The Quality of Online Degrees—Are They Worth It?

The Quality of Online Degrees—Are They Worth It?

Online degree programs are often tempting when you’re researching how to return to school. There’s certainly a convenience to taking classes at home, working at your own schedule, and still being able to go through life more or less how you did before. You won’t have to deal with parking permits or rush hour traffic that slows you down on the way to evening classes. This convenience does come at a price, however, and when you lay out all the advantages and disadvantages, you may find yourself still wondering: is an online degree really worth the investment? The answer will be different for everyone, but today we’ll address a few of the biggest concerns that might be keeping you from finally making the leap to get a degree.

Fear #1: Online Degrees Aren’t as Respected

One commonly voiced fear among people hesitant to approach an online degree is that the degree may not hold the same esteem as one from a brick and mortar college. There’s certainly been reason to think that way in the past; older bosses who weren’t aware of how times are changing could scoff at the idea of learning online. While it’s certainly true that the quality of an online degree can vary depending on where it’s from, that’s just as true of long-standing universities as well.

A degree from an Ivy League school will be looked upon more highly than your local community college. For most of us, however, the prestige of a degree from a top tier school simply isn’t that necessary in day-to-day work. If, for example, you work in an office, your coworkers may well hold business degrees, but how often does it matter where the degree was earned? Whether they were obtained from private universities or state universities or community colleges, the degree symbolizes a certain level of knowledge and attainment in a field, and that’s just as true of online degrees. For those particularly concerned with the way a degree looks, consider enrolling in an online degree program through a brick and mortar university. A degree earned in this manner will be no different than one you’d get from attending classes in person, while maintaining the convenience and accessibility of an online program.

Fear #2: You Can’t Get as Good of an Education Online

Similar to the above, this fear largely relates to an individual student’s perception of a program rather than how they fear a degree program might be viewed by employers. Means of distance learning have matured dramatically over the last 15 years since online degrees first became common, with learning suites and platforms such as Blackboard making it easier for both students and professors to keep track of assignments.

As bandwidth and streaming capabilities have developed, we have seen the advent of livestreamed seminars and telepresence classroom sessions, offering the same face-to-face opportunities that students have in a classroom setting to ask questions in real time. There’s also been an increased willingness to offer accreditation to online-only universities from accreditation boards, meaning that the programs offered are certified and regulated to provide the same level of education you’d get on campus. So long as you do your research and get an online degree from an accredited source that meets the standards for your profession, you’ll be just as well off as your colleagues.

Fear #3: Some Things Just Have to be Learned Hands-On

Many people who won’t consider an online degree will have some objection along the lines of, “reading about it on a computer will never teach you what you need to know in the real world.” And for this, they might actually have a point—and universities offering online degrees are already well aware of that. For business careers, an online degree is a pretty good fit; get the theory down in your online classes, and then pick up the real world experience on-the-job.

However, for some degrees, such as those related to medical professions, that approach simply won’t cut it. Schools with online degree programs in areas like nursing will often taken this into account, and include a practicum, clinical experience, or internship/externship through affiliated businesses or organizations in your area. If there’s not an affiliated group locally, then online universities will sometimes even work with other schools in your area to ensure that students get the valuable experiences they need. By handling the basics of an education and the theory at the heart of the field in online classes and giving students the opportunity to learn hands-on and put that to work when needed, online degree programs can still offer the full, robust education you’d expect.

Online degree programs have come a long way since their first appearance on the scene around the turn of the millennium. Even prestigious schools will offer courses or full degrees online, and degrees that have been earned online are less likely to be looked down upon than they once were. Advances in technology have brought the distance learning experience up to a level where it’s nearly the same as sitting in a classroom, ensuring that online students get the quality of education they would in person.

By partnering with businesses and other organizations in the fields they teach, online schools are able to offer the kind of hands-on learning that other universities do, no matter where you are in the world. These days, there’s no need to worry about online degrees being somehow lesser; the only thing left to do is make a commitment to your education.

For more articles, visit OD Blog.