Online colleges and universities are changing the face of education. With this change comes debate over the effectiveness of the education and the value of the degree. It’s a classic technology challenge. Should I spend my money on new technology, or wait for some sort of standard to exist? Beta vs. VHS. HDDVD vs. BluRay.
Online learning in America has been pioneered by for profit, private colleges. The model has been set and traditional colleges, both private and public, are now joining the game. For instance, Oregon State University is set to graduate a record number of students through its online degree program -
Ecampus will graduate 386 students Saturday, nearly twice as many as last year when 210 received their OSU diplomas. This year’s graduates span 40 states and six countries, including China, Germany and the Bahamas, evidence that the demand for online courses continues to rise at OSU.
Not every student wants an online degree. Part of the college experience is leaving home for the first time and testing one’s independence. Networking and developing new friendships is another compelling reason to head off to college.
A lot has changed since the University of Phoenix began enrolling students in 1989. The average Facebook user spends nearly an hour a day on the social networking site communicating with contacts, family and friends. Friendships and relationships are started and even conducted completely online.
Going to college is a lot different for students who don’t go straight out of high-school. For these “non-traditional” students, studying for a degree online is the perfect way to get an education.
Consider the situation of a single parent who doesn’t have any post-secondary education. A student like this can get an education that will provide a future for themselves and their child while still being able to care for their children. The need to have a “college experience” socially is usually not there. They are laser focused on finishing school so they can get on with the rest of their lives.
Laser focus is also important to “go getters” who know exactly what career they want. They may want a technical degree in something like software development where a specialty school is going to be a far better choice than a four year university.
Some students are in a position where their blue-collar career is over. The country is facing high unemployment with millions of Americans unemployed for more than two years. The economy is transitioning and while some people are finding it impossible to find a job, many employers are finding it impossible to find qualified employees.
The demographics tell us that skilled trades professionals are starting to age out of the workforce, so the existing talent pool is shrinking, and the pipeline of new talent isn’t large enough to replace the retirees. In the U.S. we tend to encourage young people to attend four-year colleges and universities, when in fact that is not the only option, nor is it the right track for everyone.
Another major group of students that finds online learning more favorable than traditional schooling are those who are returning to school mid-career because they didn’t finish school the first time around, or they need a more advanced degree to rise in their chosen profession.
For active duty military personnel, especially those deployed overseas, earning a degree online is a way to pass the time and get a head start once their enlistment ends. A major benefit of military service is the G.I. Bill which provides a significant amount of money towards college tuition.
The point of this article is to explain how choosing an online degree vs. a traditional degree is a personal choice that is dependent upon a prospective student’s career goals, personal situation and course of study. To make a blanket statement that one course of study is better than another because of the way the education is delivered is neither fair to the school or the student.