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U.S. News & World Report ranks WVU business school graduate online program No. 23

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Even though it is only three years old, the online Executive MBA program at West Virginia University's College of Business and Economics has received its second national ranking by U.S. News & World Report, jumping six slots to 23rd in the latest rankings.

The WVU business school was listed in the 2014 Best Online Programs Rankings, released by U.S. News & World Report on Wednesday. Three other graduate programs were also ranked: education, 31st; engineering, 54th; and nursing, 65th.

B&E "has put a great deal of emphasis on improving its programs, and we have taken a comprehensive approach to make that happen," said Jose "Zito" Sartarelli, Milan Puskar Dean. "We are continually looking for ways to improve our online Executive MBA, such as providing countless opportunities for students to interact with instructors and fellow classmates, teaching with knowledgeable and engaged Ph.D.-level faculty, and maintaining favorable student-professor ratios.

"These factors are very important to prospective students, so they are very important to us," he said. The program currently has nearly 200 participants enrolled from 19 different states.

Methodology criteria used by U.S. News & World Report included student engagement, admissions selectivity, peer reputation, faculty credentials and training, and student services and technology. Sartarelli gave a few examples of areas B&E focuses on for continual improvement.

"Student engagement is critical for a number of reasons," Sartarelli said. "You want to create an environment where there is an abundance of student interaction with professors and other students. We are accredited by AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), which is the gold standard for business schools around the world, so it is paramount that we raise our own standards and best practices for online learning. We have certified instructional designers, course evaluations, and students sign an ethics statement, which reflects our strong view on the importance of ethics in business and overall. Also related to student engagement are components such as class size, one-year retention and time to degree, all of which are critical for students."

B&E's Executive MBA is taught primarily by Ph.D.-qualified, full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty. Additionally, WVU invests in training that focuses on online teaching best practices, with technical staff at the business school available to assist faculty in their teaching efforts. The creation of the online Executive MBA program was facilitated by WVU Academic Innovation, formerly WVU Extended Learning. The unit provides the infrastructure and technological support to B&E faculty to advance online teaching.

Sartarelli also pointed to student services and technology, which includes efforts such as technical support, financial aid, live tutoring and career placement, among others. "We have put resources behind helping our students succeed by doing things such as providing a dedicated advisor that works with our students to assist them with their plan of study and helping them progress toward graduation," he said.

The growing wave of online education has prompted more higher education institutions to create online programs. Sartarelli said it is a very competitive arena to attract students to the online Executive MBA, but he believes there is one other major measurement of the program.

"Our graduates are elated with the education they're getting in our Executive MBA program," Sartarelli said. "They say they are enhancing their careers, gaining invaluable education, and increasing their upward mobility and earning potential. That's a pretty good barometer all by itself."