Online degree programs may be relatively new, but some of the oldest colleges in America have embraced this technology and advancement in higher education.
At its inception, a college education was considered a privilege reserved for the elite; it has since evolved into an essential career resource.
The oldest institution of higher learning that is still operating today is The University of Karaouine in Fes, Morocco which opened in 859; the oldest in our corner of the world is Harvard University which has been in operation since 1636. The majority of the early colleges in the US were established by religious denominations and the curriculum trained students for the ministry. In fact, the first institution that doesn’t trace its history to religion was founded in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin. It originally operated under the name The Academy of Pennsylvania, and still exists today as the University of Pennsylvania, which comes in fourth on this list.
The earliest available data from the US Census Bureau states that there were 9,400 baccalaureate degrees awarded in the year 1870; in 2017 there were more than 2 million degrees conferred at the undergraduate levels and 954,000 at the graduate levels.
Higher education is now widely considered indispensable and it is mandatory for some careers, which is why there are so many graduates each year. This boom in enrollment was made possible by the progressive increase in educational resources for those who weren’t part of the elite. The first public high school was established in 1821, and high schools started using a college-oriented curriculum in 1892.
One of the biggest strides towards making higher education more accessible was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. Among a range of benefits, it provided tuition payments to all veterans regardless of their background. This was the event that broke the long-held belief that college was only for the wealthy.
Another advancement that changed the face of higher education was the creation of distance-learning. Distance-learning dates back to the 1840’s when Sir Isaac Pitman ran correspondence courses teaching his shorthand system, which is still used today. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was the first American university to offer distance learning in 1906. During that period, all courses available this way were presented through letters or through records that were sent to students to be played on a phonograph. Pennsylvania State University created the first online college course in 1995.
Higher education has a rich history, and over time, colleges and universities have continued to adapt to serve their students better and to increase their reach so that more students can be served. Distance-based degree options are a large part of that, and they provide students with greater access to education through the increased flexibility and decreased costs. The oldest universities in America that offer online degree programs exist at the crux of historic heritage and commitment to innovation. You can read about 20 of them in this ranking.
Due to the nature of this article, none of the schools were ranked in any particular order that represents their quality. Schools were ranked purely on the age of the institution, or the founding year, from youngest to oldest. In any case where two schools were founded in the same year, we used the alphabetical ordering of their names to determine their order of appearance. All of the information in this article was gathered from the individual websites of each institution, or wherever necessary, from the databases of U.S. News & World Report and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
It is important to note that no school in this article is a for-profit institution; additionally, no school was given preferential treatment for any reason. Anyone using the sources and methodology described here could draw the same conclusion.
20: Miami University of Oxford
Miami University, sometimes called Miami University of Oxford or Miami University of Ohio, is a public research university located in Oxford, Ohio. The youngest school on the list, it was founded in 1809 by an Act of Congress that called for the creation of an academy Northwest of the Ohio River. George Washington was the one that signed this into law. Even though this institution has clearly stood the test of time, it did get off to quite a rocky start. The War of 1812 caused construction to come to a standstill for several years. The grammar school that was established by the university in 1818 was only open for five years before falling apart. The first classes didn’t take place until more than a decade after the true establishment of the university. 20 students formed the inaugural class in 1824, under the instruction of just two faculty members and the first president of the university, Robert Hamilton Bishop. The original curriculum included Greek, Latin, Algebra, Geography, and Roman history. Miami University is one of the original Public Ivies when the term was coined in 1985.
The Literary Register was a weekly publication put out by students at Miami after they purchased a printing press in 1827. This went on to become the current Miami Student, which claims to be the oldest college newspaper in the US. The Higher Learning Commission accredited the university in 1913. Over more than 2 centuries, Miami University has grown to an enrollment of almost 20,000 students and the academic offerings are staggering. Undergraduate students have the choice of over 100 majors and 11 co-majors, as well as 48 minors. Graduate programs include masters level degrees in more than 50 areas and doctoral programs in 14. The university is highly residential, but it does offer online options. 14% of all students are enrolled in some distance-education courses; 24% of the grad student population is enrolled only online. Miami has 6 fully-online degree options and 4 hybrid options. These are graduate certificates in Social Entrepreneurship & Aging, Instructional Design, and Educational Technology, and Autism Spectrum Disorders and; Masters level degrees in Experience Design, Instructional Design & Technology, Educational Technology, Special Education Licensure, a Global Field or Advanced Inquiry program in Biology, and Creative Writing.
19: Ohio University
Ohio University is a public research university in Athens, Ohio. The year that it was established is one that is subject to debate. The university was chartered in 1787 but wasn’t approved by the state until 1804, after which it began operating. Regardless of what year is technically accurate, Ohio University was the first university in the state. It was finally approved less than a year after Ohio was admitted to the Union. It was also the first institution of higher learning in the country that was chartered by an Act of Congress. The first three students enrolled in 1809 and two of those students graduated with bachelors degrees six years later. As the 20th century dawned, the university saw exponential growth in student enrollment and greatly expanded its academic programs and research facilities. Ohio University is a member of the University System of Ohio and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Enrollment has grown from a mere 3 students to almost 30,000 in total. The university has more than 250 different study options for students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees, 163 options available for graduate students, and over 50 certificate options at a variety of different levels.
Ohio University is considered to be primarily residential. Around 59% of the entire student body takes all of their courses in traditional on-campus formats. But, because of the convenience of the eCampus and the rich selection of 40 different online degrees, 40% of graduate students and 32% of all students have opted out of brick-and-mortar attendance. Special features of the Ohio eCampus set it apart, like the fact that it has qualified as one of America’s 100 Best College Buys for the last 18 consecutive years. Flexibility is a hallmark of a great online school, and this institution provides that twofold. First, all of the courses are presented asynchronously; students can work on their own time, at their own pace, 24/7. Second, there is the added benefit of the Experiential Learning Program which will award course credit for skills and knowledge accumulated through work, volunteering, or other life experiences.
OU Website: https://www.ohio.edu/
Year Founded: 1804
18: University of Louisville
The University of Louisville is a public university, member-institution of the Kentucky State University System, and an interesting piece of academic history. It was the first city-owned public university to open in the United States, officially established in Louisville, Kentucky in 1798. The university as it is today exists thanks to a merger that combined the Louisville Medical Institute, the Louisville Collegiate Institution, and a law school in 1846. The current name was adopted, and academic expansion hardly slowed down over the next century. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges accredited U of L in 1915. The University of Louisville School of Medicine that evolved from the Louisville Medical Institute was the 9th of its kind to open in the country. However, it was the pioneer of many invaluable discoveries; the first emergency room, the development of autotransfusion, the first successful hand transplant, and the first self-contained artificial heart transplant all took place there. Research at U of L’s medical school has changed the world.
A total of 21,578 students are currently enrolled in the 12 colleges and schools that comprise the university. These are the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Business; the School of Dentistry; the College of Education and Human Development; the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies; the Kent School of Social Work; the Brandeis School of Law; the School of Medicine; the School of Music; the School of Nursing; the School of Public Health and Information Sciences and; the Speed School of Engineering. Because of the university’s historical commitment to academic growth, bachelors degrees are now available in 70 fields of study, masters degrees in 78, and doctorate degrees in 22 at U of L. Distance-education is shockingly unpopular, perhaps due to the incredible campus, but only 9% of students are completing their degrees entirely online. There are 22 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs provided entirely online. In demand fields like Computer Science, Nursing, and Social Work are available, as well as a variety of education, engineering, and organizational offerings.
Louisville Website: http://louisville.edu/
Year Founded: 1798
17: University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee is a public land- and sun-grant research university with its main campus in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was originally founded as Blount College in 1794, two years before Tennessee became a state. It was one of the first few institutions that opened as nonsectarian, and it is the oldest such institution west of the Appalachian Divide. It struggled for several years, and even had to temporarily close when its only faculty member passed away in 1809; it wouldn’t reopen until 1820. Blount was rechartered as East Tennessee College in 1807 so when it was granted university status in 1840 it took on the name East Tennessee University. It didn’t officially become the University of Tennessee until 1879. The fact that UT is a land-grant university is part of what made its expansion possible because it was under a lot of financial strain, but it almost didn’t happen. When the Morrill Act was passed 1862, Tennessee was part of the Confederacy. Congress passed a special Act in 1867 in order to make Tennessee eligible.
Thanks to the Morrill Act, the university received almost $400,000 that was used to expand the scope of its academic offerings. The university was able to implement more advanced degree programs and establish a medical program. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges didn’t accredit the university until the year 2000; despite that fact, it is nationally ranked and draws students from every state and even more than 100 other countries. U.S. News & World Report ranked it among the Top 50 Public Universities in America for the year 2017. The 28,052 students enrolled can earn degrees at the bachelors, masters, or doctoral level. Distance-education at the University of Tennessee is part of its mission to move forward the frontiers of human knowledge. Through UT Online, four different Bachelor of Science degrees are available as well as several different masters degrees in business, agriculture, and education.
Tennessee Website: http://www.utk.edu/
Year Founded: 1794
16: University of Vermont
The official name of this university is actually The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College but you probably just know it as the University of Vermont. It is a public land-, sea-, and space-grant research university that spans almost 500 acres in the city of Burlington, Vermont. It was the fifth institution of higher education to be established in the northeastern US, commonly referred to as New England. The University of Vermont was founded as a private university in 1791, which is the same year that Vermont became a state. However, it didn’t admit students for its first decade. It was the nation’s first truly nonsectarian institution, featuring a charter declaring that the “rules, regulations, and by-laws shall not tend to give preference to any religious sect or denomination whatsoever.” UVM was ahead of its time in many ways including admitting two women as students as far back as 1871; admitting the first women into the country’s oldest collegiate academic honor society (the Phi Beta Kappa Society) in 1875 and; initiating the first black student into the society in 1877.
UVM has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as being among the top 100 national universities and among the top 50 public universities for the year 2018. Forbes, back in 2016, also ranked the school among the top 50 public universities, and among the top 100 research universities. The University of Vermont is also one of the original Public Ivies as documented in 1985, but the historical context isn’t clear. However, the university does have a long-established history of being at the cutting edge of sustainability and inclusivity. Bachelors degrees, masters degrees, doctorates, and certificates are available in 151 areas-of-study, and there is an option to curate a course load that suits your individual needs in an undergraduate program. The UVM Continuing and Distance Education initiative has 24 distance offerings. Certificates, completion programs, info sessions, and graduate degrees are included in the current list of what’s available.
Vermont Website: https://www.uvm.edu/
Year Founded: 1791
15: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a public research university in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is the flagship institution of the University of North Carolina system and the oldest public university in North Carolina. UNC Chapel Hill was the first public university in America to confer degrees, but the second to be chartered behind the University of Georgia. War and other political unrest hindered the university’s growth off and on for about the first two centuries of its existence. It was even forced to close from 1870 to 1875 because of how drastic of an impact the Civil War had; the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges accredited it shortly after it reopened. In 1931, the University of North Carolina was grouped together with the State College of Agriculture and Engineering and the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina. This merger was called the Consolidated University of North Carolina at the time. In 1963, the resulting consolidated university became fully coeducational even though most women didn’t transfer to Chapel Hill until their junior year. The Woman’s College branched off and became the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and UNC became the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It wasn’t until the late 90’s that UNC started to see a lot of growth. Tuition increased 15% by the year 2007, the campus was expanded, and there were successful fundraising efforts. Another ten years forward, UNC Chapel Hill serves 29,468 students through 14 schools and colleges. There are 77 bachelors, 111 masters, and 65 doctorate degree programs in total offered by the school; online options include 2 doctoral degrees, 9 masters, and 8 certificates. Most of the certificates are centered around public health, but the degrees include a Master of Business Administration, Master of Accounting, Master of Arts in Technology and Communication, Master’s in Health Administration in Public Health Policy and Management, Master’s in Public Health in Public Health Leadership, Master’s in Public Health in Public Health Policy and Management, Master of Clinical Laboratory Science, and a Master’s in Radiologic Science as well as a Transitional Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy and an Transitional Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy.
14: Georgetown University
Georgetown University is a private research university, and the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in America. The campus can be found in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. A little-known piece of history is that throughout the majority of Maryland’s colonial period, there were strict laws in place against Roman Catholic education. The local clergy wasn’t able to get the ball rolling on the permanent Catholic institution for education they desired until 1783. Six years later in 1789, Georgetown College was officially founded and instruction began in 1792. The formative years of the institution were fraught with financial strain. The Maryland Society of Jesus stepped in and started to restore the college in 1805 and things started looking up. By 1815, Georgetown College had received its congressional charter and transitioned to Georgetown University. The Civil War was another blow to progress, but Patrick Francis Healy changed all of that during the years he served as university president. He was the first person of color to assume such a significant role at a predominantly white institution. He was born a slave and grew up to pave the way for one of the most prestigious US universities to thrive. He reformed the undergraduate curriculum, strengthened the law and medical programs, transforming them from professional schools to true higher education, created the Alumni Association, and expanded the campus. Even though he left his position in 1881, the momentum he’d created continued.
A dental school, the School of Nursing, and the School of Foreign Service were all added in the early 1900’s. 1921 saw the university achieve its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The 20th century is when Georgetown University truly took shape as it worked diligently to provide better academic programs, increase student resources, and boost enrollment by becoming fully coeducational. Georgetown University is now organized into nine different schools and colleges and offers degrees at the baccalaureate level and up. There are now 18,525 students in total. Even though Georgetown University has completely transformed and built a name for itself, it has never stopped trying to innovate and progress. Online degrees were a logical step in that process, and now there are many of them that students have access to. Almost 30 certificate programs, 13 masters degree programs, and even a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies are available online through the School of Continuing Studies.
Georgetown Website: https://www.georgetown.edu/
Year Founded: 1789
13: University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh is a public research university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It began in 1787 as the Pittsburgh Academy. It is the oldest continuously chartered American institution of higher learning west of the Allegheny Mountains. Because of the rising demand for better education in the area, the Pittsburgh Academy was quickly granted university status in 1819. With the updated charter came an updated name, the Western University of Pennsylvania. Two of the first campus buildings were destroyed by devastating fires, which saw the university close for several years in order to recover. When operations resumed, the university focused on expanding its horizons. More academic options were being added to the curriculum, the university was settling onto a new campus, and it had finally become the University of Pittsburgh in 1908. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education accredits the university and has done so since 1921. Dr. Jonas Salk, a researcher at the university, discovered the polio vaccine in 1955. The breakthroughs that Salk and his team made in immunology and vaccine development are considered one of the most significant scientific and medical achievements in history.
There are 18 schools and colleges that make up the University of Pittsburgh; through those academic divisions, close to 30,000 students have the choice to pursue a degree at any level they from associates to doctoral. Fully-accredited, fully-online, and asynchronous degree programs are offered at the University of Pittsburgh through Pitt Online. Pitt Online is a division of the University Center for Teaching and Learning that was nothing more than an idea just a decade ago. Online degree options are still new, so there aren’t many students who have opted to take advantage of them yet. However, there are so many in-demand degrees that the university provides online. There is an RN to BSN degree option, graduate certificates in four different fields, a total of 11 online masters programs (the majority are in nursing and education), and even two tracks to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree online. As this initiative continues to grow, echoing the perseverance that the university has shown throughout its history, even more fields of study will be implemented to meet the needs of students more accurately.
Pitt Website: http://www.pitt.edu/
Year Founded: 1787
12: University of Georgia
The University of Georgia is a public land-, sea-, space-, and sun-grant research university that is headquartered in Athens, Georgia. While this is a somewhat controversial topic, the University of Georgia, or UGA, is the oldest public university in America. Founded in 1785, UGA proudly carries the title of the birthplace of the American system of public higher education. UGA’s mesmerizing North Campus is designated as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. The first classes at the university were held in 1801 and operations ran fairly smooth until the American Civil War forced the institution to close its doors for several years. Another thing that hindered the growth of the college is that only white males were eligible to enroll until 1903. Some female students were able to take courses, but UGA didn’t become coeducational until 1918. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.
Even though social progress was slow in the beginning, the university has been striving for academic excellence throughout its history, and it has paid off. The Carnegie Foundation classifies UGA as an R1 Doctoral University with the Highest Research Activity, the highest award that they give. In 2003, the University of Georgia was the only public university in North America with winners of the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholarships in the same year. It is regarded as a Public Ivy and has national recognition in a variety of its academic fields. The next step for the university was taking that world-class curriculum and making it more accessible, over the web. There are over 140 degree programs offered at UGA, and 18 of them are available online. Courses are presented in a flexible format but still allow students to have access to the expert instructors that teach the on-campus version of each course. Limited class sizes, access to academic advisors, financial aid opportunities, and more all put UGA’s online programs above the rest.
UGA Website: http://www.uga.edu/
Year Founded: 1785
11: Salem College
Salem College is a private liberal arts college that has occupied the same campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina since its inception. It was established in 1772 as the Little Girls’ School by the Moravians. Moravians were adamant in their belief that equal education between men and women is a right. The school was radical for its time; the country wasn’t even its own entity yet and hadn’t even begun to move towards equal rights. Salem College challenged the attitude that women didn’t deserve an education, and was one of the first schools to admit students of color. As Salem evolved, it spent time under different names and filling different academic roles before it began providing college diplomas in 1890. Shortly after entering the sphere of higher education, Salem College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Salem is the oldest educational establishment for women that has remained a women’s college. The school is coeducational but 90% of the 1,087 students currently attending are women.
Salem College stands out among this list because even though it shares the same rich historical roots as some of the other schools, it has remained a small college. Bachelors and masters degree programs are available in 60 different fields of study. Due to the close-knit nature and picturesque campus, distance learning at Salem hasn’t quite taken off in the same way that it has for other colleges and universities. Roughly 77% of the students at Salem don’t even take one course online; there are a variety of online courses but only one distance-learning degree program. 4% of students take at least a class online, and the remaining less-than-20% are online only. Salem College’s online degree is a Master of Education in School Counseling. The curriculum is research-driven and emphasizes ethics, advocacy, and legal issues among many other important topics that equip graduates to be effective in their positions.
Salem Website: https://www.salem.edu/
Year Founded: 1772
10: College of Charleston
Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward hadn’t yet signed the Declaration of Independence when they founded the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. The College of Charleston is a public liberal arts college, and it was founded in 1770. It is only fitting that three men that would go on to sign the Declaration of Independence partnered with three other men that would go on to sign the US Constitution (which were (John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney) to create one of the oldest universities in the nation. The college is the oldest in the state of South Carolina, and its picturesque campus feels like going back in time. The College of Charleston downtown campus is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 11,294 students enrolled at the college, which is often abbreviated as CofC. The vast majority of those students attend their courses traditionally, but 29% of the graduate students are distance-learning only. There are 137 majors and minors that students can choose from, as well as 23 masters programs, and eight graduate certificate programs.
The motto of the College of Charleston translates to “Wisdom itself is liberty.” The intellectual pursuits that matter to its students are championed above all else as this historic college continues to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.” However, this is done very differently now that education has modernized so much. The School of Professional Studies offers individualized and flexible courses of study that seek to help students balance their work schedule, family obligations, and academic pursuits. The online course offerings do change based on the semester, and sometimes even the academic year. Because of that, there are never very many fully-online programs available at one time. Other flexible delivery initiatives include degree completion programs that are presented in an evening format, blended courses, and specialized job training (which is non-credit only at this time). The current program that is available to distance-learners is a Certificate in Project Management. Individual online courses in a variety of skills can be accessed anytime and applied towards future credentials.
Charleston Website: http://www.cofc.edu/
Year Founded: 1770
9: Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College is a private Ivy League research university in Hanover, New Hampshire. It is one of the nine colonial colleges chartered prior to the American Revolution; in fact, it is also regarded as the ninth oldest institution of higher learning in the country. Eleazar Wheelock founded Dartmouth because he wanted to establish a school that could train Native Americans as Christian missionaries. The first iteration of his goal was a charity school that opened in 1755. He didn’t see the success that he had hoped for, and over the years he adapted his vision. After failing to secure a charter in his home state of Connecticut, he traveled to Hanover. The Royal Governor of New Hampshire not only issued a royal charter to establish the college, but he also provided the land. Dartmouth is one of the most prestigious colleges in America, so it is hard to imagine that it didn’t actually start to see success until the dawn of the 20th century. A string of presidents completely changed the course of Dartmouth’s future forever by expanding the campus, emphasizing liberal arts, and making the college coeducational. The early 90’s brought major academic changes; a revised scheduling method could accommodate more students and the curriculum improved. Dartmouth College continued to expand after that, but by then, it had truly made a name for itself. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education and enrolls less than 7,000 students, making it the smallest Ivy League.
Degree programs at Dartmouth are offered at the bachelors, masters, and doctoral levels. There are 57 undergraduate majors, and graduate students can select a program from one of the four graduate schools. These schools are the Geisel School of Medicine, the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, the Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business. Dartmouth College currently offers two online degree programs, both of which are masters degrees. The first one is the online Master of Public Health program. This program is designed for working professionals and takes 22 months to complete. Students enrolled in this program take one course at a time as part of a 30-students cohort. Three weeks out of the year, students must attend the campus in order to interact with fellow students and faculty. The other program is a hybrid program that combines traditional and online classes over the course of 18 months to award students with a Master of Health Care Delivery Science.
Dartmouth Website: http://home.dartmouth.edu/
Year Founded: 1769
8: Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey is better known as just Rutgers University, and it is the eighth oldest university in the nation, making it one of the colonial colleges. It is a public research university that has three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, New Jersey. It was chartered in 1766 and opened as Queen’s College. However, it soon closed due to lack of funding, and it remained closed for long periods of time because of this financial struggle. After recovering from the economic devastation caused by the War of 1812, 1825 saw the reopening of Queen’s College, this time under the name Rutgers College. That was when the college really found its footing and began to grow. Henry Rutgers, a war hero that the university was named for, made two sizeable donations in response to the honor. Then, under the Morrill Act of 1862, Rutgers became the land-grant college of New Jersey. This paved the way for vast academic expansions, including the addition of graduate programs. Rutgers was accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in 1921, and officially became a university in 1924. It offers degrees at every level from associates to doctoral.
There are over 50,000 students enrolled at Rutgers University, which is considered a Public Ivy. Additionally, Rutgers University is a member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, the Association of American Universities, and the Universities Research Association. The university consistently ranks in a range of publications due to the quality and rigor of its academic programs because it continually tries to innovate and expand so that students are getting the best possible education. Offering online degree programs is just one way that Rutgers shows its commitment to providing the best student experiences alongside the best education. The online programs work into the busy lives of students, working professionals, and parents; they are self-paced and always accessible when you’re ready to study. Online programs include a BSN and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration for undergraduate students. Graduate level online degrees include in-demand programs like an MBA or MSW but students can also pursue a masters degree in music, engineering, education, information, or public administration. Less than 10% of students are taking advantage of these degree options.
Rutgers Website: https://www.rutgers.edu/
Year Founded: 1766
7: Brown University
Brown University is a private Ivy League research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown University, or just Brown, was founded in 1764; at that time, it was the first university that didn’t discriminate based on religious affiliation. The charter for Brown University was a huge step in educational equality for not banning opposing doctrines, it went as far to say that sectarian differences wouldn’t be any part of the instruction. When classes began in 1795, there was only one student for the entire academic year. The first campus was in Warren, Rhode Island and it didn’t move to Providence until 1770. It isn’t clear what the final factor was that secured that decision but historical evidence point to money, the central location, and prevalence of nearby libraries as possibilities. Once the dust settled from the American Revolution, that is when the academic developments at the university began. The first graduate degree programs were added in 1887, making it one of the early doctoral-granting institutions. Women were allowed to enroll in the 1890’s.
Currently, Brown is fully coeducational and serves almost 10,000 students through more than 40 academic departments. At the undergraduate level, students have the choice of 80 different concentrations; at the graduate level, there are 28 masters programs and 51 doctoral programs. The School of Professional Studies has some of those programs available online. Currently offered is an MBA program, a Master in Cybersecurity, Master of Healthcare Leadership, and a Master in Science and Technology Leadership. There are no traditional online degree options at Brown, but these are presented through intensives on campus and sometimes internationally, with the majority of the coursework being available online. As Brown continues to develop their academic programs and making their exceptional education more accessible, the online availabilities are sure to grow.
Brown Website: https://www.brown.edu/
Year Founded: 1764
6: Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private Ivy League research university in New York City, New York. More specifically, it is located in Upper Manhattan. It was the first university established in the state of New York, in the year 1754. While conversations surrounding a college for New York had begun half a century earlier, it wasn’t until the college that became Princeton opened up in New Jersey, that it was seriously pursued. Classes began in July of 1754 even though the institution wasn’t officially established until October of that year. At that time there were only 8 students, but the university has grown now to serve almost 30,000. It has also produced a long line of notable alumni like Alexander Hamilton, Theodore, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Barack Obama, ten Supreme Court Justices, and more. Columbia’s graduates have won a combined 39 Nobel prizes, 35 National Book Awards, and 123 Pulitzer Prizes. Through the 15 colleges and schools that cover over 350 areas of study, offering degrees from the bachelors level and up.
Columbia University’s online learning initiative is called Columbia Online. Even though the university has developed many distance-education graduate-level programs across a broad range of fields, only 7% of students are currently participating. There are hybrid programs and ones available entirely online, including the only Ivy League MSW that can be earned at a distance. Most of the classes are presented synchronously, which may inhibit the flexibility, but also allows students to engage with their classmates and the highly esteemed faculty at this institution. Lectures are streamed live, and then students can complete their coursework online with access to readings, mini-lectures, and discussion boards around the clock. Columbia Online also includes The School of Professional Studies, which provides distance-based certificate programs, professional development courses, and a library of 28 MOOCs.
CUNY Website: https://www.columbia.edu/
Year Founded: 1754
5: University of Delaware
The University of Delaware is the oldest and largest university in the state and it’s located in Newark, Delaware. It is a public land-, sea-, and space-grant research university. In 1743 an institution that would go on to become the University of Delaware was founded by Francis Alison. It was originally called the Free School, and it was in New London, Pennsylvania. The name of the school changed several times, as did its location. It settled in Newark as the Academy of Newark in 1769, which is where it was first chartered. The colonial government refused to charter it as a college because Delaware was part of the Pennsylvania colony until 1776, and already the University of Pennsylvania was already in operation. The Delaware General Assembly passed an Act that called for a college to be established in Newark in 1833 and that resulted in the founding of Newark College a year later. The Academy of Newark merged with Newark College and took on the name Delaware College in 1843. They did later separate, which causes some dispute about when the university as it is today was truly founded.
Due to financial struggle, the school close for over a decade until the support of the Morrill Land-Grant Act provided it with the needed funds in 1870. Delaware College became the University of Delaware in 1921 and was accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that same year. Even though the university comes from such a humble beginning, it has grown to be an academic powerhouse that serves more than 20,000. More than 300 degree programs are available at UD, and many of them are online. The university has a long commitment to innovating the higher education in experience; it began offering a study abroad program in 1923, the first in the country. There are two undergraduate degree programs and 13 graduate degree programs that can be taken online at UD. In addition, there are more than 200 individual courses that can supplement a traditional degree, and there are 17 professional development certificates available.
UDel Website: http://www.udel.edu/
Year Founded: 1743
4: University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university that is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. UPenn was the fourth institution of higher education in the country, but it is widely accepted as the first university. It was the first institution that was chartered as a university, the first to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and it was the first school that had not been established as a seminary. Even though its distinction as the first university in the country is still debated, some of its firsts are not. The University of Pennsylvania helped to pioneer the multidisciplinary model that concentrated many academic faculties under one roof, opened the first school of medicine, and the first school of business. It was also one of 14 original members of the Association of American Universities, which is an organization of prestigious research universities.
There are 11 schools and colleges and 165 research centers and institutes that comprise the university, which now has almost 25,000 students and over a quarter of a million diverse and distinguished alumni around the world. It’s clear that educational innovation is deeply tied to the history of the university, and it is part of the university’s mission to encourage action, innovation, and educational equality. The Online Learning Initiative is an important part of that mission because it is making education more accessible around the world, and to students that want to get the best possible education without disrupting their lives. Over 100 different online classes are available at the university; there are open courses that anyone can participate in just for the sake of learning, and there are also for-credit courses that students can take towards a degree at the associates level doctoral level, and anything in between. Professional development courses are also offered towards a variety of certificates in the fields of business, medicine, engineering, and more.
UPenn Website: https://www.upenn.edu/
Year Founded: 1740
3: Yale University
Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. At its inception in 1701, it was called the Collegiate School and sought to educate Congregational ministers, the campus was in Saybrook Colony. In 1716, it moved to New Haven and was renamed Yale College. The original curriculum only covered theology and sacred languages. The first classes to extend beyond that weren’t taught until after the Revolutionary War, and they were met with a lot of opposition. Academic expansion happened very gradually at the university, but it did award the country’s first PhD in 1861. Yale College became Yale University in 1887, and as it entered the 20th century, it began to grow faster. Several schools were added, enrollment increased, and research started playing a larger role at the institution. It is now organized into 14 constituent schools and colleges and operates over 50 research centers and institutes. It has ranked among the top 3 universities in America for almost 20 consecutive years according to U.S. News & World Report.
Bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees are all offered at Yale, as well as various levels of certificates. Even though it is among the top five most selective universities, there are currently over 12,000 students enrolled at Yale. None of the students are participating in any distance-learning courses or programs, but the university does have them. Yale first began to offer online learning in 2001 in the form of the Alliance for Lifelong Learning. The courses were open to alumni and faculty, had tuition rates over $800 per course in some cases, and didn’t offer any credit. It quickly failed. Open courses became available in 2007, which are non-credit and free for use, and can still be accessed today. In 2011, the first online courses for credit were implemented. Online courses run for five weeks and cost the same rate as in-state on-campus classes, more of them are available each year. A unique aspect of Yale’s online offerings is that regardless of wherever students are in the world, they all come to class together. They are synchronous, live-streamed classes that allow students to engage with the instructor, and one another. The first degree program offered this way was a Doctor of Nursing Practice.
Yale Website: https://www.yale.edu/
Year Founded: 1701
2: College of William & Mary
The College of William & Mary in Virginia is the legal name of the university that is most often just called The College of William & Mary, or even W&M. It is a public research university in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, and it is one of the original Public Ivies. The College a reputation as “the Alma Mater of a Nation” because Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, and George Washington have all walked its halls as students. The conversation surrounding the creation of W&M began as early as 1618 but political unrest inhibited its development and it wasn’t founded until 1693. When it was founded, W&M was an Anglican institution that only accepted men that were members of the Church of England as students. It operated that way until religious freedom was established in 1786; although, it didn’t become coeducational until 1918. It was the first institution of higher education in the state of Virginia to allow women to enroll. It has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges since 1921.
The primary academic focus at The College of William & Mary is its undergraduate program. There is a universal College Curriculum that all undergraduate students take during their first two years that seeks to establish a broad background that the college regards as necessary for a comprehensive liberal arts education. Because of its commitment to this experience, it has the second best student to faculty ratio among public universities in America at just 12 to 1. Graduate degrees are offered at W&M, though. Distance education is available to all students, but programs are only available at the graduate level. Only 8% of graduate students are enrolled entirely online. The current offerings include a Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Education degree program. Online courses at W&M typically last 7.5 weeks and are taught by the same instructors as the ones available on campus. Programs are asynchronous, which allows students to work at their own pace and access their coursework according to their schedule instead of having to log in at a set time each day. The School of Law also offers a certificate program in Military & Veterans Health, Policy & Advocacy.
William & Mary Website: https://www.wm.edu/
Year Founded: 1693
1: Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university that was founded in 1636. Operating on a picturesque main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is America’s oldest institution of higher learning, and often regarded as the most prestigious university in the world. While it is historically not affiliated with any particular denomination, the early college that would grow into Harvard primarily taught Congregational and Unitarian clergy. The curriculum slowly shifted to be more academic over the years; however, the research university that it is today didn’t start to take shape until after the end of the American Civil War. Then, throughout the 20th century, it went through another important change that helped to distinguish it from other universities at that time. Instead of continuing to favor the wealthy elite, James Bryant Conant used his presidency at Harvard to transform higher education. He implemented programs that would recruit talented students and support them. Women, as well as people from a broader range of religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds, were welcomed.
Harvard University now serves a student body of almost 30,000, with a graduate majority, that represents all 50 states and a long list of foreign countries. Around 20% of its population are international students. Academically, Harvard has ranked as the top university in the world by a number of publications consistently for decades. A 2016 poll of over 10,000 people from The Princeton Review revealed that it was the second most common “dream college” for students, and third for parents. The university boasts 46 different undergraduate majors and 134 graduate programs, available through 13 schools and colleges. There are no distance-education degree programs listed on Harvard’s website but 7% of undergraduate students and 10% of graduate students are taking all of their courses online. Online courses are presented in both asynchronous and synchronous formats depending on the particular class; some online options will require an in-person intensive but it is listed in the course description so students have ample notice. Students who want to earn their degree completely online can discuss course options with an academic advisor. There are also over 800 open courses available through Harvard Extension School. There are several free courses, and an abundance of for-credit courses with low tuition rates, so that anyone with the desire and motivation can see their dreams come true.
Harvard Website: https://www.harvard.edu/
Year Founded: 1636
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