in the top 15% in the country. In the best online graduate programs for veterans, ECU nursing was ninth. Concentrations in nursing education ranked sixth and nursing administration/leadership was 12th. The rankings for best programs for veterans were based entirely on responses to the peer assessment survey.

  ECU has 325 nursing students enrolled in online master's degree programs. Of those, 33 are listed as military veterans or active service members.

  ECU's online graduate program in criminal justice is the only school in North Carolina on the list, ranking 21st out of 79 schools.

  Dr. Heidi S. Bonner, associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, said it's an honor to be consistently ranked among the top criminal justice graduate schools in the nation. This spring, 72 students are enrolled in the program.

"Our 2021 ranking is a testament to our commitment to provide a quality educational experience for our students," Bonner said. "I commend the faculty who continue to support our mission of academic excellence and share their pride in being the top-ranked online graduate program in criminal justice in North Carolina."

  ECU's Master of Business Administration degree program ranked 100th out of 324 schools, placing it in the top 35%. It ranked 58th in the top MBA programs for veterans.

  Paul Russell, director of graduate programs in the ECU College of Business, said he has seen a steady increase in the number of students who want to further their education as a result of the pandemic while working from home.

"With flexible programs in a wide variety of subjects, the College of Business has something for everyone. This ranking solidifies that our students have made a great, valuable choice," Russell said.

  ECU's online graduate programs in education ranked 52nd out of 317 schools, in the top 20% in the nation.

"The ECU College of Education has been a leader in online education for many years," said Acting Dean Dr. Art Rouse. "The faculty know and understand the value of providing robust online instruction and real-world experiences that meet the needs of our students. In return, our students and constituents recognize the quality of our programs and the positive impact on our students and our community."

  This spring, 271 students are enrolled in eight designated distance education graduate programs: adult education; curriculum and instruction; elementary; instructional technology; science; reading and literacy studies; special education; and middle grades.

  Collectively, U.S. News surveyed more than 1,200 online graduate programs across the country. Only regionally accredited institutions with programs that are offered mostly or entirely online were evaluated.

  U.S. News noted that while the coronavirus pandemic closed many in-person classes, online learning gave students a chance to finish their semesters wherever they were. Distance education programs, where the majority of coursework is delivered in an online format, likely had fewer disruptions from the pandemic, according to U.S. News.

"Most of the institutions included in these rankings, released today, have offered online options for years, leading a sector that higher education experts see poised for further growth even once the dust from COVID-19 settles," U.S. News said in a story about the rankings on its website.

  This is the 10th consecutive year that U.S. News ranked the best online programs.

  Although the weights given to each category varied among the types of programs, all were evaluated by the following criteria:

  • Engagement: Indicators include graduation rate, class size, retention rates and time to degree
  • Faculty credentials and training: Number of faculty with terminal degrees, number of tenured faculty and preparedness of faculty to teach distance education students
  • Services and technologies: Student indebtedness, technological infrastructure and support services for students
  • Expert opinion: Survey of high-ranking academic officials
  • Student excellence: Acceptance rate of the program and undergraduate GPA of new students

  To be eligible for the best programs for veterans, schools had to be in the top half of the rankings of best online programs; certified for the GI Bill; and be either Yellow Ribbon Program participants or offer in-state tuition for veterans from out of state. Finally, a program must have enrolled a critical mass of students with military backgrounds; a minimum of 10 students was required for graduate-level rankings.
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