Old Dominion University's online bachelor's degree programs have been ranked as the 31st best in the United States by national publication U.S. News and World Report in its annual rankings.

In the rankings, released on Wednesday, Jan. 7, Old Dominion tied for 31st with Temple University and Brandman University in Irvine, Calif. That is an increase in 39 spots from last year's ranking. ODU's score of 91 in the faculty training and credentials category was among the highest scores awarded to any of the more than 200 schools ranked in that division

Schools were ranked, based on factors such as graduation rates, indebtedness of new graduates and academic and career support services offered to students. See a full list of the rankings on the U.S. News and World Report rankings HERE.

Old Dominion University was also ranked 42nd in the list of best online graduate education programs, and 39th in the list of best online graduate nursing programs. These rankings make Old Dominion University "badge eligible," a ranking reserved for the top performing online programs in each category.

U.S. News assessed schools based on four general categories:

  • Student engagement (40 percent): Quality bachelor's degree programs promote participation in courses, allowing students opportunities to readily interact with their instructors and classmates, as is possible in a campus-based setting. In turn, instructors not only are accessible and responsive, but they also are tasked with helping to create an experience rewarding enough that students stay enrolled and complete their degrees in a reasonable amount of time;
  • Faculty credentials and training (20 percent): Strong online programs employ instructors with academic credentials that mirror those of instructors for campus-based programs, and they have the resources to train these instructors on how to teach distance learners;
  • Peer reputation (20 percent): A survey of high-ranking academic officials helps account for intangible factors affecting program quality that are not captured by statistics. Also, degrees from programs that are well respected by academics may be held in higher regard among employers; and
  • Student services and technology (20 percent): Programs that incorporate diverse online learning technologies allow greater flexibility for students to take classes from a distance. Outside of classes, strong support structures provide learning assistance, career guidance and financial aid resources commensurate with quality campus-based programs.

About 5.4 million students, or 1 in 4, took at least one distance education course during the fall of 2012, according to the most recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics. A 2014 survey of online students found that they put the most emphasis on reputation and cost when choosing an online program.

This year's fourth U.S. News rankings include online bachelor's degrees, as well as online master's degrees in business, engineering, computer information technology, education and nursing.

In total, U.S. News assessed more than 1,200 online degree programs, up more than 20 percent from last year. Only degree-granting programs offered mostly or entirely online were considered. The rankings made no distinction between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

Revisions to the methodologies used to assess other online programs led to some changes in the rankings. In the case of online bachelor's degrees, for example, U.S. News significantly decreased the weight given to a program's percentage of tenured faculty, reflecting that many of those programs are more focused on vocational skills than on research.

However, the most dramatic movement in the rankings was caused by the schools themselves, as they reported new or more complete information about their programs.

This article originally appeared in InsideODU on January 15, 2015.