ECU ranks sixth nationally, first in NC for distance education

School Watch

(Claire Molle, WNCT photo)

 GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina University is sixth in the nation — and No. 1 in North Carolina — in an inaugural ranking of America’s Top Online Colleges by Newsweek.

ECU was one of 182 institutions recognized.

Newsweek teamed with Statista, a market and consumer data company, to survey people who have taken courses or earned degrees online. Institutions were divided into two groups:

  • America’s Top Online Colleges (150 colleges — including ECU — that offer online degree programs including hybrid programs with online and offline courses or exams);
  • America’s Top Online Learning Providers (32 institutions other than a university or college that provides access to their own or third-party online courses).

“ECU has long been recognized as North Carolina’s leader in online education,” said Dr. Allen O. Guidry, interim vice provost for academic affairs at ECU. “For many years that meant that we were a pioneer in online learning in the state. In recent years it has meant that we have provided more online options for students through a variety of program offerings. This ranking is an acknowledgment of the high quality of the online experience for students in our more than 100 online programs and a testament to the dedication, innovation and expertise of our online teaching faculty.” 

This fall, out of 28,021 students at ECU, 12,690 students are taking a combination of online and in-person courses, and 8,261 are enrolled in online courses only.

Colin Bennett, a veteran and online MBA student from Holly Springs, said pursuing a graduate degree would be challenging — if not impossible — if it weren’t for ECU’s program.

Bennett, a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, works full time and has a toddler. He said taking online courses allows him to balance work and home life.

“Being able to complete assignments on a flexible schedule is a must,” he said. “I love the engagement with my graduate-level teachers. If I have a late-night question, I have often gotten late-night answers! They go out of their way to provide as many tools and opportunities for me to master course material and succeed.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were 7.3 million students enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2019. In 2018-19, most colleges (79%) offered either stand-alone distance education courses or entire online degree programs.

With the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, many colleges and universities shifted to online courses to keep students safe. By one estimate, the number of students enrolled exclusively in online programs nationwide jumped 93% from 2019 to 2020, Newsweek said.

Newsweek and Statista developed the rankings by surveying 9,000 U.S. residents who used online learning services to earn an academic degree, gain additional job skills or for personal development.

Between July 26 and Sept. 13, people were asked to share their online experiences by rating institutions on several criteria. Respondents could indicate how satisfied they were and if they would recommend their college to others. User reviews and additional institutional indicators were used to develop score values and aggregated for a final score. Institutions needed an above-average total score value to be included in Newsweek’s lists.

ECU offers online degree and certificate programs in business, health care, education, technology and many other areas. For more information, visit

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