Are online graduate degrees credible

Fifty years ago, a bachelor’s degree was respectable, a master’s was amazing, and a doctorate was almost unheard of. Today, industry demands a college education along with a few years experience or a graduate degree. With increased college enrollment in the past twenty years, undergrad degrees just aren’t as competitive as they used to be. For many students, online graduate study could be the answer to this problem.

Online degrees depict a dream life. Consider a world without early classes, stale lectures, or scribbled notes. Have you ever wished it? I have. But while ‘distance education’ can limit a student’s early mornings, it isn’t a stress-free life. “Fighting for time with the professor” and “sensing an absolute seclusion from campus” are only a few problems one Berkeley grad encountered. Absence from campus can effect more than one’s social life, relationships with professors can suffer, which may impact future job references. But students like Lora Thompson at Illinois U who overcome such dilemmas are able to finish their degrees at their own pace.

Students have two types of educational institution choices in online study: the distance learning department of traditional schools or online only universities. Traditional schools like NYU and Johns Hopkins continue to assign funds into online masters degrees in instructional design and public health. Many state schools like Texas and Virginia have masters in business and education, which tend to be the popular online degrees nationwide. And since online students have access to campus facilities, in a sense, you can have your cake and eat it too.

The new kid on the collegiate block is the online university. Institutions like the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, solely dedicated to online programs have become the new craze in graduate study. With a 70% increased enrollment from last year, Phoenix alone is flexing the muscle of these new schools. The National Education Association (NEA) comments that, “these schools are the future of online graduate studies.” Without athletic departments or student newspapers, online schools focus all their energy into real-life education, discarding the “ivory tower experience” of traditional universities.

Even if the online life does sound appealing, it’s not for everyone. Most successful online students are married or have a full-time job. The traditional grad student like Jane Gail from Stanford may miss “the camaraderie and group learning that being on-campus provides.” But for certain students the online discussions and class chat rooms that many programs provide are more compatible with their schedule. Determining the optimal online student has nothing to do with age, sex, or intelligence, but everything to do with study habits, social life, and responsibilities.

Past financial aid scandals and the feeble accreditation of some online schools and programs have hindered the credibility of distance education and kept the ‘degree mill’ stereotype attached to this learning method.

The cost of tuition continues to hamper online degrees, too. On average, an online MBA program costs $22,000. While this is probably $15,000 cheaper than Harvard Business School, it is twice the in-state rate at Georgia Tech. But this is the tendency for all online programs: cheaper than the elite but costlier than state. The problem with this as one professor noted is that “students pay for faculty reputation in traditional programs.” This doesn’t exist online.

While online grad study is booming with Beanie Baby popularity, grad courses still only make up 16% of all e-learning offerings; and programs in the humanities- the most popular undergraduate fields are just starting to gain traction. It’s true, online degrees present comfortable options but to ensure you’re a successful online student, make sure that you are well-suited to the program you choose as well as its method of delivery.