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Online colleges and online education more generally have seen an enormous increase in student e-learners over the last decade. Ten years ago, America saw around 2 million higher education students learning online. That number has now almost quadrupled.

According to a 2015 report by Babson Research titled Tracking Online Education in the United States, today the number of college students learning online exceeds 7 million. With the overall higher education student body in the U.S. currently at 21 million, that means one out of three college students is taking at least one course entirely online.

It’s therefore no surprise that online colleges and universities, which focus on delivering course content exclusively online, have proliferated. These schools enable students to finish a degree program and graduate with little more than a laptop and internet connection.

Nonetheless, online colleges and universities differ widely in quality. Moreover, with increasing competition for online students, many campus-based schools are now getting into the mix and offering online degrees. For this reason, rankings of online colleges and universities need to be regularly updated. Hence this ranking of the top 50 online colleges for 2016.

Although online education gives students unrivaled flexibility in pursuing a degree program, it is not right for everyone. Online education requires self-discipline and a set of study skills that some students on first attending college may lack. For this reason, we have supplemented this ranking with our highly informative “Savvy Student’s Guide to Online Colleges and Online Education” (located below right after our ranking).

Together, our ranking of the 50 best online colleges and universities for 2016 as well as our student guide to online colleges and online education provide the most comprehensive resource available on the web for helping prospective students determine whether online education is right for them and, if so, deciding which online college is best for them.

This ranking of the best online colleges and universities is based on extensive research and familiarity with American online education. In formulating this ranking, we looked to such factors as academic excellence, scholarly strength of faculty, online teaching methods, tuition costs, reputation, awards, financial aid, and range of degree programs offered.