Innovation or tradition? Tried-and-true or cutting edge? Which provides the superior college education, both academically and realistically: to attend a brick-and-mortar college, live in a dorm, eat at the cafeteria and cram for finals in the library, or to pursue a degree while working, raising a family, traveling the world, training for a marathon or pursuing whatever your life goals you might have? In a highly competitive job market with the advance of technology always increasing the pace of the workplace, which set of experiences will set you up for success?
The benefit that many online colleges advertise is the ability to go to school with online or night classes and work right through school, getting a jump start on work experience and putting the student in a better position financially. With the cost of tuition and student loan debt reaching all-time highs, the affordability and accessibility of online education is more appealing than ever. Is an online degree really all that it promises? Does a traditional degree still provide the skills and experience necessary to enter the workplace and hit the ground running?
Don’t Always Trust the Internet With Your Degree
As a savvy, world-wise researcher like you would know, the internet can’t always be trusted. There’s always someone trying to give you something bogus and take your money in return. The absolutely vital requirement for achieving success with an online degree is ACCREDITATION. Beware of diploma mills which will grant anyone a degree for the right price. The terms “college” and “university” are largely unregulated, and scams abound. A “degree” carries no weight unless the school is accredited by a regulating agency. The US has six regional accreditation boards, as follows:
- New England Association of Schools & Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Middle States Association
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Other widely recognized, legitimate accreditation agencies include the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) and Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). If a school claims to be accredited by one of these organizations, look for it on the Council for Higher Education database of accredited institutions and programs.
Location, Motivation, Procrastination
Some might argue in favor of the socialization factor that comes from living in a college dormitory environment, the ease of forming study groups and fewer housekeeping responsibilities. However, the cost of room and board added to tuition can be financially crippling. Many students at four-year universities live off-campus and commute, saving money on housing costs, but online courses save the time and the cost of transportation. With the logistics of location eliminated, students can maintain a permanent residence with parents or personal housing as preferred, without the frequent relocation that many traditional students experience. However, studying from home, like working from home, is a double-edged sword. You can multitask, work in the comforts of your own home and do your work at any time, fitting it in into your preferred schedule. You can do your school work at any time, even roll out of bed at 10am and attend “class” in your pajamas. The flip side is that you can tell yourself you can roll out of bed at 10am, attend “class” in your pajamas but then never do. Without a classroom or library, you must be able to resist the distractions of home and stay on task. Online courses often require self-discipline and motivation. Without a set schedule, those who tend to procrastinate will find it all too easy to fall into the do-it-tomorrow trap.
Isolation in the Age of Connection
Traditional offline courses mean face-to-face time with other students as well as professors, building connections and socializing on a very human level. One drawback of online courses is the lack of face time; however, online forums and chat applications built into a class can help replace the lost face time and provide more in-depth communication among classmates connected virtually. The quality of such systems varies widely, and students must be proactive about maintaining communication and getting the academic support necessary to succeed.
Any pursuit of higher education is a weighty undertaking, and choosing the right program takes research and preparation, whether the path is online, traditional or a combination of both. Both require choosing a program that will be a good fit, planning for the cost of both money and time, and most importantly knowing your end goal and what you plan to accomplish with the degree that would not be possible without it.