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Are online degrees real degrees?

October 8, 2008

Considering Another Class

I’m considering taking two classes this quarter instead of one. I have two days to decide. I’d complete my degree 4 months earlier, and the class I’m in is pretty easy. (It is pretty much an undergrad class that I’ve taken, but if they want to count it for my graduate degree, I’m all for it.) The teacher’s style seems quite straightforward. The homeworks should be pretty easy (though time consuming), though the exams will require some effort.

I’m hesitant because of the time commitment. Either way, I will finish my MS sometime in 2010. I doubt I’ll have the bandwidth to take two classes at once again, so maybe now is the time to seize that chance.

The side job thing isn’t really going anywhere. Given the market, I doubt start-ups are able to get much (any) venture capital right now, so I don’t anticipate my talents being needed. On the other hand, I’ve had a bad month or so and have been feeling pretty stressed/tired. Do I want to take on more work? And wasn’t I going to fill out the transfer credit paperwork? Or check on my student ID? Gah.

Why I do distance education in the first place

1. I can go to good schools, no matter where I live

I wanted to talk about online/distance education in a more general sense. I recently told some “real grad students” (full-time) I was getting my Masters degree online. Someone joked about the University of Phoenix Online and said online degrees are a big business these days. Yes, online education is big business these days, but no, it isn’t University of Phoenix! In fact, I’m going to your school! They scoffed at me for coming to the new graduate student picnic, but hey, I was invited! A lot of top universities are offering online programs, in part because they are quite cheap to run.

2. It is a good financial deal in my industry

They asked the price per a class, did some calculations and said I was really getting ripped off. “Nah, not really. My company pays for it all.” Up front, as well as my textbooks. And they pay me a real salary while I’m doing it, and some stock options when I finish. I’m not getting ripped off one bit! I didn’t brag to that extent, but I did want to be clear I was getting a great deal. Plus, you don’t have to survive on a stipend, can save for retirement, and get some perspective on the real world. While details may vary, almost all big companies in my industry will pay for your education.

3. For my career path, it is as good as a “regular” degree

I’ve also heard claims that the value of an online degree isn’t the same as their “real” degree. In my industry, it is nearly equivalent, as long as it from a real university (the kind that also has a respected regular program). In academia, they probably have more of a point. You probably wouldn’t go for an online degree if a PhD or research career is your calling. I know my opinion is skewed, but I really don’t see why anyone in my field would go full-time just for the MS (unless they got a fellowship, but those are often reserved for the PhDs).

4. I’m disciplined and basically awesome (or, I don’t mind having no life little free time)

There are downsides, of course–coursework eats into your spare time and you have to be self-disciplined. If you don’t do the work, you won’t pass, and your company won’t pay. You don’t get to live the student lifestyle (however, you also avoid campus outbreaks), and you will spend a lot of weekends catching up. Also, it takes longer than usual. In my case I’ve completed roughly 7 months, and I still have 1.5-2 years left. This doesn’t count my 9 month break I took when I moved to California. While I know “full-time” graduate students that stretch their M.S. over almost 2 years, T whipped through his in a academic year (9 months). While all my degree will cost me is time, I can see how that isn’t worth it to some people.

So, are they real degrees? Well, it depends, but usually, yes.  What do you think? Are online degrees respected in your field? Would your employer pay for part or all of yours?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2008 5:57 pm

    I think it has to do with how your market yourself to employers.

    For many people, getting a degree either online from a classroom is nothing more than a “license” to look for a better job.

    What I mean is, people rarely end up in a career that is exactly what they studied for in college.

    Having a degree (either brick and mortar, or over the web) signals that the person has demonstrated a capacity to learn to some level.

    I have thought about getting an online degree and have pondered the “stigma” assiciated with them.

    I decided that online only universities like “Phoenix” and “Devry” (even though they do have some physical class sites) would be hard sells as credible degrees to the majority of PR managers for job positions that require college degrees.

    On the other hand, had I gotten and online degree from Auburn university, or Umass, I wouldn’t make any distinction that it was an online degree on my resume (CV) or cover letter.

  2. rox permalink
    October 8, 2008 6:31 pm

    I’m with you – if it’s online through a school with a regular, respected program, it’s a real degree. A for-profit school with online courses only – not a real degree.

  3. October 8, 2008 6:48 pm

    I’m getting my business degree online. It’s the best course of action for me and my husband right now. So I’m totally with you!

  4. October 8, 2008 7:31 pm

    While my degree won’t be distinguished, I think it may be clear that I did it while working. I guess the online isn’t as clear.

    I wonder if getting a BS or BA completely online is possible. I’ve mostly heard of them for MS or MBA type degrees.

    Glad to hear some agreement. I think even 5 years ago, there would have been more debate

  5. October 8, 2008 8:07 pm

    SP: I don’t know- good question… I haven’t looked into online degrees too much. I am taking an online class or two as I work to get my own, but as far as their value in my industry? Not much… in fact, ANY degree in my industry doesn’t amount to much!

    So- not sure. 🙂

    Here’s my question… when working and getting an online degree, how does that work when companies are recruiting? In other words, if you’re going to a school that has some prestige, you are in a spot where companies will come find you! Or, at least, depending on the prestige of the school, you’ll get varying degrees of prestige from your recruiters.

    … maybe that didn’t make sense! In other words, can you get recruited using an online degree?

  6. October 8, 2008 8:16 pm

    @trevor – Good question. I think yes, sort of. You probably will have access to the career fairs (if you are in the area, or want to go to it) and the career websites/job boards and all that, just as a regular student. But I don’t think those are heavily used, and you’d clearly be a non-traditional student.

    My post really didn’t cover B.S. degrees well. Most people doing online degrees already have a job at a company they like and are trying to advance themselves at that company (or a similar one). Or move into management with an MBA. As far as getting your first job, where the college recruiting is most important… It’d probably be a harder sell

  7. October 8, 2008 9:11 pm

    “if it’s online through a school with a regular, respected program, it’s a real degree. A for-profit school with online courses only – not a real degree.” What an ignorant statement. You obviously have never attended University of Phoenix or another for profit school. You must also be unaware that Univ of Phoenix has close to 200 brick and mortar learning centers throughout the US.

    “I decided that online only universities like “Phoenix” and “Devry” (even though they do have some physical class sites) would be hard sells as credible degrees to the majority of PR managers for job positions that require college degrees.” – and what would you base that on? My company specifically brings reps from Univ of Phoenix to my job to enroll us for classes that they will pay for. Our HR Director and CEO both feel that the programs at U of Phoenix strengthen our skills in collaboration, communication, critical thinking, information utilization, and agility and adaptability. But, I guess those are worthless skills to have.

    I guess the 20+ hours I put into my classes each week is also worthless? People who have never taken classes at U of Phoenix or DeVry (or whatever for profit, online university) should not speak about them. You have nothing to base your opinion on.

  8. anonymous permalink
    October 9, 2008 6:47 am

    I work in academia.

    The important thing to look for when judging a college/university is its accreditation. There is national accreditation, and there is regional accreditation. Regional accreditation holds higher standards than national accreditation. The six regional accrediting agencies are Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges & Schools, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. If a school isn’t accredited by one of those programs, then you may want to consider studying elsewhere.

    In regards to online vs. face-to-face, I’ve taken both and think that face-to-face are a better learning experience overall. You’re more immersed in the content, you’re there, directly communicating with your peers and professor, you make presentations, you work on projects together. I’ve never had an online class that was as strenuous as a face-to-face class (maybe you’d prefer that!) However, I work in academia – I enjoy a learning challenge. Part of the online class business deals with who is teaching the online classes. Are they adjuncts or tenured faculty? That often makes a big difference in regards to the content. Do they have their terminal degree?

    Whether or not an employer would respect your degree or not depends on the environment. Mine had to be accredited twice – for the university I went to, and then by our large professional organization. They wouldn’t have considered hiring me if not for that.

  9. October 9, 2008 9:25 am

    I’ve taken online classes equally strenuous to classroom–homework and tests are often identical. The professors are the same that teach all the other classes (sometimes the classes are recorded as they teach their regular class, sometimes recorded separately).

    I agree you are more immersed as a full time student and the “learning experience” is better in the classroom. The group work is better as well, of course.

  10. Seattle Girl permalink
    October 9, 2008 11:22 am

    This is such a great question!

    For awhile I was considering getting a second degree in Spanish translation. I wasn’t able to find a program locally and was not interested in relocating. I think the availability of online programs for those sorts of reasons is fantastic. For whatever reason, I felt unsure of what exactly I was getting myself into and paying for, and decided against it.

    If you are able to find an online program at an accredited University near you, even better! Its nice to have reassurance that your professors aren’t too far away should you need to attend office hours.

    Online degrees most likely work better with some programs than other – it seems appropriate to get an online degree in a field like accounting, where something like public health…you would get a lot more from the classroom setting.

    Its great that your employer is footing the bill! Free school is an excellent benefit! Good luck!

  11. October 9, 2008 5:32 pm

    University of Phoenix does hold more than one accreditation. The university is regionally accredited through the North Central Assoc. The university also holds one of the highest business school accreditations. My understanding is that there are only around 10% of the business schools in the US with ACBSP.
    The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) accredits smaller private and public schools that offer associate’s, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral-level business degrees that focus on teaching. The ACBSP’s national accrediting standards place an emphasis on how the school achieves teaching excellence through outcomes assessment. The accreditation standards are based on quality and the continuous improvement process. More exactly, the process is modeled after the Baldrige National Quality Program and its Criteria for Performance Excellence, a process used by manufacturing, health care and service oriented businesses.

  12. October 10, 2008 10:44 am

    I know that USC doesn’t distinguish between the distance people and “regular” students on the degree. The coursework is all the same (I assume your school is similar), just the way you watch lectures is different. To be honest, I think most people will look at the fact that you have the Masters – and your school is a good one! The fact that you earned it while working would actually be a plus. Not to mention that you get a few more years experience in addition.

    I don’t think that it would necessarily be better to be only a student, actually. I remember coming out of my undergrad and not knowing anything in terms of the industry. If I’d continued my Masters then (with no research work), I think it would have been the same problem. Not I can relate what I’m learning to my actual experience, and everything makes more sense.

    As far as scheduling an extra course, I think you should do it, but be very choosy about the course you take. Everyone told me I was nuts to try to take 3 classes, and I’m doing OK. I have no free time, but I’m doing OK in my classes (sometimes I even finish homework BEFORE that day it’s due!) and I’m doing OK at work. I took classes I had a passing introduction to as an undergrad so I at least had a basis of understanding. It will be hard, but it’s an extra 3 months that you won’t have school. And if it’s awful, you just have to tell yourself that it’s only 3 months and it will soon be over.

  13. tom permalink
    October 12, 2008 8:50 am

    I think online degrees hold a lot of clout. It’s still a new concept, but I know executives at my company that hold multiple degrees from University of Phoenix, a bachelors and masters. Obviously some schools are more respected than others.

    Like Parannoidasteroid I am enrolled at USC. Since I am in the midwest, I am doing online classes. It presents more of a challenge, but there is no difference between their online program and their in-class program.

    The fact that you have an advanced degree will boost your value.

    As for the extra course, if you can fit it in your schedule, without taking away from your productive time, you should do it. It’ll significantly shorten the time to graduate.

  14. October 23, 2008 4:46 pm

    If you would have asked this question even five years ago you may have received a different answer. But the truth is, an online degree is now on equal ground with a traditional degree.

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