//Best Online Master’s in Computer Science: Behind the Rankings

Best Online Master’s in Computer Science: Behind the Rankings

What Makes the “Best” Online Computer Science Programs the Best?

The web is bloated with “best of” lists, especially when it comes to higher education. Unfortunately, the problem with most of these rankings is that they rely on data that may not always convey the value students of these programs receive.

For example, a site that claims to rank the best online master’s in computer science programs may do so based on information such as acceptance rates and percentage of students taking federal loans. Sure, these can be helpful factors to consider when trying to narrow down your list of online computer science grad programs, but do they really tell you anything about which programs are the best?

Of course, we aren’t saying that it’s impossible to rank the top online master’s in computer science programs or that rankings don’t matter. U.S. News & World Report’s graduate IT program rankings, for example, hold a lot of weight thanks in large part to its consideration of factors such as faculty credentials and career support services offered to students. Some of the categories U.S. News used to rank the best online IT programs include:

  • Student engagement  Does the program promote participation and allow students opportunities to interact with their instructors and classmates, as is possible in a campus-based setting?
  • Faculty credentials and training – Does the program employ instructors with academic credentials that mirror those of instructors for campus-based programs?
  • Peer reputation – Is the program respected by employers and high-ranking academic officials?
  • Student services and technology – Does the program incorporate diverse online learning technologies that allow students to take classes and labs from a distance with ease?

But not all ranked lists are created the same, and few sites are as diligent as U.S. News & World Report. How do other sites determine which online graduate computer science programs are the best? Here’s a look at what we found after digging into the methodologies behind some of the top search results for “best online master’s in computer science.”

Admissions Rate

A program’s overall quality is determined in part by how selective it is. Many argue that a lower acceptance rate means the program is more selective and admits fewer students. However, despite being one of the primary quality factors for ranking sites, an acceptance rate alone may not tell you much about the program. According to a former admissions officer at Amherst College, “A low acceptance rate, along with high scores, grades and other characteristics, indicates inputs, not outputs.” In other words, it tells you more about the students who apply rather than how they learn once they’re admitted. One way to assess quality in higher education compared to the percentage of first-year students who are accepted may be the percentage of first-year students who re-enroll in the same school the following year.

Graduate Salaries

Ranking sites may try to assess graduate outcomes by looking at the average salary of graduates from their respective programs. Unfortunately, this type of data doesn’t always provide a complete picture of how students fare after they graduate. A more telling measure might possibly be how much students’ salaries increased after obtaining their degree. Ranking sites may also look at the loan default rate among graduates to assess the quality of outcomes for students. The loan default theoretically may also be used as an indication of affordability, since it stands to reason that more expensive programs require larger student loans that may be harder to repay.

Data Sources

    • If you want to look through the data yourself and decide which online program is best for you, here are the main sources of information cited by the top ranking sites:
      • IPEDS – The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System gathers information from every college, university and technical and vocational institution that participates in the federal student financial aid programs.
      • College Navigator – College Navigator is a free consumer information tool consists primarily of the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the IPEDS.
      • U.S. News & World Report – Since 1983, U.S. News has been providing education rankings and helping parents and students find the perfect school.
      • PayScale – PayScale provides information about salary, benefits and compensation, and may be used to mine salary data for graduates from a particular school or who hold a particular degree.

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