Online Degrees: Legit Contenders or Weak Pretenders?

If you’re like me, you can’t be on the Web for five minutes without coming face-to-face with about 85 different flashing banner ads for online degrees and colleges. In fact, there’s an excellent chance that as you read this, there’s an ad fitting that description in the top right corner of this very page (and if there’s not, there probably will be on the next post you read). I’ve explained why these ads are everywhere in a previous post about affiliate marketing and why thousands of Internet nerds want you to fill out interest forms for University of Phoenix and the like.

Natalie wants to know more about this whole online-school situation. She writes:

Hey Judge Josh,

I was just trying to search through your advice articles and and noticed I couldn’t find anything on online colleges or online degree programs. This is something that I’ve been wondering about for a while, so thought I’d bring it up to you since now it’s actually something I might go for, but I want to make sure it’s the right decision.

Look at me! I can do my homework in my living room, standing up, with one hand, while I hold a yellow piece of paper with my other hand! And I have a pencil cup!

My local community college just signed an “articulation agreement” with University of Maryland University College (basically the cyber-college of the UMD system). I noticed that Full Sail University also has an online program for music business that I’d love to take since that’s a degree hard to come by in Texas, but would it carry the same weight as an on-campus degree from the same school, the UMD system, or one of similar prestige? Would a future employer be as impressed with an online degree?


And thank you, Natalie. Well, this is one of those giant-can-of-worms subjects, so although I’ll try to be brief, this one does require a bit of background info.

Online schools, most of them for-profit, have exploded over the last 10 years as you well know. And for good reason. As all of their marketing departments will tell you, they are indeed “ideal for busy professionals” since you can do the coursework on the Web whenever times allows, you don’t have to drive to campus every week, etc.

The colleges themselves love online courses for a similar reason: they’re cheap as hell to offer. If all your students are at home on their computers, then you don’t need to buy giant swaths of real estate and spend tens of millions of dollars on gleaming student centers and modern dormitories and swank classrooms in lovely new buildings named after famous alumni or rich alumni donors. Hell, the professor doesn’t need to come in, either. She can stay home and grade your work in her sweatpants (or, pajamas, or the nude, or a mascot costume, or whatever you people wear when you’re studying at home these days).

BUT, of course, you’re gonna pay the same expensive tuition (or very close) for online courses. Yeah, see how that works? 🙂 No wonder colleges love the Internet, eh?

Yeah, so certainly there are some obvious upsides to online education. There are also some obvious downsides. If you’re the type of person who needs to ask a lot of clarification questions as you go, then the computer screen isn’t a good substitute for an in-the-flesh instructor. And certain subjects are not good fits for learning online. Psychology and sociology are probably fine. If you’re learning to speak Chinese, then online probably won’t cut it.

But none of this matters a lick if the quality of the online colleges and degrees doesn’t measure up to that of their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Do they? Well, I’m afraid you get the same unsatisfying-but-true answer that you get a lot of the time around here — it depends. 🙂

Some do and some don’t — just like traditional, public, brick-and-mortar schools, some are outstanding and some are a giant waste of money and a giant majority of them are somewhere in between. Since online schools started to become popular, a heated debate has ensued about the quality of the online degrees — whether they are, as my wonderfully witty trite headline suggests, legit contenders or weak pretenders.

You should not be shocked to learn that one side of that debate tends to deride and belittle the online schools as low-rent, inferior imitations of traditional university degrees. You should be even less shocked to learn that a majority of those people represent traditional universities and their traditional degrees. Higher education is big business, and online education is a great disruptor of that business by siphoning off students.

Naturally, traditional colleges would love to stop that from happening, and discrediting the quality of the education is a great strategy to that end. That doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes correct, and that sometimes online schools (or other for-profit schools that are brick and mortar) don’t have bad faculty or curricula. Surely some do; just make sure you consider the source and the source’s motivation when you hear those types of accusations.

One thing’s for sure: the traditional method of delivering a college education is being choked to death, it’s turning blue and it doesn’t have much time left. I’m talking about the old model of One Guy With All the Knowledge (your professor) delivering All the Knowledge to a group of you Grasshopper Students via a lecture hall, and then having all the Grasshopper Students memorize that knowledge and then regurgitate it to the One Guy in a test or paper.

The for-profits, in my opinion, seem to be a little bit more hands-on, and I think that’s excellent and necessary and I hope it shakes the tree of traditional education enough so that they’ll follow suit. I also think it’s natural, given that a lot of the for-profits and online schools tend to host both students and teachers who have a lot of professional work experience, whereas our traditional universities are stocked with highly educated men and women who have never worked outside a university teaching role.

And that’s fine for certain areas of study: the humanities and the sciences come to mind. But for majors and degrees that are more vocationally focused — and I’m talking about anything from business to criminal justice to nursing to auto mechanics, and plenty more — then it’s hard to argue that a teacher who has extensive work experience in the field does not bring a superior knowledge base to the classroom. (Now, whether they’re any good at actually TEACHING you any of what they know is an entirely different question…check for that).

So, I know that’s a big fat non-definitive answer for you, Natalie, but I guess that’s the way of the world. I would give you some generic advice, though, that I think can apply to your and most other people’s situations:

1) Research the online school/degree you’re looking into. This is a given, I know, but worth repeating. Ask people who already work in the field what they and the people who manage their hiring think about the program — in this case, the music-business program at Full Sail.

2) Research the professors. Look them up on the professor-rating sites, and of course on the school’s website itself. What are their credentials? Where have they worked, and what degrees do they hold? This is a good starting point. Then use your old friend Google and check them out. Are they respected in their own field? Do they hit the speaker’s circuit, do they publish papers? You don’t need a “yes” on every single question here, but these are just areas where you can start to flesh out the people behind the school.

3) Be sure that federal financial aid is available at the online college you’re looking at. Look up the school’s FAFSA codes here so you’ll know that it’s eligible for federal funds.

4) If you’re still in doubt, stick to reputable institutions. The category-killer of all online schools is obviously the University of Phoenix. U of P actually runs a side business teaching traditional universities how to design and implement online courses and degrees, so they definitely are the leader in infrastructure and experience in that regard. Other online programs that I’m familiar with and feel comfortable saying are legit programs are: Capella University, Westwood College, Full Sail, American Intercontinental, Devry and Western International University.

(I’ve not attended or worked for any of these, mind you, but I’m familiar enough with them that I don’t have any hesitation recommending them as legit programs, knowing you won’t trust my advice anymore if I’m wrong).

More than anything, employers by and large are more impressed with what you can do than where you got your degree. Because online degrees are newer, some employers are going to have to be convinced that online education can hold up to traditional education; however, those that have come before you are doing a pretty good job of convincing them.

Bottom line: If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t be afraid to go to an online school, especially if, as is your case, the program you want isn’t being offered at a brick-and-mortar nearby.

That’s my two cents on the subject (more like four cents, looking at the length of this thing). What do you all think? Let us know in the comments below. Have a good night!

31 thoughts on “Online Degrees: Legit Contenders or Weak Pretenders?”

  1. I am thinking about going to online grad school when I finish undergrad sometime in the next two years. Some of the pluses of online school is it will let you keep your busy lifestyle and schools are starting to offer them because they are better for the environment. I have a relative who goes because she is a mom of four boys and she loves going since she feels this is the best way for her to gain an education. This summer I will be taking my seventh online class from my school that I live on campus at during the school year and one of those classes I took is only offered online. In my opinion online classes are harder because you have to be dedicated and an extremely independent learner. Also the night owl in me loves to make posts in discussion boards at 2 A.M. Employeers could look at those facts as something that puts you ahead of the rest. I would say if it is something you truly want go for it!

  2. I’m currently a student at Full Sail University in their Internet Marketing Bachelor’s Degree program. In the past I have attended traditional schools (Univ. of New Orleans & Delgado Community College) and for 1 semester ITT Technical Institute. I have to say that Full Sail’s curriculum is the most demanding I have ever encountered. I’m currently married, have two kids, and work from home and without the ability to attend classes online I would not have been able to go back to school. I also specifically wanted instruction in internet marketing and Full Sail was the only program offering it at the bachelor’s level.

    I did hours and hours of research and found both good and bad reviews of the school online. I even interviewed a student currently in the program that I was introduced to through an expert in the SEO field. I was actually discouraged by that same expert from spending the 45K dollars it was going to take to complete the program. He surmised that the information was available for free online. I agreed but the problem was I didn’t have the time or expertise to filter through the good and the bad information. I’m paying to having that information filtered and then laid in a path before me so that I can master it. The bonus is that when I’m done I not only know the information but I get a degree too.

    I have already used what I have learned in school, and on my own, to get a job. I’ve also had some of my work reviewed by others that said they would’ve hired me if there was an opening on their staff. These are not just idle comments offered to assuage my ego either. I know, trust, and respect these people.

    The music business degree program at Full Sail is very respected in the business. Contact record companies, producers, music PR people, and ask around. Just be sure that is what you want to do. I have been considering grad school after graduation and because of the way Full Sail is accredited my grad school options are limited. It is not a knock against Full Sail but it is something you need to be aware of and consider when making your decision.

  3. I have to disagree with the “go for it” posts that have surfaced thus far. The TV show Frontline had a special on for-profit online universities. From blurb “Frontline reports on the aggressive recruiting practices of the colleges, as well as the smoke-and-mirrors approach to education and lack of student support and resources.” To see more, check out this website:

    I especially urge prospective nurses watch this special as there is a segment on these more technical (practice-needed) fields. Of note, some of these schools don’t give their nursing majors real field experience, which makes it nearly impossible to land real nursing jobs. I think you can find this special on Netflix.

    I would generally recommend “traditional students” (i.e., those entering college right out of high school) steer clear of the online university deal. If you choose to continue living with mom and dad for four more years to attend online college, you will miss out on a lot of rich experiences that are priceless, and you still end up paying about the same in the end. In other words, there are cheap state schools out there that beat the cost of online universites… especially when you add the value of being a part of the university culture while you study.

    If you’re a non-traditional student who wants to pick up a degree while working full-time, then fine; especially if your work is picking up the tab.

    In the case of necessity (i.e., none of your state universities offers the major you want, but an online one does), I’d consider moving. If there aren’t enough Music Business kids in Texas for any school to feel the need to cater to them, then you’re in the wrong state for a Music Business education. It would benefit you to get around like-minded people. If you’re not tied down to a physical location, let your interests determine your school (even if it’s in Oklahoma). You might even get a break on out-of-state tuition if you explain your home state doesn’t offer the major you need.

  4. I have to disagree about U of P. It has gotten a deserved bad rep. for its online and many of its onground degrees. It has become a diploma mill and many employers do not consider a U of P degree as valid.

    A large part of the problem is the profit motive. Some of the better universities lose sight of providing a quality degree program when they add an online component.

    A good place to check out is Wikipedia’s link on diploma mills, but it is nowhere definitive. Another good place is the State of Oregon’s school acceptance program. It shows which schools the State of Oregon consider diploma mills; these schools are consider valid degrees by Oregon for employment purposes.

  5. Catrina,

    It is not how much you gain in skills and knowledge, it is how valuable employers view your degree.


    Do you need the degree? Is it required for your expected employment field? Will the employer accept the degree from that school?

    If yes, then do the research. There are a number of schools that offer less expensive online programs. U of South Carolina offers online courses that are cheaper than their onground in-state rates.

    Find out how many, and which, courses you can transfer to your target school. Some schools won’t let you transfer in any, or any degree specific. Find the cheapest ways to get those courses completed.

  6. Having actually attended an online university, I would like to give my perspective. It has been a wonderful experience overall, and I felt that many of my classes held me to higher standards than a regular university (which I attended first). Western Governors University, where I will be graduating this July, is both affordable and highly accredited. The university is self-paced, but mentors provide needed accountability. It is competency based, meaning you have to prove competence in each area required for graduation rather than taking specific classes. For areas in which you have experience, you can prove it by submitting the assignments. All areas have learning resources which include textbooks, online interactive seminars, phone conferences, and many more. Compared to U of P, I think WGU provides much better preparation for real-life work, and has better credentials. It’s also a non-profit state university, so it is affordable as well. The main drawback is the limited number of degree programs offered.

    1. Esther

      Thank you for your kind remarks about WGU. I am a Business Mentor/Faculty at WGU ( Many of these post concentrate on the for profit aspects of online education. WGU is a non-profit, competency based university who works directly with the student.
      The cost of higher education is increasing every year. WGU continues to offer affordable higher education to the working adult. I plan on sending my daughter to WGU when she graduates from high school next month. She has been accepted at three colleges, but even with scholarships, grants and loans, the costs of private tuition are out of the range of my faculty salary.

  7. I’m pursuing an online degree myself and I know that if I can take the skills and knowledge I’m learning and applying them with great prowess, I can be as successful as anyone with a traditional degree. It’s not about where you get your education. It’s how you use it and how well you use it.

  8. I went to the University of Phoenix and found out all of the professors online have to teach in the traditional college BEFORE they teach online. I like online colleges and I have a disability but online cant see your disability and to me this is great. The degree is just as stressful as a traditional school most of the time you do research papers and not tests. If your like a group setting go to the University of Phoenix and they specialize in teamwork which is good for some people.

  9. Emily Odermatt

    I’m a nursing student, so I kinda get what the Justice is saying; moreover, having friends in the music biz, I would say the majority of it is entrepreneurship; having said that, if you can intern for online-school credit, you may be taken more seriously. If you’re working in something related and doing your online degree, great! I would hesitate to just be waitressing, coming home, and doing the credits semester by semester, for the prestige reasons you speak of, unless you have personal circumstances.

  10. I’m looking into an online school after I get a certificate in paralegal studies. I’ll study what I want to go into (scriptwriting) while holding a pretty steady job in a good field.
    The “get a job” part is accomplished and I can be secure finacially without getting into oodles of debt and the “get the dream” part can happen in a more stable enviroment. Not to mention getting any BA will work for me as a paralegal.

    I think it’s important to remember school is a tool. It works if you use it right, but handle with caution. Depending on your major and level of maturity online school might be the better path for someone looking into a flexible way to do college. 🙂

  11. I seriously considered attending an online program while I was choosing grad schools to apply for, so I did some research on them. I’ve also taken a couple of online continuing education courses. One thing I haven’t seen anybody in these comments mention yet is that an online university isn’t the only option for attending school online. A lot of traditional, brick-and-mortar institutions–highly reputable, even prestigious ones–offer an increasing array of degrees and classes online.

    This is a *fantastic* option. In many cases, these courses are taught by the same profs who’re teaching the in-person courses on campus that semester. They are typically equivalent to the same degree earned on-campus. In fact, in many cases the fact that you attended online rather than in-person isn’t even noted, and once you are enrolled, many universities allow you to take courses in-person as well as online. If you live close enough, this means you can tailor your schedule to suit yourself *and* still get that special face-to-face touch. Also, nothing’s stopping you from visiting the campus in-person to talk to your profs face-to-face, attend events and network like the other students.

    It’s also worth noting that these days, many funding sources (including scholarships!) are applicable toward online study as well as on-campus, so don’t short yourself by not hitting up every source of money you can find.

    The big question is, all other things being equal, what might you be missing out on if you’re not there in person? Well, there’s always a level of interaction and familiarity in the flesh that won’t be there online. However, my experience was that if you’re willing to make the effort to communicate (a valuable skill in itself!), you may actually find yourself interacting with your instructor and classmates *more* than in a traditional classroom. Online courses favor a lot of group and project work, to make up for the lack of classroom interaction, and you’re likely to pick up additional technological skills from doing all your work on the computer–both of which are valuable. So, you might miss out on networking and spontaneous experiences, but you’re likely to gain other benefits in return.

    If you’re the kind of person who needs that extra push to get things done, though, online study might be hard for you. You still have to do the work, after all, and you’re even more solely responsible for motivating yourself to do so than if you attend in-person.

    Oh, and one other thing about online programs from traditional universities–a lot of them have deals with each other these days, so that if you’re enrolled in an online program at one university, it may be possible to take additional online courses at other affiliated universities! The WISE Consortium ( is an example of this. Powerful stuff.

  12. Just as a side note… For-profit colleges are not cheaper or equally expensive as traditional colleges; they are MORE expensive. Unlike traditional colleges, where your tuition and fees are actually a small portion of the proceeds that benefit the college you attend (significantly larger at private than public institutions, obviously), a for-profit college is funded by TWO sources: you (the student) and stockholders.

    In every single situation I have read so far here, the BIG question comes down to how much your degree is worth to you. If you have to go into debt for your education, you need to (1) know that debt is an investment, which you can only know if you are pursuing a degree you WANT, and (1) be prepared to pay that debt.

    Why am I talking about debt? 45k (cost someone above posted for degree completion at Full Sail) is not chump change… You are just as likely to spend that much attending an out-of-state college that offers your degree program the “traditional” way.

    Hoping this helps,

  13. Natalie,

    I am a Music Business (Bandier Program) major at Syracuse University. Although online courses may seem cheaper, nothing compares to the hands-on experience. It helps you with networking meaning you’ll make great connections, thus increasing the chances of getting an internship and even a job.

    In the end it is up to you, but I would not give up my spot for an entire college career online. Although getting a few out of the way over the summer definitely helps!

  14. well from my experience, i have seen many people do well with online degrees. Once you have the paper, the school doesn’t seem to weigh in too heavily, unless you are trying for much higher end jobs.

    For those without a degree and short on funds, on online degree is recommended.

  15. I agree with most of what the author is saying regarding distance learning. I started out at a traditional college for my associates degree. I then attended a traditional university, Cal State and found it okay but was unable to compare it to online school at the time. I got really busy with my private investigation firm and needed to finish my education before my GI Bill ran out so I attended American Military University. I just graduated with my BA in Intelligence Studies with a 3.69 GPA and it was no small feat. If you don’t like writing, then you do not want to go through an online school or any school for that matter but if working all week, studying at night and then completing assignments throughout the week and on the weekend for a little over 2 years to get a degree appeals to you then I say go for it.

    Here is another difference I found between traditional college and online. Students and even Professors at traditional universities are interested in getting out of class early. My thinking is that I paid good money for a quality college education and I think that the instructor should be professional enough to be able to lecture long enough to meet the time requirement for each course.

    Finally, the major difference between traditional and online colleges would be the methodology behind learning. In traditional colleges, too much emphasis is put on memorization of material just to regurgitate it on quiz or test day. Online college emphasizes research, analysis and application skills as well as writing ability. In my humble opinion, I feel that the research and analysis is more important than memorization as most jobs, including my current profession of private investigator, require you to research and then apply the subject to your work.

    I was looking at the MBA-Finance programs in my area and found that the online curriculum was still more conducive to my situation and I felt that I would learn more through attending the Masters program at AMU.

    Hope that helps,

    Ray M.
    California Licensed Private Investigator #25445
    Current AMU Student – MBA-Finance

  16. Grace – Thanks for your comment as a Music Business major. I’ve already done quite a bit of networking myself, as I’m really involved in my local music scene, and have made friends with an extremely well-known band in Austin whose encouraging me to get my education, move to the city, and hopefully as their career is taking off, they’ll be able to help me with mine too. But I do agree with those of you arguing with the traditional on-campus degree. I don’t want to miss out on the college experience and I don’t want to live with my parents for another four years, however they aren’t helping me pay for my education which means EVERYTHING is coming out of my pocket (which currently houses about $5 and a pack of melted gum because I wasn’t given any forewarning to save any of my money…which still wouldn’t be much…)

    Like I said, my local community college (which has on-campus and distance learning classes and is CHEAP) has signed an agreement with University of Maryland-University College which has all the subjects I’m interested in online and a scholarship for graduates from my community college. University of Maryland is obviously a reputable college system by itself, I just hope that it carries over to their online university. Thanks everyone for your comments, thanks Judge Josh for writing your ever-obscure response to my question, I need to go do some researching and e-mailing UMUC peeps to find out about their alumni and find out of my community college credits are only valid at University College or if they transfer to others in the UMD system (I reallyreallyreally wanna go to their College Park or Baltimore County campus, especially since Baltimore is the number-two punk music Mecca of the east).

    Thanks again everyone!

    1. Hi Natalie,
      I am a student at an online university and I think that one thing that people have not researched enough to be giving you feedback is the actual class curriculum. I go to AIU and my husband goes to IADT- both online- and we both have online live chats with our instructors where we can, with the aid of a microphone and web-cam, talk and ask question in real time to our instructors. The only difference is the convenience of learning in my PJ’s. I think that you should start talking to the companies that you want to work for. That is what I did, I asked people in charge of hiring if they had two candidates that had equal qualifications one from an online school and another from a brick and mortar school, which would they be more apt to hire? In my case I was told that where you receive your degree is not the issue, it is what you are capable of doing with that degree. to that end I would say that an online program has the advantage because you are being taught by industry professionals and not just teachers, so your real world experience can be more extensive. I know that my husband’s and mine are- both of our department heads are the leading professionals in the fields that we are taking. My advice to you is to research the online program thoroughly. I am a member of three clubs in my online program and I am friends with several (at least 30) fellow students and alumni in the business world so my networking is all over the country. I have developed relationships with my professors and advisers and enrollment executives. I am on the dean’s list and will graduate with honors, I think that all in all my online experience is just as rich as other peoples on campus brick and mortar experience. I hope you find the right choice for you. Good luck.

  17. I just graduated from online classes where my institute is recognized in the state, my degree does not look any different from the kids who went to classes. I even went to graduation with the rest of my class. I thought about this very issue when I started to school four years ago. I would never go to a school that does not have a physcial address and who does not have a reputation within the college community. Why get a degree that other colleges do not recognize.
    I do intend on continuing in my classes, so grad school starts this fall. I will say that if you need a teacher to help you, this is not for you. On line classes are for people who can understand most of the subject without the teacher. The teacher may guide with some input in discussion areas, but you are on your own to learn. That is not to say that some classes are not interactive. I had one philosophy class that was actually the teacher giving lectures online that we accessed. It was as if we were in his class just on line. That was great, but we had no way to really ask questions.
    If you are thinking about online, you also have to remember it is more expensive. You pay by the credit and there is no maximum amount charged like when you go to campus. You also have access fees you have to pay and other things like having to keep your computer updated with software so that the teachers can access your word documents that you send in. It is also very easy to forget when you are suppose to finish assignments, so if your not organized and committed to the process you will get behind and that hurts because there are no make up tests.
    If you want to do the online thing, do your research be sure the school has the proper credentials. Check with other instituations about acceptance of those credits and check with your state. Here in Tennessee, there is something called RODP and it is an agreement with many colleges and Universities. I think I got a better education because I was able to connect with people all over the state and had teachers from everywhere. You don’t get that in classes. It was a good investment and I will continue because I love to learn and that is why I am going to school. I am not interested in making millions, I just want to prove that I can do this for myself.

  18. Some traditional colleges, like my college, offer at least some online degrees. Since most traditional colleges are accredited, you can be certain that the degree would be legitimate. You should beware online colleges that are degree mills. Degree mills are online universities that offer a degree for having done little or no coursework. These colleges are scams. In my town, there was a big controversy over the person hired to be the chief of the school system’s police force because had a degree from a degree mill called Columbus University. He was still hired, but I do not imagine that would happen in most places, so you should watch out for something like that.

    1. Do the research before attending any college. The college/university must be regionally accredited by the Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This information should be posted on the college website and easy to locate.

      I see many posts bashing online colleges. It is not different than attending a traditional college. The only thing that is different is the modality. You still have to do the work. The college/unversity still had to be meet degree approval, if not higher guidelines from the Department of Educaton. Higher education institutions work hard to maintain regional accreditation. They are not willing to jeopardize the accreditation. They strive for excellence for the university and their students.

      Online is not for everyone. Some degree programs and courses should be taken in the traditional manner, but for those who prefer online because of convenience and flexibilty – allow them to complete their educational goals accordingly. It is a major accomplishment no matter the modality in which it is obtained.

      Remember the school will need to be accredited (depending on the location of the school) by one of the following:

      Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools

      · New England Association of Colleges and Schools

      · North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

      · Northwest Association of Colleges and Schools

      · Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

      · Western Association of Colleges and Schools

  19. I am currently taking a few of my classes online, but they are through a community college in my town. It is just like homeschooling for college, and some people assume that it is easy because by me doing online classes I have my books right there for tests, quizzes, etc. But believe me it is not all that easy. It is a challenge because I do have to teach myself some of the lessons that I have to learn for my classes. And although all of my regular assignments are online most of my tests are on campus. So, it is not all about using my book and notes because I do have to know the material for exams, midterms, and even some regular tests. Online college to me is just as worthy as taking classes on a campus.

  20. Online programs can be a great choice, it just requires some research to find the best fit. I live in the Rocky Mountains yet am nearing completion of an AS degree from a community college in New York State because they offer all course requirements online. With already having two degrees through the state’s university system, I have confidence in the validity of the program. Attending a good school from anywhere is possible.

  21. Natalie, my advice to you is to do well to attend an on-campus school so you can interact with real people. This way you can get your money’s worth since online students pay the same amount as the students of the traditional system. Also, you get to know your counsellors on a personal level and they can advise you soundly on the right courses to take and so on. Another added advantage in getting to know your counsellor is that he/she is able to write a good letter of recommendation for you because he’s able to communicate effectively with the scholarship committees you’re applying to and that has been proved to be a major deciding factor for judges when it comes to selecting winners.

  22. My local college is actually more expensive than its parent in another city. We are a rural community. In summer months, tourists overwhelm the classes. Our college is rather limited as to the range of studies–most pertain to arts and crafts; but very compressed content. The summer classes are rather relaxed to accommodate tourism. The rest of the year is extremely disciplined. People, like me, tend to go from here to other places to further our studies. However, it is a world class institution and you can meet people from other countries because of its reputation. It also has an online compartment which seems to accommodate other colleges networking. There are several transfer agreements in place and the number grows. But even as those transfer agreements are implemented, I have noticed that it is still a huge consideration by reputable institutions to force applicants to prove what they are bringing to the table.

    This summer to complete the process of going from one institution to another, I still had to prove myself as I enter the next college. They implement safety mechanisms in the entry process to not miss anyone who has fallen through the cracks. I am going from one reputable college to another. The one I am entering insists that they maintain their reputation by forcing a level of visible professionalism from their students that I had not anticipated. I welcome the opportunity to encounter that kind of expectation from their students as I prepare to present my artwork.

    The distance aspect (it confuses me to differentiate between online and distance learning) of the college I am leaving is yet another component run by different people yet again. The woman running the distance learning part of the program talks about her own ongoing studies; and her job to stay ahead of possible available funding for students is tested out by her own experiences. She continues to take classes online each year and she applies for scholarships and bursaries.

    Because I am Canadian and I notice that some of you are American, my environment may have a slightly different slant. And the fact that I am older gives perhaps some additional input. If you have a business running (no matter your age), the Federal government has funding to help promote further studies (online and in class) but of course, business owners are sometimes restricted if they have to shut down to study.

    Please note: my son (39) and a few other friends (40+) have tried the “Second Career” route program. They have each followed the process prescribed and been dropped in major disappointment for the time lost and misdirection as various funding is actually shutdown. My son was out of work over a year and missed his course start deadlines just to have the program shutdown. My friend was invited twice to a government funded program–only to be denied twice when the program got shutdown twice in midstream. I only add that point to remind you to examine further what source of funding is being offered to the programs you pursue!

    A few years back, my 2nd husband studied online. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. His studies were funded (including materials and texts) up to 50%. A business loan picked up the balance and a government program (my husband has disabilities) offered grant incentives for levels of income generated as a result of his studies to gauge his success. A neighbour has since done something similar and it has been a very flexible way for him to come out of retirement. He did not have a disability but the funding my neighbour received has resulted in benefits to our volunteer fire-dept. Both were online and have since used what they learned to produce incomes in some form.

    In my husband’s case, it began in a rather disastrous way in that he could not open his portal to submit or access his assignments. That put him behind schedule by 3 weeks and he has disability challenges. But I have noticed that he is now a lot more comfortable working with a computer. He was forced to figure things out for himself. He could rant and rave at the computer; but he still had to work things out and submit to a schedule. Then he was required that part of his marks resulted from his participation with forums to discuss how the other students of his course were doing. They had to network and collaborate and their participation
    was noted. His actual exam was done under supervision at the college.

    Prior to that time, his computer literacy was sadly disruptive with him constantly threatening to throw our computer in the lake. We live by the water. He also made the mistake of taking several courses at a time without considering the course load for each.

    I left to go to my classes each day. He stewed himself through to completion. I could not have got funding for the things I would like to do through online courses to accommodate my needs. He could not have gotten funding to accommodate his needs through classroom study. Our circumstances–even in the same household at the time–required different routes.

    However, I appreciate reading through your arguments for and against. It has added to the things I would need to consider as I set course for further studies. I think as I read the comments and the discussions how much of a commitment it takes on the part of those who set up this site and those who contribute to the discussion, that I am thankful to be able to look in on things being considered as a helpful source of reference and guidance.

    I guess there was just no other place to insert that thought!

  23. As I re-read the comments above… I am now addressing the traditional teachers who may want to get out of class early. I am a student who loves to ask questions. I have been rather blessed to find many instructors who don’t mind staying for as long as students remain in the classroom.

    I find out early who wants to give that kind of support. One of my teaching assistants was saddled with our class when the assigned instructor cancelled out. She wrote little slips with additional comments to accompany our marks. To anyone who asked questions, she would point out ways where the work could be enhanced to elicit greater marks. I used to follow one around first thing in the morning to confirm that I was on track for his requirements. He began asking why no one else was questioning him. He offers to stay after class whenever we work on projects to give input. I can think of several. Sometimes, maybe it is about finding points of common interest so that they welcome continuing discussion. One of my classmates actually collaborated with one of my former instructors this summer. She was so excited and the idea has been initiated by the instructor himself before the class ended for summer break. Maybe that is the beauty of attending a college that hires practising artists and practising writers and practising entrepreneurs. The only practising writer we came across that had no interest in hearing from students outside of the course, no longer teaches there. This one woman showed us that our efforts did not meet with her calibre of success. In the parent college, I took another type of program about computer security. This particular instructor made the mistake of alienating the class by contemptuous or discouraging comments she made to students, as well. We compared her approach to another teacher in the college who would offer his time to help those of us who were struggling (in the same program). Those surveys we answered to assess our responses to instructors have proven that they count for something throughout the system at the school I am leaving.

    None of my courses were based on memorization and verbatim regurgitation of mere facts.

  24. Excellent post Josh.

    FYI, I’m currently attending an online school right now. It took a lot of soul searching to figure out what I needed. But I feel like the investment (er, debt) is worth it. However online is not for everyone. A lot of people here are going back to school to get their M.A., MBA, PhD, but I think what you’re majoring in should be as important as the sticker price itself.

    I think several people here mentioned going back to school to get a music business degree (One person mentioned Full Sail University in particular). I can tell you as a music journalist and sometime writer, experience and background matter _way more_ in that field than education. Sure, a music business degree would look nice on the resume, but I can tell you firsthand a lot of the people I worked with didn’t care that I went to [insert generic Southern Methodist university here], or that I was opinion editor in college (connections help too–it’s all in who you know). By the same token, someone wanting to study nursing would be well advised to look into a community college or brick and mortar school, if for no other reason than getting real world, hands on experience with patients and mentors. A laptop and Broadband connection can’t deliver that.

    But for everyone else, I’d say go for it. If someone told me I’d be taking classes online four years ago, I would’ve laughed in their faces. Yet despite all the effort of staying up til 3 A.M. researching business articles on ProQuest, I love what I’m doing now. It would be nice to think my experience online would count for something later on.

    Bottom line, do you due diligence first–you may find that you already have what you need on speed dial or at your fingertips. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know what works best for me. And if you can figure out what’s best for you, you’re halfway there.

  25. Piggybacking off of what Julia said, my number one requirement when researching online schools was a traditional brick and mortar. Meaning a regular school that also offered online degrees. UMUC is an exellent choice.

    I’ll be attending either Northeastern or Chatham for grad school, both “regular” schools that offer online degrees.

    My main reason for choosing to go online is that I have no idea where I’ll be after finishing undergrad. Attending school online opens up my options; I’m no longer limited to finding a career in a particular city.

    My degree is not a common one; it’s not even offered a lot in traditional schools.

    BTW, there is typically no way to distinguish and online degree on a transcript. The degrees themselves look like traditional degrees (they don’t say “online degree”).

    And I know two people (a family member and a close friend) who both graduated from U of Phoenix. Both have said that they were quality classes and much more difficult than the traditional schools they attended.

    I also agree that, contrary to popular belief, online classes are not the easy way out. You have to be very focused and dedicated to complete a class without someone watching over you.

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