For many years before online education became widely available, selecting the right university involved planning a campus visit and experiencing the culture of each school in person. Now, with online programs becoming an increasingly popular option for adults who need the flexibility to balance school, work, and personal commitments, a campus visit is simply not plausible. Plus, many online schools are located hundreds of miles away or maintain no traditional campus to visit. Instead, it’s important to search for programs based on the main indicators of their quality: graduation rate, return on investment, rankings, and accreditations.
omputer information systems, sometimes called “information technology” or simply “information systems” by schools that offer undergraduate majors in this career field, is one of the most widely available online programs. Information systems degrees are considered “big picture” degree programs, with courses on how technology works, which applicants fit with each organization type, and how management decisions are informed by evolving technologies. Rather than focusing on programming, like a computer science degree, an information systems major will focus on decision-making, best practices, use cases, and technical support.
The Internet offers no shortage of online programs in information systems and information technology. Though many programs are available, they don’t offer the same commitment to academic rigor, prestige, career support, and value for the price of tuition paid. In ranking the best computer information systems degrees, the following criteria were used as part of the ranking methodology:
- Accredited: Every program ranked in this list had to be accredited by a regional body in the United States, such as the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Some colleges and universities also featured a programmatic accreditation specifically for their computer information systems degree, which boosted their performance in the rankings due to increased prestige.
- Prestige: The prestige, or perceived prestige, of a program contributed to its ranking. A program’s prestige often corresponds to its quality, potential for networking, and command of a high salary, all of which benefits graduates.
- Graduation Rate: An online program is only worthwhile if students graduate with their degree in computer information systems. Schools with a high graduation rate are given preference over colleges and universities where fewer students complete their degree within 6 years.
- Networking and Alumni Support: A college degree program doesn’t end when the diploma is granted. Schools must offer excellent networking opportunities, career services, and alumni support, over the long-term. In this ranking, schools with high job placement rates, active alumni associations, and useful career services professionals are ranked higher than schools without these benefits.
- ROI: The price of tuition isn’t cheap, and student loan balances often aren’t small. To make these expenses and long-term obligations worthwhile, a school needs to “pay students back” over the long-term with higher salaries and a greater shot at professional success. A school where students earn more than the cost of tuition over a lifetime ranks higher than a school where students barely break even.
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15. King University
King University, a private, Presbyterian university based in Tennessee, has designed an online Bachelor of Science in information technology program for adults who are continuing beyond a two-year degree. Applicants to the IT program must have at least 45 credits earned in a related program at another institution before enrolling. Because this encourages students to attend highly affordable community colleges, the overall cost of the program is reduced.
Upon enrollment at the University, students meet with an advisor via phone or online chat to schedule their first semester and discuss career goals. Concentrations in computer information systems, management information systems, and security systems, are available so that students can choose the field that most interests them. Throughout each stage of the program, King University students create a portfolio of their hands-on projects and experiences for a prospective employer.
Each spring, the University holds a virtual career fair for graduates looking to gain entry-level employment in their sector of the information technology field. At a cost of $300 per credit for a total of 79 credits, King University is highly affordable and therefore maximizes ROI for graduates.
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14. Western Governors University
Founded by governors in several western states, Western Governors University was created specifically to focus on career-oriented degree programs for working adults. Its mission has also informed its costs and its focus on actually getting its graduates into degree-related positions after they graduate. The central focus on career preparation means that this program requires students to complete 14 career-related certifications in computer information systems knowledge areas. This can be a significant salary booster for recent graduates.
In addition to its focus on certifications, the WGU program is entirely self-paced. Students can take up to five courses at one time and complete them as quickly as their time and learning ability allows. Rather than paying per credit, Western Governors University students pay $2,890 every six months to maintain their enrollment. There is no limit to the number of courses finished during each six-month term. This can significantly reduce a student’s overall expenses; furthermore, the cost of tuition can often be paid for almost entirely by a federal Pell Grant instead of Stafford Loans.
13. Franklin University
Founded in 1902 specifically to focus on the higher education needs of nontraditional students, Franklin University today is one of the largest and best-ranked online institutions in the United States. The private, nonprofit institution offers its B.S. in an information technology degree program to students in all 50 states and 72 foreign countries, making it a top choice for military members and their families. In fact, the school is recognized as one of the most military-friendly schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report and Military Advanced Education Magazine. At $484 per credit hour, Franklin is also one of the most affordable schools for online students.
Students who study in the information technology program have several options that they can take advantage of when choosing a course of study. Franklin’s degree concentrations include.
All Franklin University students create a professional portfolio of their degree’s capstone course. An active career services office offers virtual career fairs at least three times per year, featuring major employers in the university’s home state of Ohio as well as nationwide. A free alumni association inducts students into its membership at the end of each commencement ceremony and offers benefits that range from career counseling and advising to discounts on popular insurance and credit products.
12. Southern New Hampshire University
Routinely named one of the most innovative online universities in the country, Southern New Hampshire University offers like a traditional, nonprofit university, but in an online sense. The university, which does maintain a physical campus in New Hampshire itself, offers its B.A. in computer information technology to students in all 50 states. Like its offline counterparts, SNHU enforces a strong general education curriculum that teaches students public speaking, arts, sciences, history, and language.
Consistently ranked as one of the best online schools in the country for adult learners, Southern New Hampshire University also promotes a cost structure that is beneficial to a student’s return on investment. Traditional students pay just $320 per credit, while members of the military pay significantly less at $225 per credit.
Due to SNHU’s large size and excellent reputation, the school’s alumni association is a powerful asset for recent graduates. The school’s career services office offers resume advising, career counseling, mock interviews, and a unique “job match” service that helps recent graduates turn their degrees into a real career opportunity. As such, the ROI for SNHU is among the best for online-only institutions.
11. Wilmington University
Based in New Castle, Delaware, just an hour outside of Philadelphia, Wilmington University has long been one of the biggest names in adult education for students in the Delaware Valley. Now, with a massive online education effort, Wilmington University is among the 10 fastest-growing colleges and universities in the United States. The school continues to climb through U.S. News and World Reports rankings for schools in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, offers affordable tuition, and has a career services office that holds both local and online events to match students with employers nationwide.
The school’s B.S. in information systems management is a 120-credit program, with available concentrations in information security and management information systems. With a curriculum that is more professionally focused, and less focused on general education requirements, WilmU uniquely prepares its students to hit the ground running in an entry-to-mid-level position. Furthermore, students can substitute up to three core program requirements for a co-operative learning experience at a relevant employer of their choosing. Tuition is just $346 per semester or $250 for military members, and the school estimates a 10.65 percent annual return on investment from its programs.
10. University of Minnesota – Crookston Campus
Minnesota’s public universities offer one of the most affordable tuition rates to both in-state and out-of-state students, and that includes online programs. The Crookston campus of the University of Minnesota charges just $11,646 for full-time enrollment per academic year. That’s less than some state schools charge per semester, making the ROI particularly strong for online students who don’t need to lump room, board, and technology fees into their overall costs.
In addition to mirroring the offline curriculum for its Bachelor of Science degree in information systems, Crookston students receive access to a flexible, 24-hour tutoring service and are paired with advisors who serve as an academic resource, a professional mentor, and a career counselor. Students are eligible to pursue internships for course credit during the final two years of the program and receive admission to the massive University of Minnesota alumni organization upon graduation. With a series of career fairs and career counseling events specifically for its online learners, the Crookston online program also boasts of a career placement rate of 80 percent within six months of graduation.
9. Southeast Missouri State University
Another Midwestern school known for its affordability, Southeast Missouri State University boosts its ROI by charging only $228 per credit for in-state students. Non-resident students pay a still-low $406 per credit hour. Unlike some of its competition in the online education space, Southeast Missouri State University is focused centrally on networking, collaboration, and group study. Throughout all of its IT courses for undergraduate students, SEMO requires group course projects, a group capstone course, online discussions, virtual networking events, and virtual career fairs.
The 120-credit program for online students mirrors the offline curriculum. All students must complete at least 42 credits in general education, nine quantitative credits, and a series of core courses in information technology. The rest of a student’s program is based on their chosen concentration, which could be business systems, security systems, or general information technology.
8. Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech)
Oregon Tech offers a unique program structures for online degrees in information systems. The school goes above and beyond the 120-credit requirement for competing institutions, requiring 180 credit hours offered on a trimester or quarter-based system. Though more credits are required, Oregon Tech charges only $214 per credit. Depending on their full-time or part-time status, some students may be able to pay for the program using only an annual Pell Grant.
Oregon Tech also offers unique concentrations that will appeal to a very specific subset of online students. These concentrations include applications development, business systems analysis, and health informatics. As a major public university in the state of Oregon, Oregon Tech adheres to state standards both for curriculum and for student outcomes. To that end, students are given access to career placement and advising services, can request a resume review and skills audit, and take part in a completely free alumni association for post-graduation networking.
7. University of Denver
The online bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from the University of Denver focuses on career applications in business, community, and government, giving students a broad sense of where and how their information technology courses will apply after graduation. At just over $500 per credit, the university offers students an affordable path to a four-year degree, whether they take as few as 45 credits or the full, 180-credit curriculum.
In addition to its unique curriculum and overall affordability, the University of Denver enjoys a reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in the western region of the country. The school consistently ranks near the top of U.S. News and World Report rankings for Western universities, research universities, and metropolitan colleges. Additionally, regional employers rank the university as one of their “priority schools” for recruiting in technology and business fields.
Beyond prestige and curriculum, the University of Denver also makes financial sense. At least 76 percent of students graduate from the school within six years, often with an average student loan debt of $32,800. That’s below the national average. Within 20 years, students have earned an average profit of $253,000 on their investment in the school’s cost of attendance.
6. Northeastern University
Northeastern’s top-ranked degree in information systems is the only program on this list to offer a concentration in web design and online media, and one of the few to offer a concentration in networking systems. The school, which ranks in the top 20 for national research institutions, enjoys an 82 percent graduation rate within six years of a student’s initial enrollment. The average student finishes with just over $25,000 in student loans, which is impressively below the national average for private universities. Within 20 years of graduating, the typical Northeastern alumnus has earned $526,000 on their investment in tuition and fees.
Like its peer institutions in the upper echelon of national research universities, Northeastern maintains a massive career office that is central to its success as a financial investment. Students create a professional portfolio throughout their four years of study, meet with a career advisor at least twice before graduation, and gain admission to the “Husky Nation” alumni association for continued networking after graduation. The school’s alumni association, with chapters across the United States, is one of the largest and most active in the country.
5. Colorado State University – Global Campus
Above and beyond any other statistic or attribute, CSU-Global offers one unique feature to its students worth mentioning: a tuition price lock. Once students have chosen to enroll at CSU-Global, their tuition will never rise as long as they remain continually enrolled. This makes budgeting for higher education particularly easy. It could also explain why 65 percent of students eventually graduate, and with an average of just $26,000 in student loan debt.
One of the most important aspects of the online bachelor’s degree in information systems at CSU-Global is its focus on hardware and software decision-making. This managerial focus teaches students about equipment and software compatibility, license cost accounting, and alignment of professional goals with technological tools. Though no concentrations are available, the 120-credit program is more focused on technical knowledge than general education. This allows students to gain more hands-on experience, and a broad professional portfolio, in the skills that will characterize their career. Within 20 years of graduation from the program, students can expect to earn an extra $384,000.
4. Arizona State University
Arizona State consistently ranks as one of the best flagship, state-funded universities in the United States, and for good reason. In addition to being highly affordable, Arizona State offers top-notch professional accreditations, a history of groundbreaking research, and a reputation for academic rigor that has become a model for other institutions across the country.
Arizona State offers some of the unique concentrations to students within its B.S. in information technology. These include design and construction of web applications, network security, or video game design, computer information systems, and IT decision-making for managers. Online students who want to go beyond the classroom can also substitute as many as three elective courses for professional internships in an IT-related position.
Refreshingly, the school charges no extra fees on top of its $485-per-credit tuition rate. This is one of the key aspects of ASU’s affordability and high level of ROI over 20 years after graduation. Within 20 years, ASU graduates, on average earn an extra $363,000. Most students, 63 percent of whom graduate within six years of initial enrollment, typically leave the school with about $25,200 in student loan debt. That’s well below the national average of more than $37,000.
3. Drexel University
Located in Philadelphia, Drexel University has become a big name in online education since the establishment of its Drexel University Online subsidiary over a decade ago. Drexel University’s online program in information technology, which features a concentration in computer information systems, is a perfect choice for students who want hands-on experience as well as a flexible academic calendar.
Unlike many of its peers, Drexel is based on a quarter system and offers the nation’s top-ranked co-op program. While three-quarters per year involve taking academic coursework, Drexel students spend one-quarter working for a company in their chosen field. This co-op experience is both full-time and paid, which bodes well for a graduate’s resume.
In addition to its focus on career experience and job placement, Drexel is a sound investment. Within 20 years of graduation, Drexel University students have earned more than a half-million dollars more than their investment in the cost of tuition. This high ROI is thanks in no small part to the fully developed resumes of Drexel graduates and the top-ranked career services office that service online and offline students with a full staff of career advisors and recruiters.
2. University of Massachusetts
UMass, the flagship public university of Massachusetts, has spent years building up its online degree programs in several fields. The school’s online computer information systems degree is one of its oldest and most popular programs, just behind the online MBA program at UMass Amherst. In addition to affordable tuition that costs less than $400 per credit, the school offers four concentrations that align with today’s most common IT job openings: computer science, computing, information technology, and operations technology.
Overall, 75 percent of UMass students graduate within six years. Most of them have just $29,200 in student debt, on average, and earn an extra $470,000 during the first 20 years of their career. Another 15 percent of UMass graduates enroll immediately in a graduate program relevant to their career field.
1. Penn State University – World Campus
When it comes to prestige, affordability, and career success, it’s hard to compete with The Pennsylvania State University. Widely regarded as one of the best, top-tier state universities in the United States, Penn State is home to numerous top-ranked degree programs in technology-related fields, maintains the largest dues-paying alumni association on the planet, enjoys a record-high return on investment, and has a very high career placement rate. Penn State’s graduation rate is also one of the highest among its peers at top-tier state schools.
The World Campus at Penn State offers every bit of prestige and rigor that the university’s on-campus students enjoy. Every World Campus classroom revolves around discussion boards, video lectures, and group projects. Every test is proctored, in-person, by a certified professional. Every course offered online is translated directly from an offline version of that same class. The same professors often teach both online and offline courses. Even better, World Campus graduates receive a Penn State diploma that bears no indication of their degree having been completed online, and are treated just like any other Penn State student by the career services office and the alumni association.
When it comes to career placement, graduation rates, and ROI, Penn State is second to none. The average return on investment for a Penn State education exceeds $700,000 during the first 20 years after graduation. In fact, 86 percent of students at Penn State make it to graduation at least six years after taking their first classes. A full 68 percent of Penn State graduates are employed within six months of graduation, while another 24 percent are enrolled in a top-ranked graduate school. That makes Penn State World Campus easily the best choice for students pursuing an online CIS degree.