Earning A Degree Online
A road and woods stretch behind a church early Friday, May 11, 2012, that is near the location where two kidnapped Tennessee girls were rescued and the man accused of abducting them and killing their mother and older sister shot himself, in Guntown, Miss. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz) / Adrian Sainz
The online student population is expanding by 30 percent a year, with over 75 percent of traditional colleges and universities getting into the market, according to experts. With the Internet, distance degrees have become a viable and valuable option for the individual who may not be able to enroll full-time in a traditional brick-and-mortar institution.
Early Show contributor and AOL adviser Regina Lewis visited The Early Show to explain how widespread online degrees are.
She says online learning has become enormously popular in recent years. Approximately 4 million students are involved in "distance" or online coursework at U.S. colleges and universities, according to The Distance Education and Training Council.
And now, in an increasingly "connected" world, it shows no sign of slowing down. It is becoming the way to learn, and while it's hard to describe a "typical" student, Lewis says the appeal is clear.
A degree obtain by taking online courses is as respected as a degree from a traditional college, says Lewis. According to studies done by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, compared to traditional students, distance learners do as well or better in courses and on tests. Human resources executives agreed students who go to school online after work or while balancing family life demonstrate a particular ambition and resourcefulness that would be an asset in the work place.
Lewis says as long as the college or university is known and respected, the degree is regarded in the same light, whether completed online or in the classroom. Online programs have worked long and hard to make this the case, particularly in schools like the University of Phoenix, which pioneered much of online learning. And now students are reaping the benefits. Many top tier universities such as Duke and New York University are also getting in the game and validating the trend by offering online courses.
Lewis says there are multiple reasons why getting a degree through the Internet is so attractive for some. Here are some of those reasons:
- The Economy: Lewis says the main driver for increase interest for online courses is the sluggish economy. Not only are current unemployment rates higher for non-college graduates, but the earning potential between degree holders and non-degree holders is extreme. The average earnings for those holding bachelor's degrees are 50 percent higher than the averages of those with only a high school degree, according to the Department of Education.
Education clearly pays, so as the sluggish economy continues, new students are flocking back to school to get their degree. So, when they re-enter the market they'll land a better job and command a higher salary.
- Flexibility: Some may have a house to run, kids to rear, a day job or multiple responsibilities. Flexibility and the ability to balance home, work and travel, not to mention the opportunity to study from anywhere you can carry your laptop, make studying online particularly attractive, says Lewis.
- Availability: Also critical to the explosion in the online field is the increasing number of programs and courses now available. About 86 percent of colleges now offer some sort of online program, according to reports. And, overseas students are joining the crowd. As it becomes more difficult for international students to obtain student visas, online learning becomes an alternative option.
Since September 11, 2001, the number of overseas inquires about online learning has jumped 40 percent.
- Quality: With so many classes available, people with a particular interest in hospitality management, for example, can now take classes at Cornell's famous program. The online program is called eCornell. Other specialized programs from top tier universities are also online such as business and economics from the London School of Economics and nursing from Duke University.
Lewis says online courses are also a fabulous way of staying on top of dynamic fields such as computer science, electronics engineering or other technical fields.
There is no way around hard work, however. Lewis says online students have to apply themselves — just as a student in a class would have to.
The course work is distributed online. It is often posted on Web sites along with related articles, links to watch lectures (this increases exposure to the world's best lecturers) and other supporting material. In many ways the Internet is ideally suited to bring together all kinds of learning tools.
Papers are submitted online. Instead of handing it in, students e-mail it. Some online courses are "synchronous" requiring teachers and students to participate at the same time using real time videoconferencing, but most are "asynchronous" allowing you to work at your own time and pace, which Lewis says is the real draw. Typically professors hold "office hours" in Internet chat rooms and are available by e-mail, too.
Lewis also says one of the most important elements of the classroom is student camaraderie, and this is fostered online by encouraging student discussion and idea exchange on message boards and in chat rooms. Most students who take online courses say they often feel closer and more connected to people in their online courses than they do to people they sit next to in-person in lecture halls.
Lewis recommends to consider the following about pursuing a degree online:
Tuition for online programs is usually comparable to traditional on-campus programs. Lewis says online students don't usually save on courses, although they do have the ability to keep their day jobs and avoid room and board, plus save on transportation expenses.