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IOWA CITY — For the first time since launching in fall 2019, the University of Iowa’s new online Master of Business Administration degree has made U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for “best online MBA programs.”
Tied for No. 78, the UI online MBA program was among more than 350 considered and among 326 that U.S. News ended up ranking as part of its 2022 “best online program rankings” made public Tuesday. For finance, the UI online program ranked No. 15, according to Ali Yildirim, executive director of marketing and recruiting for the UI Tippie College of Business, who noted Princeton Review also recently ranked the UI online MBA for the first time at No. 14 in the nation and No. 7 among public universities.
“This appears to be an excellent showing for a program that’s being ranked for the first time,” Yildirim said, adding, “While rankings provide validation for the hard work of our faculty and staff, they are one of several metrics of success.”
Namely, he said, UI administrators consider student satisfaction, representation, and outcomes among measures of success.
“Rankings are important for visibility, but it’s more important that we serve working professionals across the country and our graduates see a rapid return on their investment,” Yildirim said.
In total, the U.S. News 2022 online program rankings evaluated 1,733 online bachelor’s and master’s programs — including best overall online bachelor’s programs; best online MBA programs; and best online master’s programs in education, nursing, engineering, and computer information technology.
Given UI only began offering its online MBA program in fall 2019, this was its first year in the rankings — which evaluated data from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.
U.S. News previously has ranked UI online master’s programs in education and nursing, which this year saw modest moves. The UI online education program improved from No. 27 in 2021 to No. 24 this year. Its nursing program dipped slightly from No. 80 to No. 82.
"Our programs build off of many years of expertise in online and distance education at the University of Iowa that predate the pandemic," UI College of Education Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs Pam Wesely said. "This movement in the rankings is a natural outgrowth of the excellent work that the instructors, program coordinators, and students are doing."
The pandemic has made online education increasingly relevant, according to U.S. News Managing Editor of Education Liana Loewus.
“The uncertainty caused by the pandemic may result in more people considering the merits of an online education,” Loewus said in a statement.
But while COVID has increased the popularity of all types of online education and degree offerings, U.S. News — in its 10th year ranking online programs — is careful to note only “predominantly online degree programs, from entry to completion, are included in the rankings.”
“Degree programs being delivered temporarily online do not qualify,” according to U.S. News.
Some of those temporarily online programs — which surged across nearly every campus in America as COVID spread in 2020 — wouldn’t perform well anyway on the U.S. News rankings, which give credit for “long-term investments in designing and scaling their student services, technologies, curricula, and instructor training toward distance learners.”
Ranking programs, not schools
The report also clarifies the rankings are specific to program and not schools — which U.S. News ranks annually in the fall, on both the national and global level. Nationally, UI made gains in the 2022 rankings — improving from No. 88 to No. 83.
University of Northern Iowa likewise improved in its regional Midwest rankings from No. 24 to No. 19, while Iowa State University dropped in the national rankings from No. 118 to No. 122.
Although Iowa State last year earned rankings for its online master’s in education program and online master’s in computer information technology program, it did not rank this year, according to the 2022 report.
UNI’s only online ranking for its distance master’s in education program improved from No. 72 last year to No. 53.
“Being recognized with peers nationally highlights the quality of our online education graduate programs in meaningful ways,” UNI Dean of the College of Education Colleen Mulholland said. “This year's ranking directly reflects UNI's excellent, committed faculty who continue to elevate the virtual classroom experience at the graduate level.”
Although administrators across Iowa’s public universities have said they don’t pander to the rankings, they do pay attention to them as measures of progress and as legitimate tools prospective students use in shopping for a collegiate home.
Methodology for U.S. News placement varies by program. Online MBAs, for example — considered “by far the most popular graduate business degree program” — used five categories for the 2022 edition.
They included engagement, namely opportunities to interact with instructors and classmates; expert opinion via a survey of “high-ranking academic officials at MBA programs”; faculty credentials and training; student excellence; and student services and technologies.
Popularity of MBA program soars
Although the UI online MBA program began just two falls ago, its popularity has soared — catapulted by the pandemic. Administrators who pitched the program in fall 2018 aimed to enroll 40 students three times a year and in early spring 2020 — just months after its launch — it had 83 students.
Once the pandemic hit, enrollment exploded to nearly 500 in summer 2021. Combined with the UI professional MBA program, 1,388 students today are enrolled in the “Iowa MBA,” taking courses either online, in-person, or a blend of both.
“We’ve been seeing record numbers ever since, and it really hasn't slowed down,” Yildirim said.
The nation’s top online MBA programs include Indiana University-Bloomington and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, both regent-assigned peers for UI.
The country’s top online bachelor’s programs are offered by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Florida, Medical University of South Carolina and University of Illinois-Chicago.
Top online education programs are offered out of Clemson University, and the universities of Florida, Georgia and Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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