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7 Online Programs Rank Among Top 10 in U.S. News Rankings

NC State has long been recognized for the quality of its on-campus teaching, student support and research facilities. Now its online degree programs are on the rise.

A laptop open to an online course,.

At a time when college students are increasingly embracing remote learning, they may be surprised to learn that NC State — the literal definition of a bricks-and-mortar campus — offers some of the top online graduate and undergraduate degrees in the nation.

In its annual survey of 1,600 online degree programs, U.S. News & World Report ranked seven NC State offerings in the top 10, including the undergraduate degree in Leadership in the Public Sector, the MBA curriculum for business analytics and graduate degrees in several engineering disciplines.

The rankings are based on factors such as student engagement, services, technologies, faculty credentials and expert opinions of the programs.

Breaking Into the Top 10

The Leadership in the Public Sector undergraduate degree, offered through the School of Public and International Affairs, continues its dramatic climb in the rankings, shooting up from 71st place four years ago to 10th this year.

The program’s director, Traciel “Trace” Reid, says strong student support, academic rigor and flexibility are keys to the program’s success. “One of the things that makes this program particularly attractive is that it is an evolving program,” she says. “It is a program that tries to stay at the forefront of the issues that our students need in order to be successful.”

The program’s student population is evolving as well. While military members and their families have always gravitated to the program, they are now joined by midcareer professionals seeking to advance in their jobs, those looking to switch careers and people opting for remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike NC State’s traditional undergraduate programs, Leadership in the Public Sector is a degree-completion program. That means incoming students must have completed some college coursework — typically 60 credit hours at a community college — before they enter the program.

The program’s academic advisor, LaShica Waters, works with incoming students to map out their future course of study while accounting for the college courses they’ve already completed. It’s a complex process that’s tailored to each student.

“Everybody is coming in with different courses and different needs,” Reid says. “LaShica makes sure they get a course outline to follow, which is really instrumental to their success.”

There’s more to student success than the metrics tracked by U.S. News, such as graduation rates and program reputation, Reid says.

“We want to ensure we have a quality program that we can be proud of and a program that students can look back on when they graduate and say, ‘I made a really good decision by enrolling.’”

Top Faculty, Quality Service

Across campus at Engineering Online, the College of Engineering’s expansive distance education program, this year’s rankings reflect a tradition of excellence going back more than two decades. The program, which originally distributed lectures on VHS tapes through the postal service, ranked seventh overall this year. Both mechanical engineering and civil engineering ranked fourth, while industrial engineering ranked seventh and electrical engineering ranked eighth.

The program’s director, Linda Krute, says the online graduate programs appeal to students who want to expand their professional knowledge and augment their credentials. Engineering Online students often encounter a midcareer “triggering moment” that inspires them to return to school, she says.

“Adult education is different than on-campus education in that adults have to decide at what time in their working life they have the time and resources to enable them to be successful in an online program,” she says. “Often, that’s after they’ve gotten settled in their jobs and maybe have grown their family.”

Krute credits the college’s all-star faculty and high level of student services with making the programs successful. “These are online degrees, but for the students, the experience is the same as if they were on campus,” she says. “The same courses, same faculty, same homework, same exams and ultimately the same diplomas.”

Harnessing the Power of Big Data

NC State’s online MBA curriculum for business analytics ranked ninth in the nation this year. It’s an area of study that’s poised to expand in the Poole College of Management, where two new online graduate concentrations are now available: the Master in Management, Marketing Analytics and the Master in Management, Risk and Analytics.

Nichole Miller, assistant dean for MBA programs, says data analysis skills are increasingly sought after in the business world. “There’s so much data out there,” she says. “How do you take all of that information and make sense out of it? And then how do you present it to someone like me, who is not a numbers cruncher, so that I can make a decision that is informed by the data?”

Teaching those real-world skills is the hallmark of the graduate programs in Poole College, including its popular Jenkins MBA, which ranked 20th in the nation on this year’s U.S. News list.

“Our online offerings are targeted to working professionals,” Miller says. “They are successful because they offer a high level of quality and a high degree of flexibility. Students can pick and choose courses based on what’s happening in their lives and in their work.”

Like the engineering programs, the online business programs are popular with people looking to enhance their skills and advance their careers.

“One thing that differentiates us is the accessibility of our faculty,” Miller says. “They love teaching, but they’re also renowned for their research, and they bring all of that into the classroom — whether it’s on campus or online.”

Rounding Out the Rankings

NC State’s online master’s program in computer information technology ranked 28th, and the online master’s degree in education ranked 46th in the nation.

In addition, NC State’s graduate programs in business administration, engineering and education were recognized for their efforts to support veterans.