The growing popularity of online education suggests that more and more people are discovering its inherent advantages. The survey, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,” reveals that more than 6 million students take at least one online course. The growth of online education exceeds the growth of higher education overall.
At the advent of online education, to describe these degrees as “legitimate” may have sounded like a stretch. But as more students turn to the virtual classroom to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree, any qualms employers may have had are fading. Now, there are very good distance degree programs, and remote, busy, and talented professionals are seeking them out.
The Convenience Factor
The greatest advantages to attending an online institution are the inherent convenience and flexibility. They offer the opportunity to work toward a degree from the comfort of one’s living room couch. Accredited, reputable online degree programs make distribution of higher educational opportunities a mainstream reality. They are ideal alternatives for those who have stacked work and family schedules or lack access to college campuses.
However, not everyone is suited to the academic demands imposed by a virtual environment. Degrees demand time, and at the end of a busy day, professionals may simply lack the desire and the drive to spend two or more hours in front of a computer, immersed in online coursework. But for the other individuals, online degrees are the solution to the scheduling dilemma: they bend to personal schedules, are available 24/7, and may sustain the student that simply has no other choice.
The Self-Pace Perk
Self-pacing is a key reason many working people seek online degrees. Work and family schedules impose long hours, so it makes sense that a curriculum with built-in flexibility and loose time constraints is preferred. Again, in the hands of a procrastinator, self-pacing may be detrimental. Almost all degree providers are clear about the fact that participants must consistently make visible progress toward their degree goals, and even online students have assignment deadlines they must meet.
The Legitimacy Question
The business world has spawned a number of professional populations that are hypercompetitive and hungry for career traction. Business professionals, nurses, educators, and engineers turn to online degrees to further their education and qualifications. In addition, many traditional brick-and-mortar universities have rolled out online degree programs of their own, adding legitimacy to this mode of education. For instance, elite universities such as Harvard and Yale have launched their own online programs.
But it is not simply for altruistic purposes that these schools have set their sights on distance learning. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education argues that online education is going mainstream, and that the classroom of the future will encompass face-to-face learning, online learning, and hybrid varieties. Schools will expand into online realms because higher education is big business, and they must do so to remain on the cutting edge.
The Affordability Myth: Online Does Not Mean Cheap
Online shopping may promise savings and discounts, but an online education unfortunately does not always offer the cheapest education. The cost of online programs is, generally speaking, on par with the cost of on-campus credit hours. However, students can expect to save on commuting costs, room and board fees, and other miscellaneous academic fees that can boost the cost of attendance. The cost of an online degree can vary based on factors such as the quality of the online institution and the program.
When these metrics are alike, tuition ñ the actual cost for the academic portion of a college education ñ is surprisingly similar. Students who enroll in online classes often have the option to pay for courses as they take them, or per term or semester. This affords many consumers a big financial break, a payment schedule that to some appears to be a cut-rate tuition.
The Employment Myth: Will Employers Want You?
Employers have been among the last holdouts and the greatest skeptics regarding degrees earned online. Historically, some have been reluctant to hire graduates who hold these degrees. Most have automatically assumed the worst ó that “online” means fake, like degrees from diploma mills. In addition, media coverage of high-level professionals found to have phony degrees on their resumes has set many employers on alert when it comes to anything online. However, the tide is turning.
While more research needs to be conducted in this area, a report by the Imagine America Foundation found that the degrees and certificates of career colleges, whether earned online or not, are now widely recognized by many employers. As more employers become familiar with the legitimacy of online degrees, and the fact that many online degree programs offer rigorous course work and a high-quality education experience, their willingness to hire graduates who earned their degrees online will increase.