Western Kentucky University's online degree programs earned high marks this year, receiving recognition from U.S. News and World Report in multiple areas.
In rankings using data collected last year, WKU ranked fifth in the nation for the media company's list of Best Online Bachelor's Programs. It fell in just below Arizona State University but above California University of Pennsylvania and West Texas A&M University, which tied for sixth place.
"What really makes our programs stand out are the faculty that are involved," said Julie Uranis, WKU's director of distance and innovative learning.
Along with faculty support, Uranis said WKU is able to offer a pool of resources to its online students, such as tutoring.
"We look for ways to create a similar experience with the same access for students," Uranis said. "That’s what we’re aiming for."
Student services and technology that allow flexibility for students to learn remotely makes up one of the four indicators U.S. News and World Report tracks to compile its rankings. The other three include student engagement, faculty credentials and training and peer reputation.
WKU ranked well in other areas.
Its master of criminology program ranked 15th for Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs in a five-way tie. WKU scored 21st place for its master of nursing program in a nursing program category, sharing the spot with four other universities. Its graduate teacher leader program ranked 35th in a category for graduate education programs, and WKU's Gordon Ford College of Business was 61st for Best Online MBA Programs.
A university report looking at distance learning in 2016 reported that WKU had 28,896 online students for the 2014-15 academic year, which was more than the other universities included in the report.
Although students have a lot of reasons for taking online course or degree programs, Uranis said it often comes down to saving time. Students often take courses to free up their schedules or are looking for a degree program to balance work and family life.
"They’re really embracing it in terms of a unique learning experience that they may not encounter otherwise," Uranis said.
Beth Laves, WKU's associate vice president for the Division of Extended Learning and Outreach, said the "outstanding" support WKU offers to its online students makes a difference.
"The care that we give for students who are not physically at our campus makes a difference in their retention and their success," Laves said.
Many of those resources are available through an online portal, and they range from help with writing papers to math tutoring.
"There are a lot of online resources for our students at a distance," Laves said.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.