Now, when the global economy is in flux. The supply of resources has gotten scarcer as trade and commerce have slowed down. Wealth is transferred via less conventional means. All these situations have made economics, the study of the allocation of scarce resources, both challenging and fascinating. Post-pandemic, when businesses are trying to get back on their feet, economists become even more vital. However, with fear of lingering health risks, experts opt for the best online master’s degrees in Economics to further their careers in this field.
Graduates of an online master’s degree in economics can look forward to careers as an economist; a policy, budget, or financial analyst in a public agency or private organization; a market researcher or professor of economics, or take further studies in statistics, mathematical modeling, and database programming to become an actuary. The choice of career for a master’s in economics degree holder can be as varied as their interests since economics allows for customization of tracks.
This article talks about the significance of acquiring an online master’s degree in economics at this time, answers questions on the value of an online degree, and points out the differences between an on-campus program and one that’s online. This is to help the student who’s looking for the best online degree programs in economics choose the best one based on his or her career goals, life circumstances, and budget.
Yes, you can get a degree completely online. Indeed, the growing online educational community worldwide—fast-tracked by the need for alternative teaching and learning methods during the COVID-19 pandemic—points to online degrees as not just being a passing fad but in fact a trend that’s changing the norms of education. Different universities of note from the world over have made the jump to online learning.
Specifically, “The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE)” survey of 2020 (pre-pandemic) reported that at community colleges, 42% of online programs were already fully online. For four-year colleges, 57% of bachelor’s programs are also fully online. For master’s degree programs, the number of fully online programs was even higher at 73%.
After a year into the pandemic, the survey reports a jump in the number of learning institutions that are into full online programs. “More than 80% of institutions relied primarily on either fully online (31%) or emergency remote learning (ERL) (50%) courses in Fall 2020” (CHLOE 6: Online Learning Leaders Adapt for a Post-Pandemic World, 2021).
Not all online degrees are created equal, however. Some might, in fact, be hybrid and involve online classes as well as on-campus activities. So one needs to carefully read the program description.
In a survey of HR professionals and executives, Gallagher reports in “Educational Credentials Come of Age: A Survey on the Use and Value of Educational Credentials in Hiring” that:
And 71%, or the majority of hiring managers, report that they have personally hired someone with a degree or credential that was completed entirely online.
But the respondents did point out several factors that they take into consideration when evaluating an online credential:
Source: Educational Credentials Come of Age (2018)
*Select and/or deselect buttons from factors listed above to show only the figures for one specific factor
The student in search of the best online masters in economics programs should likewise take note of these when choosing the school and program to enroll in.
The short answer would be, yes, online degrees are recognized all over the world. Specifically, online master’s in economics programs are being taught and online education credentials are recognized.
Learning has crossed borders. Today, edX offers 3,000 courses and is the largest MOOC provider. More than 15,000 instructors—a worldwide faculty that comes from France (from 120 higher institutions), China, the U.S., the United Kingdom, and others—teach a student body of more than 100 million. These include students from the least developed nations who otherwise would have no access to world-class courses.
Top universities all over the world have revamped their programs and adopted education technologies to launch their online offerings to the world (EdTech). All of these are standing behind the comparable quality and standard of their online degrees compared to their on-campus programs.
Among these are universities in the U.S. and the U.K. that offer fully online courses. Similarly, many parts of Europe, Asia, and even developing nations do, too.
There are differences between on-campus master’s degree in economics programs and online master’s degree in economics programs. The technical platforms demand appropriate modes of teaching and expression, interaction, learning materials, and also affect the schedule and pace of discussion. Consider the following:
Traditional master’s in economics programs would have fixed, regular weekly meetings at assigned classrooms.
On the other hand, the schedule of online master’s in economics programs is flexible. The student will be given a deadline to complete the lessons. He plans and manages his own schedule. He can take his classes several days in a row, then not take classes the following week.
Every now and then, students might need to attend class synchronously, or at the same time. But this would be the exception rather than the rule—for group project meetings, for instance.
A classroom can only fit so many students, so enrollment to a traditional master’s in economics program will be limited to how many could be accommodated in classrooms. The classroom or an appropriate campus venue would be the setting for all activities. This regular collocation of students is a natural setting for them to socialize and make friends.
The “classroom” for online master’s degree in economics programs, meanwhile, could be a café, the student’s bedroom, or a quiet and scenic outdoor venue. They typically take their classes alone. Some students prefer this. But should they want to, they could also attend it with friends around. Although physically apart, students and teachers can actively interact via different online tools.
In a traditional classroom, the teacher would have full control of the pace of discussion. It will be driven by the syllabus and by how long the academic term is. The class will have to move forward, regardless of whether students have achieved mastery or not. Class hours are scheduled by schools and the students can choose the time that best suits them.
In an online master’s degree in economics program, the student has complete time management responsibility. He sets the pace of his lessons. Most online students can complete their 30 credit units and earn their online master’s degree in economics degrees in two years, but one can finish it in less.
In the traditional master’s in economics program, the primary mode of instruction would be the classroom lecture. Group assignments allow students to work together on assigned topics. Some students enjoy this kind of collaborative activity.
In online degree courses in economics, lectures can be either live (synchronous) or recorded (asynchronous). Online whiteboards replace classroom whiteboards. Demonstrations and presentations are done online. Learning materials are also online (on LMS, ebooks, or on other educational technology systems). As with an economics undergraduate course, there are many assigned readings to be discussed in class.
In online degree courses in economics, lectures can be either live (synchronous) or recorded (asynchronous). Online whiteboards replace classroom whiteboards. Demonstrations and presentations are done online.
Learning materials are also online (on LMS, ebooks, or on other educational technology systems). As with an economics undergraduate course, there are many assigned readings to be discussed in class. Many online universities use open textbooks that are licensed by authors and publishers to be used free of charge. The boom in the EdTech, particularly during the pandemic period, now makes available a wide array of teaching tools to choose from. Educators can customize each session by using a different technology each time (i.e. gamified learning, teacher-created video, virtual tour, etc.)
Online classes take advantage of cloud technology (i.e. Google Docs, Drive, etc.) for shared storage and real-time collaboration. An online platform is dynamic and allows for dynamic content that can be modified and updated on the fly, compared to the traditional teacher’s lesson plan that may change very little over a five-year period.
As with traditional master’s in economics programs, assignments and projects are also given—to individual students or to groups. Online group meetings are far easier to set up than face-to-face group meetings. The professor evaluates student comprehension through virtual recitation. Exams are conducted online, i.e. through an LMS or an examination software.
In traditional courses, teacher-student and student-student interactions are face-to-face. Interaction is live and discussions are spontaneous. Outgoing students find these interactions stimulating and many make friends this way. But this can inhibit shy, physically challenged, those who belong to minority groups, or indigent students—who may feel intimidated, discriminated against, or even bullied inside the classroom.
Meanwhile, online students will be very skilled at having productive virtual discussions—via different apps. They can experience the same degree of involvement and synergy on collaborative group activities, done online—to analyze, for instance, the effect of a government’s latest COVID-19-related fiscal policies on the economy.
Elearning executive Kenneth Chapman agrees that many students feel more comfortable participating in online discussions than in live, classroom recitations. “Not all students have the confidence (or language skills) to freely express themselves in a traditional course setting,” he explains. In a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville study that focused on the academic needs of handicapped students, “A Phenomenological Study of the Online Education Experiences of College Students with Learning Disabilities” author Michael Murders reported that there was “no significant difference in student grades” between those who took online and face-to-face classes; but “95% of all the online students indicated a preference for online courses over face-to-face courses” (Murders, 2017).
An online college environment levels the playing field and puts disadvantaged students in an environment where they can perform to the best of their abilities.
Having to go to or stay at a physical campus can involve considerable travel, room and board, clothing, and other expenses. Yale’s School of Management estimates these ‘personal expenses’ to be as much as 30% of tuition fees.
There are efficiencies involved in the operation of an online academic curriculum compared to a traditional degree program. A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reports that by applying economies of scale, i.e. several schools using the same network facilities and applications, the cost of producing online content can be cut by $12 to $66 per credit hour. From the student end, this means savings of from 3% to 50% on online tuition fees per credit hour. (The Boston Consulting Group, 2018)
The cost of traditional degrees continues to go up despite the highest year-on-year drop in campus enrollment rates in a decade, according to the Spring 2021 report of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Meanwhile, online degrees will become more affordable, leading to the hypothesis that traditional colleges might soon become obsolete. Surprisingly, it’s the top U.S. universities that are leading this drive towards providing lower-cost, same-quality degree programs delivered online. Big names like Harvard, M.I.T., UPenn, and others are offering online degrees from 15% to 30% lower than their own traditional degrees programs.
Interestingly, the same NSCRC report stipulates that enrollment to master’s degree programs rose by 5.25% while those for doctoral degree programs also increased by 3.6%. This could possibly be correlated to the CHLOE survey finding that there are now more fully online master’s degree programs available, compared to undergraduate programs.
Online master’s degree in economics programs from reputable institutions of learning, especially those that have offered on-campus economics programs for years, are not watered-down versions of traditional programs. Both require the completion of at least 30 academic credits. Both develop the same theoretical and technical skills that an economist will need as he practices his profession in the field.
In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Education, says: “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” (Center for Technology and Learning, 2010).
The cost of an online master’s degree in economics programs will vary from one school to another—as with all degree programs. There will be differences in the rates of public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions. Many institutions also provide discounted rates for in-state enrollees vis-a-vis out-of-state enrollees, although some charge the same.
There will also be differences in tuition costs between schools in the U.S. and those overseas, especially since these will be affected by foreign exchange rates.
But to give the inquiring student an idea, an online master’s degree in economics program in the U.S. could cost anywhere from (public) $360 per credit, or $10,800 for the entire degree, to $1,800 per credit or $54,000 total. For European universities, the tuition fees can range from 570€ to 29,850€ per academic year.
Source: CHLOE 6 (2021)
At a time when parents and students are apprehensive to enroll in colleges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the dire economic situation, and the rising costs of traditional education, an online master’s degree in economics program gives one access to learning, at a lower cost and from the safety of one’s home.
An online master’s degree in economics program will provide one with the same knowledge and skills as an on-campus master’s degree. Except that one will have full control over one’s learning pace, schedule, and college budget.
Besides, the economics major salary is around $105,630 per year or $50.79 per hour, with a job outlook of 6% (As fast as average), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is quite a worthwhile career.
For admission to an online master’s degree in economics program, one has to possess a bachelor’s degree in economics or a bachelor’s degree preferably in business or in related disciplines (finance, mathematics, statistics). Those from other disciplines may be required to complete foundational economics and mathematics courses prior to admission. Many schools would require that an applicant to an online master’s degree in economics program have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Some colleges place value on research experience in economics, internships at economic agencies, and teaching experience. Some, but not all schools, ask for GRE scores, recommendation letters, and an essay from the applicant.
Because a master’s degree in economics will be very demanding analytically and mathematically, most schools require that a student have an outstanding foundation in linear algebra, calculus, statistics, and econometrics. When pursuing a Master of Science (MS) in Economics, those with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Economics who have been exposed to the rigors of mathematical economics have an advantage over those with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics whose background is primarily on economic theory.
Because the medium is online, there are minimum technological requirements for computer and network specifications, although these will vary from institution to institution. An online master’s degree in economics program would require a more powerful computer–typical an i5 processor or equivalent that could handle advanced programs (i.e. Python and other data visualization software) and heavy computation.
As with an MBA, an online master’s degree in economics program aims to equip students for the work they are currently doing in the company they are employed in and for the industry they belong to. An effective online master’s degree in economics program is one that leaps from theory to application.
The following are some general and specialized courses that the online master’s degree in economics program student can expect to encounter or choose from:
The online master’s degree in economics program typically culminates in a student’s working on a master’s thesis project. There are also non-thesis programs for an online master’s degree in economics, where students are given several project-based assignments instead.
There are a number of things the prospective student should consider as he/she draws up a shortlist of the best online master’s degree in economics program:
There’s no better metric of a school’s standards than the quality of graduates it produces. One should take time to know who the alumni of a college are and their reputation.
The best online master’s degree in economics program is about learning from the best academic mentors and not just getting a credential. One should look up the master’s degree in economics faculty of one’s preferred school. Check for achievements of the Economics department and its faculty.
An inquiring student should check the reputation of an online college on the internet and with alumni, if possible. Hiring managers are very discriminating with educational credentials and prefer online graduates from institutions with good standing and reputation in the educational community. One can also inquire about the members of a school’s Board of Trustees and the reputation of those. Inquirers can also check the Better Business Bureau website or call directly for complaints and issues against the school. Talk to local residents, inquire with the Department of Education, or with the Council for Higher Education.
Accreditation from a respected accreditation body is a sound assurance of a school’s academic standards. One should ask if a university or college has one.
Take note that there are counterfeit accreditation bodies that give their approval to diploma mills for a fee. The Council for Higher Education has a Database of Institutions and Programs recognized by U.S. accrediting organizations. Accreditation may be Regional (i.e. from the Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education) or National (i.e. Distance Education Accrediting Commission). Educational experts place a higher value on regional accreditation that imposes more stringent requirements.
Some schools have different policies with regard to the acceptance of students from out-of-state or overseas. One should inquire with an institution before applying.
One should check if an online master’s degree in economics program is fully online or hybrid, synchronous or asynchronous, and whether published textbooks or free/open e-books would be used.
There are fewer associated costs for an online master’s degree in economics program than on-campus degrees. Online degrees usually do not involve travel expenses, room and board, and other personal expenses. But different institutions might have other charges not explicitly stated in their brochures or websites, i.e. technology or online access fees (per credit). Many schools charge higher tuition fees to those accessing the school’s online learning facilities from out-of-state, although a number have uniform rates. Many institutions automatically charge students for the use of campus facilities—even if one doesn’t intend to use these.
A school’s online course and associated elearning functionalities are delivered by its content delivery system and are dependent on its network. Students should check just how reliable a school’s network and systems are. Some institutions are proud to inform website visitors that they have 24/7 tech support. One can ask about downtimes and how frequent these occur. Are there data backup and recovery systems in place?
Some programs may be totally online, but even some fully online programs might still require students to report to the campus for orientation, during certain school events, for exams, etc.
Another very important point of clarification would be—how transferable credits earned in a Master’s in Economics Program are to other colleges or programs, or should a student decide to switch programs or transfer to another school, for that matter.
An online master’s degree in economics student will have many options as to fields of concentration, locations in the world where one wants to study, and even the option to study at prestigious universities at affordable rates. They can be working the ideal jobs for economics majors, be they market research analysts, data scientists, or actuaries among many other careers.
For economists who are always mindful of efficiency, an online program that minimizes one’s cost (i.e. tuition and travel expenses) and health risks (i.e. during a pandemic), while maximizing one’s benefits (study-life balance) might be the most efficient option.