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UPCEA and U.S. News Hold Joint Focus Group About Online Program Rankings

UPCEA (the University Professional Continuing Education Association) and U.S. News & World Report recently hosted a lively and important discussion on the U.S. News rankings of online programs. The focus group convening, held on June 10 in the event space of 1 Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., was facilitated by Eric Brooks, Senior Data Analyst at U.S. News, and Julie Uranis, Vice President of Online and Strategic Initiatives at UPCEA. 

Leaders of online enterprises and institutional researchers from more than 50 colleges and universities gathered at the convening to discuss the methodology of the U.S. News surveys and the items, or questions, contained within the various surveys. The U.S. News education rankings team were also in attendance. 

“It was a treat to engage with so many experts in one room. They came with strong opinions and healthy skepticism. Most importantly, they provided valuable insights that will be strongly considered involving the 2020 edition of Best Online Programs, said Eric Brooks, Senior Data Analyst at U.S. News & World Report. “We at U.S. News take our research seriously because we believe rankings with strong analytical foundations will be taken the most seriously by prospective students. This gathering definitely aided this effort.”     

Convening attendees discussed numerous facets of the survey’s methodology, including overall categories and weights, combining data for multiple programs, distinctions between programs, and career outcomes.

”The rankings are important to institutions as they both validate the work done in online enterprises and create a buzz around institutional offerings,” said Julie Uranis, Vice President of Online and Strategic Initiatives at UPCEA, “yet I often hear online leaders express frustration at some of the questions included in the survey and the survey’s methodology. Bringing the team from U.S. News together with online leaders and researchers seemed like the highest and best use of UPCEA’s convening power.”

According to Asim Ali, Director of Auburn Online, attending the U.S. News Online Rankings Convening organized by UPCEA provided him and other online administrators the valuable opportunity to engage with the U.S. News team that publishes the rankings. Ali shared, “My goal in attending was to better understand the elements of the survey, how it is conducted, and how the results are used to develop the rankings. As a result of attending I was able to meet that goal, better understand the perspectives of my peers, and be more informed about the annual online programs rankings.”

In light of the dynamic changes occurring across institutions today, Evangeline J. Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online, found the convening well-timed. Cummings stated, “Getting universities together to discuss the latest developments across our institutions in serving students with flexible modalities is always a good thing. The challenge U.S. News faces now is best helping prospective students navigate a complex and nuanced landscape with clear and useful barometers of quality, value, and versatility.”

These perspectives were echoed by other leaders, such as Ann Taylor from Penn State University, Richard Novak from Rutgers University, as well as Daniel Horn from Johns Hopkins University who shared, “I’m very hopeful that the lines of communication will remain open moving forward.”

“What is clear is that there was a lot of interest and eagerness to share feedback with U.S. News, particularly around online quality, student indebtedness vs. affordability, and the tension between more exclusive admission requirements and the access mission of most online units,” Uranis said. “These conversations will continue and we’re eager to work with the team at U.S. News as they continuously refine and improve their survey instrument and methodology.”

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