Top 20 Online Master’s in Nutrition 2016-2017 Methodology

How did we determine which online graduate degrees in nutrition made our “top” ranking? Our process included multiple steps and different levels of evaluation as we carefully considered which online MS in Nutrition programs were most deserving of recognition.

Initially, we gathered a list of all the public and private non-profit colleges and universities in the United States that offer online graduate programs in nutrition, dietetics, and related areas. We acquired this list using College Navigator, a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) database. Through the database, we searched for distance education “advanced” programs in:

  • Human Nutrition
  • Nutrition Sciences
  • Foods, Nutrition, and Wellness Studies
  • Clinical Nutrition/Nutritionist
  • Dietetics/Dietician
  • Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services

With this list in hand, we designed a ranking methodology to assess the quality of these schools relative to one another.

Accreditation

First, we turned our attention to the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Please note that our ranking is not endorsed by ACEND, nor are we affiliated with the organization in any way. Please also note that the vast majority of online graduate programs in nutrition and dietetics are not ACEND-accredited. Attending a program that lacks ACEND-accreditation may limit a person’s ability to earn the RD or RDN credential.

We recognized, however, that it was possible to indirectly judge the merits of an online program by looking at other accredited degrees the school offers. That is, we considered that a university with an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree plus an ACEND-accredited (on-campus) master’s degree would likely have a strong online program too, even if it isn’t officially approved by the accreditation council. On the other hand, a school with zero ACEND-accredited programs provides much less evidence as to the quality of education they can offer in this field.

There are exactly 20 colleges that have at least one ACEND-accredited program to their name, at either the bachelor’s or master’s level, in addition to an online graduate program. These 20 schools thus formed the basis of our ranking. To differentiate between them, we designed a point system as follows:

Schools with…

  • Any accredited didactic* nutrition program received 1 point
  • Any accredited dietetic internship received 1 point
  • Any accredited coordinated* nutrition program received 2 points

In addition, schools that…

  • Specifically offer an accredited graduate coordinated OR didactic program received 1 additional point
  • Specifically offer an accredited online coordinated OR didactic program received 1 additional point

And in the rare case (there is only one that we know of) that we found an ACEND-accredited degree that is both graduate-level and available online, we gave that school one final bonus point, making the maximum possible score 5 points in this category.

Association of Nutrition Departments and Programs Membership

Beyond accreditation, we also looked at membership in the Association of Nutrition Departments and Programs (ANDP). The ANDP is a network of private/governmental agencies and academic institutions that is active in policy and student recruitment. It also works to improve the resources and operation of collegiate nutrition departments. In many ways, member universities are on the front lines of their discipline and are dedicated to promoting the needs of nutrition students and practicing dietitians.

Internships & Cost

There were two other factors we also considered in this ranking: experiential learning opportunities and affordability. The former, which focused primarily on internships, assessed schools on the availability of internships and clinical practicums for online students. For the latter category, we assessed universities’ average tuition rates** and awarded more points to the programs with lower costs.

After collecting the data for each of these four categories, we calculated the totals and gave each school a final score out of a maximum possible 100 points. In addition, we scaled the results so that the top program automatically earned a score of 100. Think of it like a college professor curving the grades on a test so that the smartest student received an A+, even if she only got 80% of the answers correct.

And that’s it! For a look at the 20 best online masters programs in nutrition, be sure to check out our final ranking.


*As defined by the accreditation council, a “didactic” program focuses on coursework only, while a “coordinated” program offers both coursework and supervised practice (internships). Thus, a college with a didactic program and a separately-accredited dietetic internship would earn the same number of points as a school with a combined (coordinated) program.

**For public schools, average tuition means the average of in-state and out-of-state rates. For private schools, no averaging was necessary.

Sources:

College Navigator
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Council on Future Practice Visioning Report and Consensus Agreement for Moving Forward the Continuum of Dietetics Education, Credentialing, and Practice
BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dietitians and Nutritionists
Association of Nutrition Departments and Programs (ANDP)
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®)