New university rankings reveal best online degree programs for 2021

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University topped an annual list published by U.S. News & World Report, followed by the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Florida.
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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has the best online bachelor’s degree program in the United States, according to annual rankings released Tuesday by U.S. News & World Report.

Headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida, Embry-Riddle is the largest accredited university system catering to the aviation and aerospace sectors. The university beat out the University of Illinois-Chicago, the University of Florida, and last year’s top-ranked program at Ohio State University-Columbus.

The University of Illinois-Chicago offers three online bachelor’s programs, including in health information management, business administration and a nursing program. Susan Poser, the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in a press release the institution is committed to “increasing access to high-quality online programs for working professionals who are juggling work and family responsibilities and can’t get to campus for classes.”

U.S. News & World Report develops its rankings, which it’s now been publishing for a decade, based on faculty credentials, student engagement, technology use and access to student services.


U.S. News & World report’s top online bachelor’s programs:

  1. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  2. University of Illinois-Chicago
  3. University of Florida
  4. Ohio State University-Columbus & Oregon State University (tie)
  5. Arizona State University
  6. University of Arizona
  7. CUNY School of Professional Studies & University at Buffalo-SUNY (tie)
  8. Colorado State University-Global Campus & Medical University of South Carolina & Pennsylvania State University-World Campus & University of Georgia (4-way tie)

The publication also develops rankings for graduate programs, programs for veterans, as well as rankings for several degree subject areas.

Top master’s degree programs:

  • MBA: Carnegie Mellon University
  • Business, non-MBA: University of Southern California
  • Computer Information Technology: Columbia University
  • Criminal Justice/Criminology: University of California, Irvine
  • Education: University of Florida
  • Engineering: Columbia University
  • Nursing: Rush University

The 2021 rankings arrive as universities have spent almost a full year grappling with the challenges of a pandemic, often pivoting to some form of virtual instruction.

The publication evaluated more than 1,600 predominantly online programs, which may feature in-person events like orientations, clinical requirements or testing. Blended learning programs — which many universities have leaned on during the pandemic — were not included in the rankings.

“As in-person gatherings remain limited, we might see more interest in online degrees than in pre-pandemic years,” Anita Narayan, managing editor of education at U.S. News & World Report said in a press release. “But online degrees aren’t only practical in the short term — distance education can also be conducive to a schedule that includes full-time work or other commitments.”

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