Assessing Reputation of Online Master’s Degrees

Assessing Reputation of Online Master’s Degrees

How Reputation Impacts Student Program Selection

Research with online students indicates that the reputation of a university is important to them when they are looking at possible online master’s degree programs.  But just how important is it and what does it actually mean from a student’s point of view?

Perceived reputation is second in importance only to tuition and fees.

In 2013, research with online students[1] indicated that overall reputation of the university was the most important factor to them when selecting an online program. By 2015, however, the importance of reputation slipped to the number two spot, just below tuition and fees.

Gathering objective information about tuition is relatively easy; however, assessing the reputation of a university or online master’s degree program is not.

So in a follow-up question, when online students were asked “What factors are important to you in deciding if a university has a good reputation (choose up to three)”, their top three responses were:

  1. Accreditation
  2. Recognized in my field as a high quality institution
  3. Recommendations of friends, colleagues, and relatives

So aside from passing the accreditation hurdle, the next most important reputation factors are based on academic reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations. Surprisingly, the U.S. News & World Report rankings were the fifth most important factor in evaluating reputation for online students. Only 20% of respondents said they used these rankings in their decision-making process.

What, more specifically, is reputation and how can you objectively measure it when you are trying to find the best online master’s degree program?

Here’s how defines reputation: “the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally”.  Reputation is a fuzzy and difficult thing to quantify by its very definition. But if it is an important factor to consider when selecting an online master’s degree program, how can you gather objective information about it?

I’ve adapted some ideas from an article that was written to help employees manage their personal reputation.  These align well with the characteristics of an online master’s degree program that has earned both the academic reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations that prospective students seek.

Ten Questions to Identify a Highly Reputable Master’s Degree Program

  1. Do they do what they say they’ll do? Every time, every person, every request?
  2. Do they go out of their way to help YOU reach your goals? Do they have a mindset that they exist to help their students?
  3. Do they try to make you look good? Do they acknowledge your accomplishments and work to help you be successful?
  4. Do they go a step beyond what’s expected? Did they say they’d follow up with you in 24 hours, but then got back to you in 12?
  5. Do they ‘look the part’? What formal awards and recognition have they earned? What is their academic reputation?
  6. Do they walk the walk? If they talk the talk, do they also walk the walk? Is the culture across the university, and within the program, focused on meeting student’s needs?
  7. Are they consistent? Do they show the same great qualities to everyone they talk to?
  8. Do they act with integrity? Would they buy the ‘product’ they are selling you?
  9. Are they engaged in their community? Do they get to know you?  Are they always available?
  10. Are they likable? Are they proud of their program? Do they like each other, within the program and across the university, and appear to enjoy their work?

Keep these questions in mind as you talk with program directors and others about their online master’s degree programs. Programs that embrace and live these behaviors deserve recommendations from their peers, students, and the community.

You deserve an excellent education from a university and degree program that exhibits most, if not all, of these behaviors toward students.  With all of the online master’s degrees available in the market today, you don’t have to settle for less.

[1] Clinefelter,
D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2015). Online college students 2015:
Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.

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