New Resource Finds High-value Online Degrees from Iowa Colleges and Universities

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Online education continues to have a negative connotation mainly associated with for-profit and lower quality institutions. However, well-respected, traditional colleges and universities are increasing the number of courses and degrees available to students wanting to complete them in an online format.

As demand for online education has increased, various groups and studies have tried to help prospective students navigate through marketing materials and media hype to identify which schools and programs provide the highest value education. However, the analysis in this field has been flawed because data tends to measure factors not important to students. sought to provide a better resource for students interested in pursuing an online degree from an Iowa-based institution. This new methodology captures data specifically relevant to online students and also is the first time that interviews with school administrators factor into a rankings system. The interviews provide insight into long-term sustainability and commitment to online education, the quality of the student experience, and the value of the degree.

Our qualitative findings highlight how schools differ from each other. For example, Mount Mercy University incorporates the original mission and values of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school in 1928, into their online courses.

After researching Iowa colleges and universities that offer online degree programs, we found that the top ten Iowa schools are:
1. Iowa State University
2. Upper Iowa University
3. Buena Vista University
4. University of Iowa
5. AIB College of Business
6. Mount Mercy University
7. Saint Ambrose University
8. University of Iowa
9. University of Northern Iowa
10. Briar Cliff University

Several trends and commonalities about online education emerged during the research and analysis process.

Majors and degrees are available for in-demand subjects like business and health administration as well as niche ones like social work.

Completing an online degree is just as hard, if not harder, than completing a degree by attending courses on a campus. “Our goal is that our curriculum and educational experience is identical between all formats. So, we don’t distinguish at all on their transcript if they were an online learner or an on-campus learner,” says Jenna Hunt, Online Program Coordinator at Mount Mercy University.

Some schools may hire adjunct professors to teach online courses if they are experts in their field. Brian Eben, Vice President of Enrollment Management, at Briar Cliff University explains, “Our full-time faculty are great, because they do research and stay up-to-speed on the subject matter. Our adjunct faculty are also very well-qualified. They are real working professionals in the field today, so they have their own expertise that they bring to the table.”

Schools also experiment with ways to maximize student interaction in the online classroom and as a broader part of the community. Both Mount Mercy and Briar Cliff allow online learners to walk at graduation. Also, online and on-campus students earn identical transcripts and diplomas.

The rankings, analysis, and interviews can be found here:
Prospective students will also find advice for how to select a school and how to approach their application.

About is the first resource and guidebook created for prospective online students that blends data analysis with qualitative feedback from the staff and faculty of accredited colleges and universities. Rather than creating another flawed ranking system, aims to identify the nuanced strengths and details of each school so students know which institution is the best fit.

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Melanie Jones
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