Online Degrees: Educational Boon or Bust?
Technology and Higher Education
Technology changes everything it touches, and post-secondary education is no exception. Traditionally, a college hopeful could find no viable substitute for a brick-and-mortar classroom experience, leaving full-time workers and young parents with few practical options for pursing college degrees.
Today, institutions offering online degree programs are more popular than ever. Some notable online institutions include: University of Phoenix, Pittsburgh Institute of Art, and Kaplan University. On a local level, many community colleges are offering a variety of courses online so their students can more effectively balance work, school, and family life.
What about employers?
But do employers really take these online degrees seriously? If graduates of such institutions can’t land a job, or end up being unable to get into a desired graduate school, what was the point in spending thousands of dollars on an online degree?
Employers generally look at three things:
The school must be accredited through a regional accreditation association. Institutions accredited through national accreditation associations are usually less acceptable to both employers and other colleges. They are generally associated with having a profit motive, and often only offer technical certifications. Regional accreditation is reserved for respected universities, and the standards are often more stringent.
- Profit Motive
Employers may be suspicious of degrees from for-profit educational institutions. These may be less selective, and may also be more likely to inflate grades.
- School Reputation
Brick and mortar institutions back their degrees up with reputations that have been built over many years. Online schools are much more of an unknown quantity. The quality of their graduates is still unproven to many employers. Employers consider this strongly when assessing candidates. All other things being equal, the candidate from the more established institution will get the job over the candidate who attended an unproven, online school.
Bottom line: At present, exclusively online institutions are a riskier investment. Tuition fees aren’t much lower than those of a state university. And graduate employment rates aren’t nearly as promising.
The Third Option
Luckily for the busy student, there is a third option. Many traditional schools are expanding their degree programs to include online degrees. Pittsburgh Institute of Art is just one example of many that have incorporated online courses and whole degree programs into their list of educational options. The degree you would receive from such a program would look no different than the degree obtained by physically attending the classes.
For the student that needs the flexibility offered by remote learning, looking into these types of programs is probably the best bet.
In the future, it is likely that online degrees will gain more acceptance in business circles. Until then, college hopefuls must be aware of the pitfalls associated with choosing the wrong educational institution. Employers would also be wise to educate themselves concerning the different online universities. A solid applicant might be passed over simply because they didn’t attend the “right” college or university. In that case, both the employer and the job candidate would lose out.