According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the fastest-growing occupations in 2018 were in health care and related industries. That’s good news for online students, as programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are prevalent in this discipline. This increasing demand is due in part to an aging population and a rise in individuals living with chronic illnesses, leading to a greater need for home health aides and staff in related roles. Other health care jobs in high demand include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Online degrees exist that can effectively prepare students for both of these roles.
According to the statistics bureau, computer and mathematical occupations – for which an online degree in engineering or information technology may be relevant – account for the second-highest number of the fastest-growing occupations. This is in large part because of the increased use of mobile and digital devices, which is driving demand for application software developers. Demand for this role is expected to rise 25.6% between 2018 and 2028. Concerns over online security are also leading to a greater demand for employees with cybersecurity experience and knowledge. For positions such as information security analysts, employment is expected to grow by 31.6% through 2028.
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U.S. News has been publishing school rankings in the education sector since 1983 and has done so specifically for online degree programs for the past 8 years. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, U.S. News calculates rankings based on a variety of factors, which hold different weights depending on the ranking category. A program’s score for each factor, or ranking indicator, is calculated using data that online programs report to U.S. News in an annual survey. The rankings methodologies for online programs are different and separate from those for U.S. News’ Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools rankings. Ranking methodologies are typically updated on an annual basis.
In developing the 2020 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs rankings, U.S. News assessed online colleges based on four general categories. Engagement comprised 35% of each school’s rank, referring to the extent to which a degree program promotes participation by enabling students to effectively interact with instructors and classmates, as they would be able to do in an on-campus environment. Services and technologies made up 25% of each school’s rank, focusing on how programs incorporate diverse technologies to allow for students to more flexibly complete their coursework at a distance. This category also takes into account the quality of student support services, career guidance and financial aid resources. Comprising 20% of each school’s rank was faculty credentials and training, measuring the degree to which online instructors’ credentials mirror those of on-campus faculty. This category also measures the effectiveness of the resources utilized to train instructors to teach distance learners. Finally, expert opinions from surveys of high-ranking academic officials make up another 20% of each school’s rank. These insights help account for factors affecting program quality that hard data can’t capture.
U.S. News calculates rankings for online graduate programs using similar methodologies with an additional category taken into consideration. Student excellence is also considered – a category that measures the extent to which students who enter an online program have proven aptitudes, ambitions and accomplishments that enable them to handle the rigors of online learning.