UCF’s high-quality online programs were recognized today by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked the university No. 7 in the country for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.

This high ranking is in part thanks to world-class UCF faculty who are industry experts and who bring real-world knowledge to the classroom. UCF prepares students to excel in their chosen fields through well-designed and engaging courses in face-to-face, online and blended modes.

This year’s ranking is up seven spots from No. 14 just last year. UCF has been continually rising in U.S. News & World Report rankings, including a No. 15 spot as a Most Innovative University in 2022, as well as a No. 2 ranking for Best Master of Emergency and Crisis Management degrees, among other graduate program rankings.

Also from U.S. News & World Report, UCF ranks:

UCF rose in the rankings in each of these categories.

“We have been dedicated to high-impact, high-value online programs for 26 years and remain focused on innovating to provide students from every walk of life with flexible options for earning degrees that fuel their futures,” UCF President Alexander Cartwright said. “We are thrilled to have cracked the top 10 in the national rankings — rankings that highlight and validate the work of our top-notch faculty and staff in their pursuit of high-quality online learning.”

With more than 100 fully online programs, including undergraduate, graduate, professional master’s and doctorate degrees, plus certificates, UCF reaches more than 6,000 fully online students each year from around the country and the world.

Online learning gives students a flexible option to earn an education from anywhere while they also often juggle work and other responsibilities. That’s why UCF consistently invests in the tools and resources to deliver a high-quality online education across a spectrum of disciplines. More than 3,080 unique fully online courses have been developed at UCF, and overall, more than 869,000 credit hours of digital learning were taught at UCF last year. As of Fall 2021, 83% of all UCF students took at least one online or blended-learning course.

To ensure their success, the UCF Center for Distributed Learning (CDL) connects faculty with dedicated instructional designers and trainings on how to deliver the most effective online course. Beyond their industry experience, all instructors who teach online are well trained in digital teaching, receiving over 80 hours of training through CDL prior to the start of their first online course.

“UCF is able to provide access to high-quality online programs because of the efforts of our award-winning faculty members,” says Tom Cavanagh, vice provost for Digital Learning at UCF. “They take the time and effort to create a positive, engaging learning environment for all of our online students and have helped distinguish UCF as a leader in digital learning.”

Take Associate Professor Robin Back, for example, who brings more than 25 years of experience in retail, travel and tourism, and food and beverage industries in the United States, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the Caribbean to the classroom. Raised in a wine-producing family in South Africa, Back spent 12 years of his career setting up distribution lines for his family’s wines in North America, and as a marketing and brand manager for his family’s wineries in the United States and Canadian markets.

“I teach from my own experience,” says Back. “I tell stories and anecdotes from my career in my online lectures as they relate to the course material. I’ve found it helps students feel more engaged and the content is more personal. A student said to me one time ‘I felt like you were with me at my kitchen table as I participated in your lectures.’”

Back created the online Beverage Sales, Marketing, and Distribution course, which launched last year, from his own industry experience. In it, students learn from Back but also from industry experts from around the country who — thanks to his connections — share their knowledge and insights with the students.

Another one of Back’s most popular online courses is Wines of the World, an elective he created within the online restaurant and foodservice management degree, where students learn about wine and even participate in “virtual tastings.”

“Online students don’t have an opportunity to taste these wines like they would in an in-person class, so we discuss them in detail — what each smells like, tastes like, how they’re made, what food pairs well with them. It’s as if you’ve never tasted an apple before and I describe the different varieties to you  — some more crisp, some more sweet due to higher sugar levels, some more tart due to higher acidity  — you could walk into a grocery store and without ever having tasted an apple, understand what to expect from the different varieties on display.”

Similarly, Sandy Galura ’05MS ’12PhD, brings more than 30 years of nursing experience to her classes. Galura worked her way up in AdventHealth from a nurse to the hospital system’s administration, where her last role with the company was as a director of clinical excellence and research. Now, she’s an assistant professor and director of the leadership and management master’s in nursing program, where she regularly teaches a handful of online courses each semester.

“Teaching is one thing, but you have to have the structure in place to deliver an effective online course,” she says.

With the help of the CDL staff, Galura and other faculty are connected with resources and dedicated staff members to help build their online course with engaging elements. Galura is able to work in TED Talks, interviews with local hospital leaders and a platform for students to collaborate and discuss the coursework together into her online classes.

“There’s great interest in advance degrees in nursing beyond baccalaureate. Because of that, and because the majority of students are working adults, there’s a demand for online platforms,” says Galura. “Online learning helps us reach those who are not in urban areas where there are freestanding, brick-and-mortar schools. We need these online options to reach students so we can supply the demand in the workforce.”