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Online Degrees Not Worth the Paper They’re Not Printed On?

2009 December 29

Posting has been a little slow around here since this is December, and you know what that means for academics.  It doesn’t help that my university decided to shut off the heat in most of its buildings for two weeks to save money.  So here I am, working from home, when I came across a post by Tony Karrer pointing me to this little video from Saturday Night Live.  It’s not fantastic (very little SNL is these days, of course), but it does deliver an interesting message about online education, and by extension, online training.

This is certainly satire, but it does reflect a very real perception about online education.  The question is, what is the cause?  Is it because online education is less expensive than traditional education, and people think cheap reflects a lack of quality?  Is it because online education requires less time, and people think online degree seekers are less serious about their education?  Is it because people think online education simply cannot be as effective as traditional instruction, despite evidence to the contrary?  And even if this is a common public perception, is it shared by the people making hiring decisions?

So then, I suppose this is the real concern: how would hiring managers rank-order the value of degrees from the following list: bachelor’s from a university, bachelor’s from a SLAC, bachelor’s from a CC, associate’s from a university, associate’s from a SLAC, associate’s from a CC, and the equivalents from online schools.  As far as I know, there is no research available to answer this question… yet.

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  1. Kristie permalink
    January 10, 2010

    From my experience (or rather, my husband’s, as he worked at an online university for several years) the main complaint against online universities is not really related to any of the above. Many students come away from programs completely under-prepared because the university is more interested in students’ checks clearing than whether they are learning.

    Personally, I think one of the major problems with online universities is that they often victimize the economically disadvantaged. Here’s oftentimes what happened to students at my husband’s school:
    -Student is accepted into a school without providing any SAT/ ACT/ GRE scores (and unfortunately, many students are simply not smart enough to hack it at a brick and mortar college, and see online universities as the next best thing)
    -Student proceeds to fail out of numerous classes. However, the college does not put them on academic probation. Students are allowed to take classes as many times as necessary to pass
    -Student then takes several years to graduate because of multiple retakes. Oftentimes, there is also misinformation/ poor communication about deadlines and requirements, so students oftentimes have to enroll an extra semester for some stupid administrative reason
    -Student graduates with a huge debt (some had upwards of 90k by the time they finished)
    -Student learns that the program was not accredited, and now is unable to get licensed/ employed with their expensive degree.

    Could online education work? Sure. Can it as effective as brick-and-mortar schools? You bet. From what I hear, Fielding is a good example of a school that seems to get it right. Unfortunately, there are some really bad schools out there with unaccredited or failing programs, and the people who tend to end up in them are ones who simply don’t have the resources to know that these issues are a problem. So I think until these schools start behaving ethically and ensuring that their students are treated as students rather than cash cow, this mode of education is going to be dismissed by the greater public, and for good reason.

  2. January 11, 2010

    But that’s not a problem unique to online schools, is it? There are plenty of cash-cow for-profit (proprietary) colleges and universities as well… If there are both online and brick-and-mortar ethical and unethical schools, why trust the brick-and-mortar but not the online? Is it just because most online started out unethical and has only improved recently?

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