USM’s online program best in Miss.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s online education program was recently distinguished as the best among Mississippi colleges and universities in 2015- 2016, according to an Affordable Colleges Online ranking.

AC Online’s efforts to find colleges that offer the “most notable balances of academic rigor, student support and affordability for online learning” took several factors into consideration, including the number of online bachelor’s degrees available, undergraduate student-faculty ratio, six-year graduation rate, percentage of students receiving financial aid, availability of academic/career counseling services, availability of job placement for graduates, acceptance rate and loan default rate. It also considered a peer based value (PBV) that compared costs of each program to those of other programs with the same or similar qualitative scores.

“We’re honored to be recognized by Affordable Colleges Online in this ranking as we enjoy steady growth in the number of students choosing our online programs,” said Sheri Lyons, director of the USM Learning Enhancement Center, in a recent press release. “Online learning is ideal for those with busy work schedules, family obligations, the place-bound or those who live far from our campuses. It’s another way to get a quality degree from an accredited institution and improve their career prospects.”

USM’s distance-learning program, Online at Southern Miss, offers a large variety of online college options to students. Bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. programs—as well as workforce training—are available in disciplines ranging from elementary education to library information science.

Through distance learning, students are also capable of benefiting from certificate programs, supplemental endorsements, single courses and  hybrid and executive programs.

As mundane responsibilities become more and more demanding, many students across the nation are opting for the greater flexibility of an online education. According to a 2012 USA Today analysis of Department of Education data, traditional colleges still award most bachelor’s degrees in teaching.

However, online schools such as the University of Phoenix and Walden University produced thousands more master’s degrees than even the top traditional schools—all of which are now pushing to offer online coursework. Furthermore, all of the top 10 schools now offer an online education program.

The advantages of distance learning are numerous and include anything from lower costs to greater flexibility—something Holly Stokes, a sophomore and elementary education major, understands fully.

“I have some classes that are only offered in one section,” Stokes said. “Because of online classes, I didn’t have to worry about my schedule not being able to work out.”Stokes, also a music minor, also took an online course over the summer.

“(Online courses) allowed me to work as well as take a class that I needed to stay on track for my degree and minor,” Stokes said.

This is not the first time USM’s distance program has been recognized. Last December, the Affordable Colleges Foundation (ACF) ranked the University of Southern Mississippi as 18th in their 2015 Best Online Colleges list. The Southern Miss program was also listed among Best Value Schools’ Top 30 Best Online Colleges for 2014.