Assessing Reputation of Online Master’s Degrees

Business Degree Assessments

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 Dictionary.com 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.

Time To Focus On What Matters Most to Students

What Matters Most to Online Students

Focus on the Important Things

I spend a lot of time thinking about what matters most to students in my research with universities. Today I read two articles, both posted by higher education industry colleagues on LinkedIn. The first is a marketing piece that uses IPEDS data to demonstrate the growth of online program adoption by highly ranked universities, and the other is an opinion piece that highlights the findings from Gallup’s groundbreaking research with students.

The stark contrast in how these articles defined what’s most important to students is worth noting.

The first article, which highlights IPEDS distance education data, is an advertising essay for a marketing firm disguised as an independent resource for students. It has all the right key word terms, some interesting data, links to the key industry research pieces, and looks nice and pretty. The piece is designed around methods that boost the SEO metrics to drive the marketing firm’s organic search results up. So according to them, universities with higher US News & World Report rankings are getting in the online degree game. But, one of the underlying assumptions of this article (and of the rankings the marketing firm offers to students on its website) is that higher rankings equates with better returns on education for students.  But, there’s absolutely no evidence to support this assertion. Higher rankings have never been shown to produce better returns for students.

The second article starts with the line, “Americans have lost track of the fundamentals of higher education.”  It raises the question, “Are we measuring all of the things that we value?”  The research conducted by Gallup shines a bright light on program features that actually do return value to students, and these things have nothing to do with university rankings. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to listen to Brandon Busteed’s keynote address found at this link. Gallup is asking students great questions, getting answers that are actionable, and challenging the education industry to do better for students.

Empowering Students Ensures Better Returns

What really matters most to students?  Empowering them, rather than trying to sell them, is a good start, especially when they begin the process of researching online programs.  The Online Degree Database is a unique and comprehensive source of online program details built with the student in mind.

Use our interactive tool to find the online degree programs that meet your needs. Generate your free reports!  The tool and reports save you weeks of searching and ensures that you are creating a short-list of programs for your final shopping round based on all of the available programs in the market.

Universities, work with the Online Degree Database directly to access unique and relevant intelligence about the online degree market. Contact Michelle at michelle@onlinedegreedatabase.com for more information.