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UA ranks 81, top 25 percent of online degree programs by U.S. News and World Report

Logan Cook

A view of the Student Union Memorial Center on Jan. 18. UA Online ranked in the top 25 percent of online degree programs in its first year of operation.

A year after its official launch, UA Online has been rated among the best online bachelor degree programs in the country.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UA Online 81 out of 312 programs, putting it in the top 25 percent across the nation. 

The report ranked schools based on three criteria: faculty credentials and training, student services and technology and student engagement. The UA scored an 88 overall in faculty credentials, 63 in student services and technology and 48 in student engagement. 

The UA currently offers 30 bachelor degree programs online in its second year.

The 2020 Vision for the Arizona University System hopes Arizona public universities can increase their ability for educational attainment. One of the “macro” strategies is to “strengthen existing and support new partnerships with all educational sectors to facilitate and improve the pipeline to university education.” 

The Arizona Board of Regents’ 2020 Vision is to get more Arizona citizens to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree, which in turn will help the state’s economy. 

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The biggest difference between online classes and in-person is how the online class process works, said Ashley Jordan, UA Online psychology program coordinator and lecturer.

“I’d say probably the biggest difference is the sense of isolation that students can sometimes feel in the online world,” she said. “So that’s constantly something that I’m tying different teaching methods to eliminate.” 

Another difference is online classes should be fully developed before the start of the semester, according to Jordan. While in-class schedules can change, students online may have busier schedules than the traditional student on campus. 

She said it’s important to find interesting ways to encourage students to engage and communicate with the teacher and classmates across different time zones. 

Many students that enroll are coming back to finish their particular degree, and students in the military and their families enroll online. 

“They really can’t get an education in a traditional face-to-face setting,” Jordan said. “The only option for them in order to get a degree is to do something online because they can take it with them wherever they’re going and still be able to complete the program.” 

Because of this new access to different programs toward degree completion, she says the growth for UA Online can be “astronomical” because it has been an unmet need for many willing students. 

More than 1,000 undergraduate students were enrolled in UA Online in Fall 2016, according to the University Analytics and Institutional Research department. 

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Future projections by the 2020 report shows enrollment will have to come from other areas besides students coming from high school.

“In addition, the system would have to deliver academic programs by every means possible, to every corner of the state and to students of all ages—this without reducing the value of an Arizona university diploma,” the 2020 Vision report said.

Jordan said it’s important to continue research on best practices, which could thus improve student engagement, the lowest overall score for UA Online. 

“I think it’s really important to continue to do research and that way we can actually see what strategies are working to help students to succeed,” she said. “I have experienced there being a stigma toward online education, and I feel that is starting to go away as knowledge of it has grown.”

Although some are not aware of the benefits of online programs Jordan said she believes it’s still an exciting process.

“I think it is an exciting time to be in online education,” she said. “I really see it as being the way of the future.”

Follow Shaq Davis on Twitter.

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