General Information

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in January 2019 their 2017 data regarding college enrollment. Here is a recap of some of the pertinent numbers, as of fall 2017, that reference online and campus students.

  • 1 million students in Title IV institutions
  • 1 million undergraduates
  • 1 million taking only online courses
  • 38% increase in online enrollments vs. 2016
  • 42% of online students working on a bachelor’s degree
  • 27% working toward a master’s

A Title IV school is a learning institution that offers U.S. federal student aid.

students online classes

An independent study performed by Babson Survey Research Group in 2014 determined that 7.1 million students or 33% take at least one class online. These numbers drive more schools to offer more online degrees. More importantly, employers recognize that online programs are as effective as attending classes on campus.

With any online degree, you should weigh the pros and cons. At the graduate level, many individuals may be in the early stages of their career or midway. For these individuals, quitting work to attend school full-time is not an option – unless there is a campus nearby to take classes during the evening and weekends.

Generally, you can save money on fees through an online format. You may avoid the technology, activities, health insurance, parking, rooming, meals, and other expenses that resident students incur. Tuition is usually the same for online and campus programs, particularly when charged per credit hour.

Learning from the comfort of home may allow you to work at your pace. Some programs have the advantage of enabling the student to select when he/she moves to the next course. This format affords less pressure to maintain a rigid schedule to keep up with assignments.

We will explore some of the differences in online vs. campus master’s degrees in child development and its close associate childhood education. We include the latter as often the curriculum of the two disciplines merge.

Online vs. Campus in Child Development & Education

Prospective applicants for an online master’s in childhood education should examine Capella University. The school offers an array of graduate programs in education, including early childhood, adult education, education leadership, and educational technology. All of their degrees are available in a self-paced format known as FlexPath. It provides a cost-savings and a reduced timeframe to earn your degree. You could receive a master’s degree in 12-18 months at the cost of less than $10,000!

Currently, Capella is strictly an online educator.

By comparison, the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development offers a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education. The courses include a blend of teaching and learning topics, as well as the social, personality, and cognitive development of children. This campus program has 57-61 credits at a rate of $732 each for in-state residents.

Another difference of the above campus degree is the incorporation of real-world teaching experience at the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School. The Moore Lab provides interaction with children in a learning environment. The experience offers the opportunity to monitor and assess cognitive and social development. A notable feature that is absent from online classes.

Attending a campus program has the advantage of collaborating with fellow students and professors. The class environment stimulates discussion and different viewpoints that a distance program lacks.

There is a difference in the convenience of internships – if that is part of the curriculum. Erikson Institute in Chicago, for example, mandates that students in their M.S. in Child Development participate in a 15-hour weekly internship. The school provides an extensive list of locations in and around the city.

Completing an internship via online learning typically requires approval from the academic advisor. The site you choose must comply with the school’s study plan. The internship requirement may also disrupt one’s work schedule.

Some master’s degrees in child development/education require a practicum. In this instance, you will need to find a school that allows you to perform student-teaching activities. Again, this field experience may be an inconvenience for the online learner. One way to avoid this situation is the selection of coursework that has no field experience necessity.


As with any degree, there are benefits and concerns associated with an online format. It might demand more discipline to adhere to keep up with the classwork. The lack of face-to-face communication with colleagues and teaching staff is a significant difference. Although, as shown by the statistics, this is not a deterrent for millions of online students.

Additional Resources

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