Is an Online Degree Right for You?

students

Doc Seidman Says…

…Years ago, completing a college degree online didn’t exist. It wasn’t even an option. As the years went by, and online learning began to take shape, the reputation of an online college was only so-so at best. Traditionalists scoffed at their innovative approach to teaching and learning. Online colleges were widely criticized as not being robust enough, or simply being a “fake” education. And to a certain degree those criticisms were correct. Many, if not most online degrees were not worth the paper their diplomas were printed on. Employers and graduate schools shunned their validity. The degree was practically worthless.

Today, that has changed; and changed in a big way.

As of 2018 there are more than 28,589 fully accredit online programs at the associates, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral level as well as various certificate programs. The colleges and programs range from the elite (Columbia University) to the not so elite (Argosy University). As expected, tuition varies with each college, but research shows an average tuition of just over $23,000 a year. This is still a costly investment, but it is a bit less expensive a face-to-face counterpart.

An obvious advantage of attending school online is that it gives students a lot of flexibility. If you are a morning person, you can do your coursework in the morning and be done with it by the afternoon. If you are a night person, you can do your work at night. It does not matter when the work gets done because in most cases there are no designated class meeting times. Students are completely on their own as to when to get their classwork done. For anyone that has a job or other important daily obligation, this can be extremely valuable.

Another advantage taking classes online is there it eliminates commuting back and forth to campus. No bus fare to purchase or parking passes to buy. Additionally, you one need not pay for an on-campus dorm room or any type of housing near campus. No student meal plan to purchase either. In other words, online students are free from whatever ancillary costs there are to attend college other than tuition and related fees. Over the two, three, four, five years or beyond that someone is enrolled, that can be a significant savings.

So, what’s the downside?

To many, the biggest downside is the online classroom environment reduces personal interactions with classmates and/or the professor. True, there are discussion boards and other forums students can use to interreact with each other, but they do not totally replace a face-to-face meeting with classmates. As many professors will tell you, myself included, the college experience is much more than learning from the professor. The learning experienced outside of the classroom through friendships and experiences can be much more valuable than what you learn inside the classroom.

Another disadvantage is if a student is someone who needs to learn from physically sitting in a class in front of a teacher, the online class might be more difficult. A big difference in an American college from an American high school is the independence and self-motivation the college classroom requires. Students may see the professor only a few times a week. In many cases a professor sees his or her role as a disseminator of knowledge and not someone who feels obliged to constantly reminding students of the class responsibilities. That is usually left to the student. If a student is not someone who thrives in a self-directed learning environment, the online classroom experience could be a problem.  Furthermore, each online instructor may teach multiple classes maybe even in multiple colleges. He or she may have hundreds of students. Students might just become a number. It’s easy for a student to get lost in the crowd.

Another limitation is the effectiveness of student support services. In the online environment support services may not be as effective as in the more traditional, face-to-face environment. The occasional email from your financial advisor is nowhere near as powerful than the face-to-face interview. Need tutoring in math? Your college level English isn’t that strong and it is bringing your grades down? Granted, the online colleges have tutoring and support for this, but again, the cyber assistance you will receive is nowhere near as powerful as sitting directly in front of your tutor.

Do you thrive in clubs and organizations? Were you president of the student body in high school? Online programs don’t provide you that experience. Is athletic competition important to you? Perhaps you were on the football team in high school, or you were even a cheerleader. No pads and pompoms in your online school. It’s just you and your laptop. If extracurricular activities are an important part of the college experience, the online program is clearly not as fulfilling.

Is an online education right for you?

That clearly depends on whatever the individual circumstances are. For many students it is a viable way forward, for others, the limitations outweigh the advantages. Many students attempt to online courses or programs and do not succeed. They quickly discover that their style of learning is not compatible with an online class. Moreover, student might enroll in a subpar program, making a significant investment, and fail to complete it. Many do complete it, however, and find that the poor reputation of the college and/or program do little to advance their career.

When making this decision, or any other college decision for that matter, it is important to carefully consider all options. In most cases, not succeeding as an online students is worse than not attempting it at all.