SOURCE: NextStudent

February 28, 2008 12:45 ET

Upper Iowa University Tops 2008 Online College Rankings as Online Enrollment Numbers Grow by Double Digits

PHOENIX, AZ--(Marketwire - February 28, 2008) - The Online Education Database recently released its second annual Online College Rankings (oedb.org/rankings), recognizing the top 41 undergraduate online degree programs in the country. Currently offering the only national rankings of online education institutions, the OEDb evaluates schools that offer all or most of their degrees online. The OEDb rankings are based on schools' scores in eight categories, including financial aid, graduation rate, acceptance rate, and student-faculty ratio. Upper Iowa University landed in the number one spot, followed by LeTourneau University at number two and Liberty University at number three. Last year's top-ranked Grand Canyon University dropped down to sixth this year.

Online education has undergone dramatic growth over the past five years, with enrollment increasing nearly 10 percent in 2006 alone, according to The Sloan Consortium. In the fall of 2006, almost 3.5 million students -- nearly 20 percent of all U.S. higher education students -- were enrolled in at least one online course.

With their right-at-your-desktop virtual classrooms and class times that can be scheduled around the clock, online programs likely owe a significant portion of their growth to their ability to accommodate the non-traditional students who would otherwise be unable to attend a college or university. From stay-at-home parents who can't make the commute to full-time professionals who can't attend classes on a typical brick-and-mortar schedule, these non-traditional students, in growing numbers, have been able to capitalize on the flexibility of online degree programs, as well as on the availability of financial aid and student loans.

The financial aid metric in the OEDb rankings measures the percentage of each school's students that receive financial aid, a statistic provided by the government-backed College Navigator database. Top-ranked Upper Iowa University, along with Salem International University and Westwood College, provide a full 100 percent of their students with at least some form of financial aid, according to the OEDb. At LeTourneau University, Liberty University, and Fisher College, 99 percent of the students receive some kind of financial aid. Long-standing ITT Technical Institute provides 91 percent of its students with financial aid, while the University of Phoenix offers financial aid to 49 percent of its student body.

Generally, students in accredited online programs can take advantage of the same student loans and financial aid options as brick-and-mortar college students. Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online degree students can qualify to receive need-based federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Perkins student loans, and subsidized Stafford student loans, depending on their financial situation. Online students may also be able to use the funds from non-need-based Federal PLUS Loans, Grad PLUS Loans, and unsubsidized Stafford student loans.

For Web-based students whose online education-related costs exceed their available federal college loans and other financial aid, private student loans could provide the additional financial assistance they need. Private student loans typically have no application deadlines, so online degree students can apply at any point throughout the year, even if they've missed the deadline to apply for federal financial aid. However, since federal student loans generally offer more attractive terms than private student loans, online students should always look into their federal financing options first.

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