If you’re toying with the idea of going back to school to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree, you may be trying to decide whether traditional face-to-face learning or distance learning is best for you. So, it’s time to get out your trusty pen and paper (or open Notes on your phone – it IS the 21st Century, after all) to make the dutiful pros and cons list for each option. Will online learning win out? While one learning format isn’t right for everyone, let’s explore some benefits of an online education with Ottawa University to put on the PRO side of your list.
Respect for Online Degrees
You may have heard that an online degree is not as respected or credible as a degree earned through a traditional face-to-face program. With online education becoming more popular and necessary almost by the day, online degrees have gained nearly equal footing with traditional degrees. In fact, the Department of Education found that “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.” Do employers agree? As reported by Careerbuilder.com, Excelsior College and Zogby International conducted a survey of 1500 CEOs in 2009, with 83% of them finding an online degree as credible as a traditional degree. No doubt the percentage is higher today. A complementary survey conducted by Northeastern University found that 71 percent of organizations had hired a job applicant with an online degree in the last 12 months.
It is important to stress, however, that not all online degree programs are created equal. Executives also noted three primary criteria for full acceptance of online degrees: the degree must be from a regionally accredited institution of higher education; it is 92% more credible if the institution has a brick-and-mortar campus (SHRM); and the school should have a recognized brand. So, choose your online education program wisely!
The Price Tag
This is the bottom line for many adult learners. An online degree can save as much as $50,000 over a traditional, on-campus program. Even if the per-credit-hour rate is the same, the online learner does not incur costs associated with on-campus room and board, meal plans, and a variety of fees. Online learners also do not need to commute to class, saving on fuel and car maintenance.
Another plus surrounding the price tag for online learning is being able to hold down a job while attending school. A steady income can help mitigate school debt if you’re able to pay as you go. Many employers also offer full or partial tuition reimbursement, which can be a great reason to maintain your career while pursuing a degree.
Opportunity for Career Advancement
If you are in a professional field that can benefit from the skills and knowledge you are acquiring, you may be able to immediately put into practice what you are learning in the classroom, which may provide an open door for a promotion or give you leverage when seeking a pay raise. As importantly, employers will witness firsthand the effort you are putting into your degree and see your desire for career advancement. After finishing your online degree, there is no doubt you will be qualified for moving up, whether at your current or future organization.
Flexibility and Control
Flexibility is a true game changer in the online model of higher education. Not only do you have complete control over your schedule and learning environment by determining when and where to study (the beach, anyone?), but you also have control over how long it takes to complete your degree. With many universities offering 8-week courses, you can go to school year-round, take a term off, or double up on courses. Since you aren’t required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester to stay enrolled like on a traditional campus, you can take full advantage of the flexibility benefit of online learning.
In years past, you were relatively limited in your degree choices through online higher education. Today, there are few degrees that aren’t offered in an online model. For example, Ottawa University offers nearly 30 bachelor’s and master’s degrees in some of the most popular and in-demand online programs: Business Administration, Psychology, Nursing, Education, Healthcare Administration, Management Information Systems, Accounting, Human Services, and Public Safety. Online education has evolved to the point that you can pursue the career you want without having to step foot on a campus if you don’t want to.
Networking and Recognition
Another great benefit of online learning as an adult is that your classmates are professionals like you. This provides opportunities for learning not only from the materials presented in class, but also from your peers. Faculty recognize that you bring real-world knowledge and insights to the virtual classroom that are beneficial to all students, so embrace that bonus feature of online education. Your peers also provide a wonderful opportunity for networking. While an on-campus class can have 100 or more students, which makes it hard to get to know one another, online classes are typically smaller, which allows for more personal interaction with both professors and classmates. As you learn about them and their careers, don’t be afraid to explore potential job prospects or career mentors. You never know where those classroom connections might lead.
A final, often-overlooked advantage of taking online classes is closely related to the previous benefit of networking, but with a twist. The online classroom can include students enrolled from around the country and the world. As a result, students are often provided the benefit of exploring differences and similarities in cultures and belief systems, education and business practices, national conflicts and crises, economies and governments, and much more. Maybe you have never traveled to another country; your online class could be a gateway to other parts of the world through communications with your international and other-side-of-the-country classmates. Taking full advantage of that opportunity will help make you a more well-rounded individual and professional and give you an edge when encountering diversity in the workplace.
Do these benefits of an online education make your “pros” column longer than your “cons” column? It can definitely be hard to take the plunge into online learning if you’re unsure which learning format is best for you, but these and other advantages of taking online classes can make the decision a little easier. If you are still on the fence, it may be time to contact an enrollment advisor to help address your unique concerns and get you into the classroom best suited for you. Above all, KEEP LEARNING!