What should I consider regarding an online degree?

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On the surface, it sounds very appealing to stay at home, set your own hours, and work towards a degree. Perhaps, you are currently employed and have decided it suits you best to work while continuing your education. Or you are fortunate to have an employer who will reimburse you for an advanced degree, such as a MBA.

There are distinct advantages to this expanding field of learning.  This is reflected in the fact that the number of students enrolled in college online courses has nearly doubled over the last five years. As of 2013, there are just under 1,000 distance education programs with 6.7 million students taking at least one online course  in the U.S.. The proportion of all students taking at least one online course is at all-time high of 32% as of 2012.

Here are some considerations for the student of any age who is considering applying for an online degree:


For most people, this may be the first consideration. Overall, the total cost must be less since there’s no room and board or travel expenses to be incurred. True. However, tuition is not significantly less than attending a brick-and-mortar college or university.

Just like traditional colleges, the cost of online colleges varies considerably. For example, Colorado Technical University charges $325/credit hour for an online Bachelor of Science in business administration. To earn the same degree on campus, the cost is $305 per credit hour. The difference is negligible when comparing tuition alone.

Just as the tuition and fees differ dramatically at traditional colleges, the same applies to online costs. In contrast to the prior example, William Peace University in Raleigh, NC charges $740/credit hour for full-time tuition versus $250/credit hour for online tuition. The lesson is to shop and compare programs and costs due to the wild variance in online tuition.

Perceptions by Academia

How is an online education perceived by chief academics?  Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC (Babson) conducted a ten year study of online education. They stated in their 2013 report that in 2003, 57.2% of academic leaders rated online education as the same or superior to face-to-face. As of 2012, that percentage was 77.0.  Babson also concluded that a minority of 23% of academic leaders continue to believe the online education is inferior. Understandably, those institutions with online courses view the online education more favorably.

The Babson research report sited a statistic that seems to contradict the 77.0 percent who believe an online education is the same or superior. They concluded that only 30.2% of academic officers believe their faculty accepts the value of an online education. This rate has decreased since 2004. Therefore, despite the growing number of enrollments for online courses, it appears faculty has not fully embraced the distance learning program.

Perceptions by Employers

A study published in September 2013 by Public Agenda (PA) was the culmination of data from surveys of 656 employers in the U.S.. This study concluded that 42% of employers believe students learn less taking online-only courses, and 39% believe the courses are easier to pass. The percent of employers who prefer a job applicant who has a classroom degree is 56%; 21% stated that it doesn’t matter how the degree was earned. The highest rating of 82% was from employers who prefer a combination of online and classroom learning.

Another research study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management concluded that 92% of hiring managers favor online degrees from universities that also offer classroom learning. Schools offering only online degrees, this figure dropped to 42% of managers who viewed them as favorable.


Surveys can present incompatible results. However, as this trend for online enrollment continues to escalate, the majority of academic officers, faculty and employers will continue to herald online education. If the courses are from an accredited college or university, then employment opportunities seem equal. For example, Mercy Health in the St. Louis region employs about 10,000 has said that they do not differentiate between applicants from online or brick-and-mortar schools.

For some students, due to their personal situation, the online education is the best avenue. Others will opt for the traditional classroom experience. Regardless, the emphasis should be on your degree choice and grades. These two criteria will serve you best in the competitive work environment.