The Online Education Database, or OEDb, released its third annual ranking of online educational institutions this week, prompting announcements and press releases from many of those that appeared near the top of the list.
The Houston-based OEDb, a subsidiary of DomainDev, is a for-profit company that makes money by referring visitors to the many online colleges and universities that advertise with it—which is to say that a more accurate title for the company might be the Online Education Database of Our Advertisers.
But the annual rankings are a completely separate service, OEDb founder Andy Hagans told The Chronicle this afternoon. Hagans conceived of the idea when he noticed that there were no mainstream rankings for online schools. Any perceived conflict of interest, he said, should be dispelled by the site’s thoroughly transparent methodology.
OEDb ranks the colleges according to eight separate metrics. Two of the metrics—retention rate and graduation rate—are the same as the ones U.S. News & World Report uses to formulate its yearly ranking of traditional colleges and universities. Several others bear some similarity to U.S. News metrics without being identical: The OEDb rankings do not use peer assessments of colleges, but they do score how many times a particular college’s Web site is linked to from other colleges’ Web sites. The metric, referred to as “peer Web citations,” appears to use these links as a proxy for a college’s reputation in the virtual community of higher learning.
The remaining OEDb metrics are acceptance rate, student-faculty ratio, financial aid, scholarly citations (how often outside scholars have cited the institution’s research), and how many years the institution has been accredited by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education.
The most distinct aspect of the OEDb’s formula is that it weights all the metrics equally. For instance, the quality of each college’s financial-aid program is given the same consideration as how many times that college is linked to from other colleges’ Web sites.
Hagans said he decided to assign equal weight to all criteria because “any weighting we could give them would be arbitrary.” He pointed out that visitors are able to view the rankings by individual metric, in effect allowing them to ascribe their own weight to each one. “We also publish all the raw data,” he said, “so people could produce their own rankings if they want.”—Steve Kolowich