Online education has experienced explosive growth in the United States since the dawn of the millennium. Enrollment in online degree programs is higher than ever before, with institutions such as the University of Phoenix educating as many as 325,000 students at a given time. Online colleges and universities also have a ubiquitous advertising presence; their commercials can be seen all over television and the internet. There is no doubt that online education is a profitable industry, but is it worth it to students?
Are Online Degrees Worth the Money?
In the early days of online education, this novel form of learning received little respect from academic institutions and employers. While online education is still stigmatized in some quarters, it has now gained much more respect and is widely recognized as a positive development. Employers are increasingly realizing that online schooling isn’t for people who are too lazy to work in a classroom setting, but is rather a means for hardworking individuals with other obligations (such as work and family life) to get their degree and advance their careers.
Online schooling is especially beneficial to non-traditional students. Many older students seek an online education not because they lack commitment but because they are too committed to running a business, raising children, military obligations, etc. to be able to attend a “land-based” institution. As such, many employers appreciate online degree seekers and recipients for taking the initiative to continue their education.
Online instruction can be an effective means of learning. In fact, a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of education, conducted over an 8-year period, found that online instruction was possibly more effective than in-classroom instruction. Online vocational instruction can be especially useful, providing students with skills that will be relevant to the job market.
How to Choose an Online Program
Even though there are certainly reputable, accredited online degree programs, there are also unaccredited “diploma-mills”. For baccalaureate degree programs, one should always make sure the institution is regionally accredited. One should also find out if the specific degree which one seeks requires additional accreditation from a professional or trade organization.
One should also research the market for the degree in question. Will a current or prospective employer find the skills gained in this degree program to be useful? Unfortunately, some schools (both online and land-based) offer degrees which will leave graduates with little more than a bill. Search for reviews of the school in question to help make sure the diploma will be well-respected.
Online degree programs can be very valuable in advancing one’s career. However, one should be very careful when selecting a program; extensive research of both the credibility of the degree-granting institution and the desires of employers is required. One cannot always trust the claims made on a given institution’s website or its affiliate sites.
One should seek out independent authorities on the veracity of claims put forward by an online school (as is the case with land-based schools). One should contact accrediting agencies directly to make sure that the school in question is legitimate. That said, the future of online education is bright and, provided prospective students thoroughly research online schools beforehand, the futures of their graduates can become brighter as well.