Department: Distance Education

Online Programs Rank Tops in Kansas

November 25, 2015

The No. 1 online college in Kansas is Emporia State University, according to Affordable Colleges Online, a Nevada-based organization that ranks the programs in higher-education institutions state-by-state.

Emporia State scored 99.65 percent overall, placing it first among 91 institutions in Kansas serving more than a total of 310,000 students.

Dominic Martin, AOC media relations manager, said the organization analyzed data from hundreds of colleges across the nation.

“The goal — to see which colleges offer the most notable balances of academic rigor, student support and affordability for online learning,” Martin said in a news release.

Factors considered in the rankings included highly trained faculty, new technology and resources, online support services, financial aid and college savings, opportunities for veterans and people with disabilities and online learning resources.

The schools must be not-for-profit. Other criteria are: number of online bachelor’s degrees available, student-faculty ratio, loan default rate, job placement and career counseling for graduates, online tuition rate and six-year graduation rate, Martin said.

The drive for quality and innovation has been a hallmark of Emporia State’s online program since it began in 1996.

“We had some programs that were the first online programs in the world,” said Dr. Kathy Ermler, dean of the graduate school and distance education.

Ermler, who came to Emporia in 1989, was part of the team that collaborated to produce the first online classes with original materials created by faculty who were easily accessible to the online students; then technology brought it all together and made it possible.

“The Information Technology department, IT, has done so much to expand the reach of the university to the world,” she said. “Whether I’m a student in Japan or a student on campus, I have the same access to technology. ... The learning management system is so rich in the ability to interact with students.”

Ermler said Emporia State is particularly strong in its educational materials, using original coursework rather than purchasing courses from companies who specialize in churning out programs and selling them to universities.

“The faculty that teach online believe in it,” Ermler said. “We do not do ‘canned’ programs. That’s not something we have ever bought into.”

Instead, Emporia State faculty get to know their students and are easily accessible to them. Faculty members also take part in “homegrown training,” with faculty training faculty and assisting each other.

“It can’t be done without the faculty, IT and administration all wanting to go in the same direction,” she said.

The result has been remarkable. Twenty of the university’s 30 graduate programs already are available online and span departments and schools across campus; an undergraduate program offers a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies.

The average age of graduate students is 34, with 70 percent of them already employed at jobs that prevent their attending traditional classes.

Some online classes can be viewed simultaneously as they are being taught live to students on-campus, which gives the online students opportunities to interact with other students and faculty in real time.

“The math department does that almost all the time,” Ermler said, explaining that the department went online at the end of 2012. In 2013, there were 20 online math students; this semester, there are 200.

She explained that technology allows the students to access the recorded classes at their convenience or to review what they have learned if they chose to participate online during class time, or to use a combination of both live and recorded classes.

“You see where the lines get blurred,” she said.

An electronic management system gives students online access to feedback from faculty, grades and other pertinent information throughout the semester.

“It’s just so good here,” Ermler said. “It’s not going to be a trend. It’s going to continue to grow. I see it being more enriched because the technology is so good.”

For the list of top 10 Kansas schools and their scores, go to