Online Grad Schools
Distance education is not a new concept and was first conceived in the 19th century as a way for disabled individuals to access college. With the growth of computer networks like the internet, distance learning has entered the new sphere of online education. A relatively new phenomena, online education has garnered much negative attention and has yet to earn the respect of many critics and employers. Even so, with many applicants already burdened by the time commitments of work and family, students are turning out in droves to experience this new way to earn a degree. Some in the academic community including professors and administrators have embraced it as an innovative approach to address the needs of a new generation of learners. Some claim it has benefits over traditional classroom settings including increased time spent chatting with the professor, responsibility to participate, fairness between students and involvement with the curriculum. While it is probably not for everyone, online education is a growing option for those of us already pressed for time or money.
Overview of Online Programs
Although distance education seems like a recent phenomenon, it has a storied history reaching back to the mid-1800s. In the early days, distance learning served as an option for the disabled, limited by mobility, and for women, limited by social barriers. As technology, such as the radio and television, expanded the ways that students could learn throughout the 20th century, so too did the variety of students and conventions of accreditation. Finally, online correspondence revolutionized distance education, especially in California where adults students seeking GEDs or literacy services, who already have a variety of media at their disposal, are expected to study more and more via the Internet.
Distance Education at a GlanceUniversity of Idaho Engineering Outreach, Tania H. Gottschalk
Distance education is an option for those who lack the time, money, or physical ability to attend a traditional classroom, but there are both advantages and drawbacks to this system. Some of these lie in the technologies, including video, voice audio, print media, and computer interaction, each of which compensates in some way for the lack of face-to-face instruction, and can be an effective substitute if used together. Ultimately, students, faculty, and staff must bring a lot to the table in order to make distance education effective.
What is the place of online learning in U.S. higher education? Increased enrollment in online college courses has influenced perceptions about the quality of the Internet-based classroom versus the traditional one, although the types of schools and programs in which online students are distributed is still uneven and the vast majority of high-ranking academic officials believe there are major obstacles that must be surmounted before online education becomes mainstream. In particular, the percentage of online learners is heavily skewed toward associates-level institutions. For the online option to open up to a wider variety of students, survey respondents believe that students need more discipline, faculty need more time and acceptance of online education as a viable alternative to traditional instruction, and institutions need more money.
Both critics and advocates of distance learning tend to focus too much on technological concerns and too little on education. Distance courses that are tailored to meet students' specific goals can overcome many of the potential problems with learning from a remote location. For example, students who enroll in distance courses for the purpose of degree completion have very different needs and expectations from students who are taking classes to prepare for standardized tests, working adults seeking career advancement within a company, and curious learners who simply enroll in courses for self-improvement. In other words, better understanding student motivation can help educators identify the correct problems in distance learning and ask the right questions.
The National Education Association cites a number of external resources that, collectively, survey important topics in distance education from the initial optimism of the mid-1990s to the controversy of today. Of note are several government-sponsored polls and study that establish criteria for determining the quality of distance education compared to traditional programs, major problems foreseen in the wider adoption of distance education by students in the future, and comparisons of past projections about distance education and the current state of the endeavor. Independent organizations, such as the American Center for the Study of Distance Education, exist to provide continual assessments of non-traditional education programs as they evolve. These are listed as well.
Follow these links to learn more about distance learning, whether you're a new student or a current one. Not sure about the online option? Peruse the "About Online Education" section for a glossary, FAQ, and basic advice about whether or not studying from your computer is the right choice for you. If you already know that online learning is in your future, check out the section for new students whose resources give advice on how to pick the right school, how to get financial aid, how to prepare for standardized tests, and other topics. A section for current students is available if you're worried about getting a job after you graduate and how to cut down on student loan debt. Finally, some links to organizations that are related to online education can be found at the bottom.
If you have some anxieties about distance learning and aren't certain if online education fits your needs, there are dozens of resources that can guide you through the basics. Admissions tests, financial aid, and the nature of the online interface are all big considerations that you can easily research. If you do decide to attend a course remotely, some of the pitfalls to watch out for include picking an institution that isn't accredited, being tricked by aggressive recruiters, and mismanaging time (which you'll have a lot more control over in classes with flexible schedules). Articles for students who are already enrolled and need a little motivation can found here too.
Distance Learning BasicsCape Fear Community College Department of Distance Learning, 2010
As an online student, you will face some significant challenges that a student enrolled in a brick-and-mortar program might not. Time management, self-discipline, and written communication are all skills that will be tested much faster in an online environment due to the nature of the interface. For example, without a regular schedule of class attendance or teacher who sees you in-person, you will need to be self-motivated and make excellent use of your time in order to succeed in class. Even though other students will be in the same boat as you, it will be easy to lose track of assignments and other responsibilities without their physical presence as a reminder. Also, traditional concerns, such as using technology, conducting research, and establishing a good rapport with your fellow classmates, take on new meaning in the Internet classroom.
A quarter of all university students are taking an online course, studies show, and all indications are that that number will continue to skyrocket. The economic recession that began in the late 2000s is one of the main reasons online learning has become so popular, although fears about the swine flu outbreak and other potential disasters have a big impact too. At the very least, online courses make for a good backup plan in case students can't attend in person. Still, not all professors are wild about the growing trend. Questions about the quality of a class taken on the Internet have continued to cause faculty to hesitate, although the traditionalists are gradually starting to change their minds.
The days of universities as ivory towers accessible only to the intellectual elite are, thanks to the Internet, becoming relics of the past. Free online education, such as Khan Academy and the U.K.'s Open University, and for-profit online universities such as the University of Phoenix, have student populations in the hundreds of thousands. All thanks to the Internet, the desire for distance education has grown so fast that universities can't meet the demand, and almost 50 percent of these students are non-traditional. Education is becoming ever-more individualized, diverse, classless, and student-driven.
The rise of remote, web-based services at universities is causing headaches for businesses, especially textbook publishes, whose profits depend on students having to buy new textbooks. This, however, is good news for students. Now, even if a library has one copy of the needed book, every student on campus can read it as long as there is an electronic version. Moreover, online lectures are replacing traditional notions of what constitutes a classroom, but making such education available to the masses is a welcome change in the developing world where even a modest college education from a developed country would be prohibitively expensive. Finally, many educators claim that the online interface cuts down on administrative duties and allows them to develop their skills. The transition to 100% digital has a long way to go, but institutions are feeling the change.
Although a lot of attention has been given to the growth of online universities, web-best learning in K-12 schools is growing at a fast pace. Already, half of all the states in the U.S. have online schools and the vast majority of administrators in the country reported at least some students taking an online course. Furthermore, the late 2000s also saw several states, for the first time ever, requiring an online component to high school education. The reasons are clear. Online education provides options for students that aren't available in their home schools, which is the reason most school districts offer online programs, and Internet courses are just as, or more effective than, traditional classes, according to the Department of Education. Given that nearly 90% of teenagers use the Internet already, the interest in course offerings available on the web is expected to keep rising.
There is a major dearth of research on how new technologies can be used by students and teachers engaged in distance education. Part of the problem is that a clear definition of what "emerging technologies" are needs to be established, an issues that is made especially problematic by uncertainty over how how current pedagogy is changed by how technology and how new social networking, videoconferencing, wikis, open learning, and online interfaces can enhance traditional methodology. One of the primary concerns is communication: interactions between students, and between teachers and students, are changing as interactions between people in general are quickly evolving due to interfaces and the clash of cultures that results from more globalized learning.
Information About Accreditation
The U.S. Department of Education provides information on both the source of higher education institutions' accreditation and the status of that accreditation throughout the U.S. via its database. This data is freely available to the public. Although the Department does not directly accredit universities and colleges, it is responsible for approving the organizations responsible insofar as their jurisdiction is in the United States. Accreditation is necessary in order to ensure that post-secondary education meets certain minimum standards of quality. The database lists schools in alphabetical order and provides both the name of the accrediting agency and the date on which accreditation was granted.
Accreditation is simple. Colleges have to meet certain standards, and because the school itself can't decide what those standards should be, a third party organization is needed. These are accrediting agencies. If a school lives up to the agency's expectations, the school is officially accredited. Schools that aren't accredited, on the other hand, are illegitimate and should be avoided. Degrees from these "diploma mills" are often too easy to get and practically worthless in the eyes of employers. At the same time, some institutions are "accredited" by phoney agencies that aren't approved by the government or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and these too should be avoided. Check to make sure that any online program you are considering is accredited by an agency, and then do a little research on the agency itself.
Accreditation does not determine the quality of individual courses and should not be the deciding factor in whether or not classes transfer from one institution to the next, as was the controversy when Montana State University criticized the quality of transfer credits from the distance education company, StraighterLine. For one, accrediting agencies focus on entire universities and do not assess the quality of actual classes. Also, there are enough accrediting organizations out there that the standards can vary dramatically. Rather than undermining the quality of education, distance education institutes that choose to go without accreditation, like StraighterLine, simply represent a new way of conducting business that is both cheaper for students and independent of tax subsidies.
Whats Good Enough?Inside Higher Ed, Doug Lederman, 2011
Recent criticism by former Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and other accrediting agencies has raised questions about how much involvement accreditors should have in setting standards for their member institutions. Traditionally, the job of establishing criteria that students and faculty must meet has been the obligation of the institution. The accrediting agency simply ensures that universities and colleges set such standards. However, Spellings and others have argued accreditors should take more direct responsibility in making sure institutes of higher education produce educated graduates. In particular, accreditors could make their methods of evaluation more transparent, rank institutions (to a limited degree) by establishing a special category for schools that attain certain honors, and -- in the case of for-profit universities, which are often online -- conduct random, anonymous inspections of recruiting practices and other interactions between the institution's corporate arm and the students.
A recent meeting of educators and politicians hosted by the Secretary of Education, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, took five important steps in reforming accreditation in order to improvement the the efficacy of universities. They are 1) opening nationwide discussion about accreditation in general, 2) publicly criticizing institutions and accreditors, 3) giving voice to detractors of current accreditation practice, 4) proposing more government involvement in accrediting, and 5) exercising caution in implementing changes so as to avoid standardization. These steps were effective in laying the groundwork for reform.
Because the U.S. Department of Education is not responsible for setting standards in post-secondary institutions, private, third party organizations known as accrediting agencies that are approved by the Department act as intermediaries. Their purpose is to ensure that colleges, universities, and other higher education institutes meet standards of quality. As a result, accrediting agencies determine what courses can transfer from one institute to the next and only students who attend accredited institutions can receive federal financial aid. There are also different types of accreditation, as programs in business, medicine, law, and other fields are often accredited from separate organizations than the rest of a university. The following is a directory of accrediting agencies organized by their scope: national, regional, subject-specific, and state-sponsored.
The Department of Education has started to crack down on accrediting agencies with lax requirements for its member institutions and who do not maintain strong enough documentation to show transparency. In particular, the Department has begun establishing new regulations for accreditors with a frequency not seen since the passage of the Higher Education Act. Much of the new scrutiny has been placed on for-profit accrediting organizations, such as the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, while two of the 10 agencies, including the Commission on Osteopathic Accreditation, were able to renew their official recognition by the Department without having to make changes in their practice.
There are some key differences between regional, national, and specialized accrediting agencies that you may want to keep in mind as you search for an online program. Namely, regional accreditors unite colleges by geography to, in some sense, represent their part of the college. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is a good example. National agencies tend to focus on a specific subject, industry, theme, or method of instruction, such as the Distance Education and Training Council, and the member colleges may be anywhere in the country. A lot of online institutions fall into this category. When you select an online program, be aware of which type of organization provides its accreditation because this can affect whether or not your classes will transfer if you decide to move and whether or not your two-year degree will be recognized if you decide to pursue a bachelor's at another institution. Finally, member universities of a regional agency tend to be more expensive.
The recession of the late 2000s has made less federal financial aid available for students. For-profit institutions, like Everest University, are under fire for taking a large share of government money for students whose course credits often don't transfer to other colleges. The problem lies in the debate over the legitimacy of national accrediting agencies, like the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools, who are often responsible for approving programs in for-profit colleges. As the multi-billion dollar fund for post-secondary schools shrinks, the dispute is expected to intensify between critics who question the ACICS-accredited schools' worthiness to receive federal money and advocates of for-profit universities who argue that their programs are comparable to public institutions.
Even though the growth of enrollment in for-profit colleges is outpacing traditional institutions, lawsuits over the transferability of credits and the value of degrees from these emerging schools have led to a national debate. At the center of the controversy are accrediting agencies. Regional accreditors approve very few for-profit programs. Instead, nearly all for-profit institutions, such as Florida Metropolitan University, are accredited by national agencies that are newer to the scene. Even though these fresh organizations are acknowledged by the Department of Education, their authority is often disputed by the more traditional regional agencies. Students who cannot transfer from schools accredited by the former to schools accredited by the latter are the casualties of the conflict.
Greater coordination of purpose between the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the two main bodies responsible for recognizing accrediting agencies in the U.S, needs to be made. Also, a better articulation of each organization's separate goals should be established. A history of the Department and CHEA's predecessors (the Council went under a different name prior to 1996) reveals how each began to lose focus on their primary goals. This ambiguity can be resolved through 1) a universal vocabulary, 2) a distinction between private and public recognition of accreditors, 3) a recognition of the powers that private organizations, like CHEA, have that the government does not, 4) a clearer definition of the duties of each government agency and the private sector in evaluating accreditors, and 5) a clear framework of criteria for an agency's approval by the Department and CHEA.
Diploma mills exist to make a profit and have little to no interest in giving you what you paid for: an education. Diploma mills: 1) offer degree programs that take an usually short amount of time compared to other schools, 2) made outlandish claims about the length of time that their credits transfer, 3) give themselves names that resemble legitimate universities, 4) no clear indication of there being a campus or faculty that can be reached. Besides keeping these warning signs in mind, you also have it within your power to research both individual institutions and the organizations that provide them accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education's exhaustive directories. Separate lists of recognized and unrecognized accreditors, and accredited and unaccredited schools, are available.
Students need to be wary of both degree mills, institutions that give out suspect degrees and provide little to no education, and "accreditation mills," which are often made-up organizations that lend degree mills phoney authority. To stay informed, students may consult the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's database of accredited institutions and legitimate accrediting agencies. They can also review the definition and scope of accreditation and explore a number of helpful resources about the subject. Finally, prospective students can ask a few questions about suspected institutions. For example, are the degrees for sale without any serious coursework? Is attendance required? Are degrees awarded based solely on a students work experience? And so on.
For most of the 20th century, accreditation agencies approved by the government were enough to ensure that post-secondary education in the U.S. was of a high caliber. Starting in the early 1990s, however, critics have started to question what really goes on in accrediting organizations. Furthermore, the recent rise in online and for-profit universities has renewed debate on what accreditation means, exactly, when institutions of dubious value to students are given official government approval. The main problems are that accreditors do not make their evaluations of colleges public, do set clearly defined criteria, and tend to ensure institutions' memberships as long as they can secure government funds. Quality assurance, judged by measurable outcomes of universities' students, is the key to solving these issues.
While the recession may have hurt most industries, business is booming in online education. Universities that offer their classes over the Internet compensate for Americans' limited budgets and tight schedules. Despite criticisms over the price (and quality), the sheer number of emerging online programs ensures that competition will keep costs in check. Furthermore, the increasing public acceptance of the online option for higher education means that new models of post-secondary study are developing as well, including free institutions, such as the Peer 2 Peer University, or extremely low-cost schools, such as the University of the People. Finally, traditional universities like Yale are offering more and more online components to their course offerings. E-learning provides greater convenience and actually requires more work and participation on the part of students and teachers as well.
Mature adults with full-time jobs once made up the core student body for online universities, but now the cost and convenience is drawing younger students as well. The hours of an online institution do not conform to a rigorous schedule. Students can log in and do schoolwork at anytime during the day or week without having to attend prescribed lectures, which means they can study when it's most convenient, or when they're at their best. Furthermore, potential students who are worried that their degrees might not be hold water for employers if they earn them at online institutions now have the option of enrolling in Internet-based programs of already-established universities, such as UMassOnline (of the University of Massachusetts). The only downsides of distance learning are the missing social dimension of attending a brick-and-mortar college and the self-motivation required to log on every day without peers or teachers as a reminder.
The rising popularity and increasing sophistication of online colleges means that K-12 students can benefit too. In particular, parents can now provide their home-schooled children an entire curriculum that is 100 percent online. Students in any school system, public or private, can also take online courses in order to earn credits for college, provided that the program is properly accredited, and to make up missing credits that would otherwise have to be dealt with in summer school. Also, beyond the convenience of working at one's own pace and within one's own schedule, students of online K-12 programs can learn content that may not be available at their schools. Online K-12 classes offer students opportunities like no other program can.
Michigan school students perform below the national average, but online programs have the power to help schools close the gap. Specifically, students from poorly funded schools with under-performing teachers can have remote access to the same resources as students from higher quality school systems. Studies show that online education can be just as effective, if not more, than traditional instruction and its programs cost only about three quarters as much because transportation, school lunches, and other logistics are obviated. Current Michigan laws that limit access to online instruction should be lifted and this new model of education should be embraced.
A meta-analysis of several hundred studies of online learning reveals that online education from institutes of higher learning is slightly superior to traditional in-person instruction. The evaluation of the studies, which cover a 12-year period, are based on a number of criteria. Notably, the meta analysis limited itself to studies that: 1) offered a comparison between online and traditional education, 2) evaluated what students learned, 3) conformed to strict analytical parameters, and 4) produced results that could be factored into the meta-analysis. These studies also showed that the difference between mixed instructional methods (those that combined online and traditional techniques) and in-person instruction were not as noticeable. Finally, the body of studies that focused on K-12 online education, as opposed to higher education, was too small to be conclusive.
Widespread acceptance of online education, while increasing, is nevertheless held back by a number of concerns by educators, according to a survey. Technology is one of them. While respondents expect increases in multimedia presentations and interactive applications, such as games, to influence the evolution of the online learning medium, more social technologies, such as videoconferencing, was considered less important. Another major concern among respondents is meeting students' needs. Besides revealing a deficit in certificate programs and other non-degree options, respondents expressed worry over educators' preparedness to teach in an online environment, although technical know-how was less of a concern than pedagogical readiness. Even so, the results of the survey suggest that the remarkable growth of online education in post-secondary institutions is causing educators to find new methods of instruction and make better use of emerging technologies.
Despite generally negative opinions from professors about the quality of online instruction, many are embracing it anyway or are at least recommending it to students. The increasing acceptance of Internet-based instruction among educators goes on in spite of their concerns that the increased workload of an online course can interfere with their path to tenure, which requires that faculty spend a large amount of time conducting research. This contradiction has an explanation, however. Professors seek to fulfill the demands of learners. Although they have misgivings, professors simply feel that the online option is only way to make higher education accessible to everyone.
A recent report prepared for the Department of Education states that online education is both effective and likely to become the wave of the future. Emerging technologies, such as videoconferencing, social networks, and applications that allow multiple users to work on a project all at the same time, are distinguishing Internet-based instruction from its distance-learning predecessors. Furthermore, many "traditional" classrooms are starting to adopt tools that are in regular use by purely online courses: message boards, web-based readings, schedules, and so on.
There are 10 main reasons why millions of students are enrolling in online courses. The flexibility of the online schedule, the versatility of instructional methods (visual, kinesthetic, etc.), and the lack of social barriers all contribute to students' preference for learning from their computers. Other reasons are that online classes connect students with quality professors that might not otherwise be available were students restricted by geography, and these professors not nearly as intimidating in a chat or discussion board medium.
Virtual Virginia is just one example of the increasing number of K-12 online networks that offer classes, such as mythology and Chinese literature, that high schools students can't take on-campus. There are some downsides to attending classes that don't require students to attend at any specific hour in a given day, but these are overcome as students learn self-discipline and as teachers take a more active role in reminding their pupils to avoid distractions by sending messages or calling them directly. Instructor involvement also helps keep the courses social.
Although there are concerns about what goes missing in the online environment, such as interpersonal communication and face-time with an actual teachers, many critics overlook some of the skills that online students develop in their place. First and foremost, online communication requires a great deal of read and writing. One of the only tried-and-true methods for improving literacy and written communication is to simply practice, and in a classroom that lies largely on e-mail, message boards, and chat, these skills are used extensively every day. Other benefits include a more student-centered approach, the emphasis on continuing education for students interesting in education for its own sake (but who don't have the time and money for a traditional college experience), learning tools and libraries that can be accessed at any time, including the 11th hour, flexibility, convenience, and quick feedback.
If you're a military service member, you will be expected to pick up and leave at a moment's notice or work in an extremely remote location, which makes a college eductaion impractical. Online education, on the hand, may be the perfect solution. You'll experience the work load as a regular university courses -- including assignments, papers, and tests -- but the classrooms themselves are provided through discussion boards and, in most cases, classwork is posted at the beginning of a week. This means you can learn at your own pace. Do make sure, however, that the GI Bill will foot the bill (financial aid isn't available at all institutions) and that the school is accredited.
Enrollment in online programs may be increasing, but a recent study shows that students are far less likely to graduate from online universities than from brick-and-mortar schools. Part of the problem is that different kinds of students, namely working adults rather than the traditional 18 to 24-year-old students who attend college directly after high school, enroll in web-based institutions and have different needs. What many of them have in common, for example, is difficulty devoting the necessary time to an online program. Indeed, 60 percent of those surveyed dropped out due to time management, although the level of satisfaction among online learners also played a major role in their retention. The survey strongly suggests that distance learners can overcome these problems if their expectations of online courses are better served.
People suffering from the recent recession often turn to for-profit (often online) universities as way of breaking out of the cycle of poverty, and are willing to take on great debt to pay for the average $14,000 a year that such an education costs in the hopes that their degrees will lead to jobs that allow them pay the money back. This is often not the case. For-profit institutions consistently make promises to students that they can't keep. Specifically, these universities exaggerate job placement statistics and the expected salaries of program graduates. Even though graduates later default on loans, the institutions still make enormous profits from the amount of federal funds they secure.
A group of former students of Kaplan University, an online for-profit institution, have recently started a petition against the school for leading them to believe that their degree in nutrition science would make them registered dieticians. Unfortunately, certified dieticians must graduate from programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dieticians Education. Kaplan University's program is not. Ambiguity about the kind of accreditation needed was the source of the problem. While the university as a whole is accredited, certain programs must be recognized by special organizations, such as the Commission. This was not made clear to the students who enrolled in Kaplan's program and racked up debt pursuing a degree of little value.
After a former student of the University of Phoenix claimed to have been lied to by recruiters about the value of her education degree, four investigators from ABC News called the university for an inside perspective on recruitment practices. Their questions and several case studies point to suspect claims on the part of recruiters and dubious practices, like trying to draw new students from a homeless shelter. However, higher-ups in the University of Phoenix, which is the largest for-profit institution in the U.S., allege little awareness of recruiters who deceive students and state that these employees were violating university-established ethics codes. In the end, the University of Phoenix's president resolved to change some of the school's policies.
Following a string of lawsuits and concerns about the amount of federal financial aid that for-profit, mostly online, colleges take, the Government Accountability Office conducted a clandestine probe into some of the top corporate-run institutions in the nation, including the University of Phoenix, Everest College, and Kaplan College (California and Florida campuses). The results of their investigation is that many students are uninformed about the nature of accreditation and recruiters often mislead them. Regional accreditation is generally considered more desirable for degree-granting institutions, but most for-profit universities are nationally accredited. In some cases, students were told that the institution they were considering was regionally accredited when, in fact, they were not. The Department of Education is currently laying plans to exercise more control over accreditors.
When it comes to the value of an education, perception is everything. While some online programs may be just as good as their offline counterparts, the prevailing opinion among employers is that online programs are a watered-down version of the real thing. Further perceptions are that taking classes on the Internet increases the likelihood of plagiarism and leaves out many of the qualities of an education by can't be directly assessed. Unfortunately, these conservative attitudes mean that the demand for online higher education is overwhelmingly satisfied by the private sector and universities need to start offering what their traditional programs can't in order to compete.
Critics state that the expansion of online learning options for K-12 students is largely a result of poor funding. Rather than innovating current models of education, the online option is simply a necessary evil. Furthermore, overly easy online courses used to makeup lost credits in an academic school year are motivated by fears of losing federal funding and are not in the best interest of students. The rise in remedial courses in colleges indicates that online high school courses, for example, are not adequately compensating for the classes that students missed. Also, there is suspicion that the emphasis on online learning is a push to give private businesses more access to tax dollars.
What Employers Have to Say
Studies find that employers overwhelmingly favor traditional degrees over ones earned from "virtual universities." However, Betsy Davis, one of the chief recruiters for the CIA, argues that forcing employers to make a choice between online and face-to-face education is misleading, as the vast majority of online institutions offer a substantial amount of on-campus instruction as well. Nevertheless, many obstacles remain to be overcome before employers begin to fully respect applicants whose education has an online component. One of the chief problems is that Internet-based schools are too new to have established reputations like, for example, Harvard and Stanford, so traditional schools are favored for their familiarity. Nevertheless, this bias is slowly changing, one sign of which is the number of companies that actually pay their already-established employees, at least in part, to attend online universities.
Traditionally, universities have favored a specific demographic, but a recent explosion in distance learning opportunities means that working, non-traditional students have the option to earn a degree or participate in continuing education. Many are interested, but important questions cause students to hesitate. One of the primary concerns is whether or not workers' hands-on experience or distance learning credits can be transferred to a traditional university, in which case the answer is "yes" most of the time as long as these credits can be documented and shown to the institution. Also, questions about the legitimacy or reputation of a distance learning program can be answered by investigating the college's accreditation. In general, now is a good time for older, working adults to pursue higher education.
A collection of studies show changing perceptions about online degrees by hiring managers in the past few years, from outright suspicion to reserved acknowledgement. The details, however, are more complicated. The vast majority felt that online degrees from established brick-and-mortar institutions were far more preferable over online degrees from newer schools, such as Walden University, that are known for being mostly virtual. Also, many of the respondents felt that online degrees in general were of lower quality, which flies in the face of the established notion that online courses are more difficult because they require greater time management skills and self-discipline, and the fact that most the big name online schools are accredited. For entry-level employees, the negative perception of online degrees (and the notion that applicants who earned them are generally weaker in communication, motivation, and other factors) is less important, but applicants who seek positions of management are likely to run into barriers if they earned their degree over the Internet. Given that the number of future careers that require degrees is expected to outpace the number of applicants who have them, these prejudices will have to change.
A review of publications about employers' attitudes toward applicants with online degrees reveals that they are still quite hesitant. The employers' concerns center on a perceived laxity in online curricula, the missing social dimension, the ease with which students can cheat, the reputation of shady institutions, and the ineffable lessons learned by attending a university in-person. Both the accreditation and prestige of a program can compensate, however, as can an applicant's experience and motivation for pursuing an online degree (to gain a promotion, for example).
If you are a working adult, earning an online degree may be your best option. First and foremost, they offer convenience. Classes are not typically tied to specific times of the day and they do not require that students log on at any particular time. However, you should also be aware of how employers feel about an education received from a computer. Namely, online universities are a new phenomenon and many interviewers simply don't know enough about them. Details are everything. Make sure that the program is accredited and offers the same amount of work as a traditional course; in order words, make sure the school isn't a diploma mill. Employers will have the same concerns. Lastly, an online degree earned from a well-respected university that most people are familiar with may carry a lot more weight on your resume.
Online degree programs are harder and more worthy of respect than employers think. They require students who can attend class and do schoolwork without being constantly reminded by peers and teachers, and are actually better than traditional schools when it comes to networking: the Internet-based nature of the programs breaks down barriers of time and geography, and collaborative learning is a regular part of the curriculum. Already-established universities are aware of these advantages and starting to offer more and more online courses. In spite of all this, employers are still wary of applicants who graduate from web-based degree programs, which unfortunately means that companies are biased against the independently-minded and experienced non-traditional students they should be recruiting.
Employers and job recruiters were wise to be initially suspicious of online degrees, particularly MBAs, because of the number of degree mills and other factors, but should now take notice of the rising prestige of Internet-based programs. The University of North Carolina and the University of Indiana have recently begun offering online options for MBA students, and many institutions whose programs are primarily online, such as the Thunderbird School of Global Management, are now well-respected. There are still a few hurdles, such as the lack of in-person communication and the diminished experience from attending a physical campus or participating in an internship, but there is little doubt that web-based components are being treated much more seriously by prestigious universities. Employers should follow suit.
Full-time teachers at most of the country's major community colleges need teaching experience and a respectable CV, but, provided these requirements are secure, an online doctorate may be enough to become a faculty member at some of these institutions. The study that revealed this news contrasts sharply with other studies that show that rejection from 4-year colleges and research institutions is almost a foregone conclusion for professorial candidates whose resumes show that they earned their PhDs over the web. The main concerns of universities about applicants from online institutions are the socialization, readiness to teach in a traditional setting, one-on-one interactions with students, and the legitimacy of their degrees. These concerns were less important among 2-year colleges.
Job recruiters say their clients have different opinions about online programs, but in general, as long as an institution is accredited, there is no real difference between a online or offline certificate program. The same holds true for degrees as long as the university has some recognition, except that if an employer had to choose between equally qualified applicants, and one had an on-campus degree and the other graduated from an online program, the brick-and-mortar applicant would likely win out. In many cases, the circumstances behind an applicants choice to pursue an education on the Internet makes a difference as well. Many students, for example, take advantage of online universities to turn their associate's degrees into bachelor's degrees while working at the same time, a situation that many employers will understand.