The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in many sectors, including education. Online distance learning has been around for quite some time. In fact, online education statistics show that about 36.3% of undergraduate students in the United States were enrolled in at least one distance education course in the fall of 2019 (NCES, 2020). However, the pandemic has forced many institutions to embrace education digitalization. Since 2020, around 98% of universities have moved their classes online (ThinkImpact, n.d.).
More than a year after the global health crisis started, hope is already in sight with more people now getting vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, schools are gradually preparing to transition back to face-to-face classes. However, a majority of students are hoping to be given the option to study online post-pandemic (McKenzie, 2021).
If you are among the students who are hoping to finish a degree completely online, this document gives a closer look at online degrees. It will dive deep into how they differ from traditional programs, how much they cost, and how to choose from the best online degrees available today.
Even before the pandemic, many institutions have already been offering online degree programs. As noted by Shailendra Palvia, Prageet Aeron, and their co-authors in their 2018 study, online education is on track to become mainstream by 2025 due to a combination of various factors.
“As information and communication technologies have kept advancing, online education has become more feasible technologically, economically, and operationally,” the authors noted. According to them, the “increase in nontraditional students that are working full time and the advanced state of technology” are just two of the factors driving the growth of online education.
In their paper “Online Education: Worldwide Status, Challenges, Trends, and Implications” published in the Journal of Global Information Technology Management in November 2018, the authors also asserted that “globalization of e-education is bound to happen, just as we have witnessed globalization of e-mail, e-commerce, and e-government.” As such, 100% online degrees that are recognized globally may just be the norm in the near future.
Furthermore, online degrees are more favorable to students who require flexibility in terms of learning schedule and environment. Online distance learning is also largely more cost-efficient than traditional degrees, making them more practical and attractive. To support this, a survey found that 35% of higher education students enrolled in an online degree felt that online education offered the best value for money (McKenzie, 2020). As a result, many institutions launched online programs to cater to students interested in distance learning.
Ultimately, the pandemic motivated more institutions to follow suit in offering programs that can be completed 100% online. However, as COVID-19 vaccination activities continue to expand, more colleges and universities are now preparing to open their doors and move towards full face-to-face capacity. Most of these institutions encourage students to get vaccinated, with several of them specifying COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement for enrollees. However, not all students can, or are willing to get vaccinated. This is just one of the reasons why students may be interested in continuing to take a degree online.
Fortunately, there are still several institutions that offer completely online undergraduate and graduate degrees. Many of these were already available pre-pandemic, so students can feel assured of the quality of the programs.
Source: Strada Center for Consumer Insights, 2021
Both online and traditional degrees are designed to equip students with knowledge and skills specific to the specialization or career they want to pursue. In general, online degrees also consist of the fundamental courses that their traditional counterparts have. When it comes to courses and scope, online and traditional degrees hardly differ from each other.
For the most part, online and traditional degrees differ in terms of the learning experience, schedule and environment flexibility, and cost-efficiency.
In the traditional classroom setting, students connect and collaborate with their classmates and professors in real-time. They also get access to the school’s physical resources, such as computers and library books. Furthermore, they can also take advantage of the institution’s infrastructure and enjoy the perks of in-campus extracurricular groups and activities.
Meanwhile, being enrolled in an online degree encourages students to learn independently, at their own pace. While they do not have access to school-owned devices or references, they may still be able to access online course materials and educational resources pertinent to their degree and coursework. In cases where the teaching method is asynchronous and the lessons are provided in modules, students can replay the lectures any time and as many times as they would need. Furthermore, with the help of online communication and video conferencing tools, students and faculty can also have real-time interaction.
Although online and traditional degrees are significantly different in terms of delivery and the learning experience they offer, both prove conducive for learning. However, every student may have an individual preference and will eventually favor one over the other.
One of the most significant differences between online and traditional degree programs is the class schedules and their flexibility. In a traditional degree, students need to follow strict class schedules throughout every semester. Students need to attend face-to-face classes to hear their professors’ lectures and participate in discussions, or else they could miss important lessons and information. There will also be courses that might require lab sessions.
On the other hand, online degrees offer more flexibility. Typically, online degree programs let students attend synchronous sessions and fulfill asynchronous activities. While students are required to join synchronous classes and lectures at a specified schedule, they can choose to complete their asynchronous activities anytime and anywhere, as long as they submit on time.
In general, online degrees may prove more cost-efficient than traditional degrees, particularly when you consider specific factors including the following:
Incoming and current online degree students may find themselves asking, “will employers take my online degree seriously?” The answer to that question is, “it generally depends on where you earn the degree.”
Fortunately for online degree students, many employers nowadays no longer discriminate between online and traditional degrees. In fact, a recent survey found that a huge 55% of employers think that online credentials are of higher quality than traditional credentials. Meanwhile, 6% think that online and traditional degrees are of equal quality (Gallagher, 2019).
This acceptance could be the result of employers adapting to the demand of the times. As many organizations had to restructure their operations to keep up with the changes, especially during the pandemic, adjustments and adaptation became the norm. As many companies are “embracing the changes in the employment landscape and have adjusted their hiring processes to reflect that (Goldman, 2021),” they have also accepted that education has also changed and eventually, the way new professionals acquire their degrees and credentials have also evolved. This is supported by the findings from the study conducted by Calvin D. Fogle, DBA, and Devonda Elliott in 2013 that sought to determine if hiring managers hold favorable attitudes toward online university graduates.
“As more people attend online schools over time and the number of graduates of online schools sitting on the hiring side of the desk increases, we can anticipate more favorable treatment of online university graduates,” the authors concluded. They also noted that “competitive pressure among online schools will ultimately encourage online schools to develop measures of their performance and promote those measures among the public.” This may result in more employers recognizing the quality of online degrees.
In addition, their study, titled “The Market Value of Online Degrees as a Credible Credential” published online in the Global Education Journal in September 2013, left the conclusion that “hiring practices are less biased against graduates of online universities with respect to the rigor of online universities.” This leaves the impression that hiring managers have a better attitude towards graduates from more reputed online universities.
According to a recent report, 15% of students identified favorable admission requirements as a factor when choosing an online degree program (Magda, et.al. 2020). There is a wide variety of online degrees available today and as such, admission requirements also vary based on the type of degree, the specialization or major, and the institution. In general, however, incoming students need to meet and submit basic requirements, such as:
In an online degree, instructions are given and classes are held through a combination of digital tools, such as learning management systems, cloud-based file storage, and video conferencing tools, among others. Students are expected to have the means and resources to access materials and attend virtual classes. This is why they must have a computer that meets minimum technological requirements, including:
While there are schools that may allow the use of mobile or handheld devices for video conferencing, computers allow students to perform tasks more efficiently.
Source: Wiley Education Services & EducationDynamics, 2020
More than half (51%) of students choose online degrees because of their affordability (Magda, et.al. 2020). However, you might be wondering how much an online degree really costs. While it is somewhat a given that online degrees are cheaper, students might not know exactly how much they can save and what goes into online degree costs.
Many factors affect the structure of online degree fees. For instance, there are schools that charge by the credit hour while others charge per course. On the other hand, a select few may charge for a whole semester. Aside from the tuition fees, schools may also charge students for the use of their learning management systems and other technological resources. Institutions may also add IT maintenance charges in place of the typical miscellaneous fees.
To give you an idea, here are the average tuition rates for different types of online degrees.
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Associate Degree||From $3,570||From $5000||From $15,000|
|Bachelor's Degree||$4,000 – $27,500||$12,000 – $27,500||$30,000 - $50,000|
|Master's Degree||From $10,645||From $20,263||From $40,000|
|Doctoral Degree||$28,000 to $40,000||$28,000 to $40,000||$45,000 - $56,000|
|*Values are estimates.|
Online degrees have been popular among students even before the pandemic. In fact, the latest data shows that in the semester of Fall 2019, there were 3,450,125 students enrolled in fully online undergraduate or graduate degrees in the US (NCES, 2019). Below, we list a few of the most popular online degrees.
An online degree in business administration can open the door to some of the highest-paying jobs for its graduates. Whether students take an online bachelor’s degree in business administration, online master’s degree in business administration (MBA), or both, they can potentially get hired in positions specializing in business operations and management, as well as in marketing and finance. These degrees also provide the foundation for successfully establishing and managing a business.
Every business needs proper accounting. As such, graduates of an online accounting degree can find a job in practically any industry, be it in a private organization or non-profit. Undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to excel in fields such as consulting, wealth management, investments, and account management.
The duties of finance professionals range from budget planning to managing wealth and investments. Online bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in finance equip students with the fundamentals of the different finance practices. Students also learn about related aspects of economics.
Marketing combines creativity, research, business, advertising, and sales skills. Online marketing degree students learn about the latest best practices when marketing in various channels, including the internet, search engines, and social media. With every business needing marketing campaigns at some point, a degree in marketing is of value.
As more organizations now become increasingly project-oriented, a degree in project management can prove indispensable. Online bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs in project management are designed to develop a student’s skills in managing projects from start to finish, ensuring that project, budget, and schedule requirements are met. These programs also train students’ people management skills.
Computer systems now play a huge part in everyone’s lives. As the information age continues to dominate and industries rely on data even more, the need for computer scientists remains. Online computer science degree graduates can be employed as web developers, programmers, software engineers, network administrators, professors, and research scientists. Indeed, computer science degree graduates are not confined to either software and hardware aspects. They can also pursue corporate and academic careers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has surely reiterated the importance of healthcare professionals. Besides doctors, nurses, medical technologists, and the like, healthcare administrators also play a huge role in ensuring that people get the kind of healthcare they deserve. Students looking to pursue a career in the healthcare industry can consider an online healthcare administration degree that trains them for the management aspect of healthcare.
Another specialization that students can take an online degree for is education. Indeed, the availability of online degrees in education further proves the viability of acquiring education online. Students can choose from a wide range of specializations, including early childhood, high school, and even special education.
Online communication degrees equip students with the technical and practical skills that will prepare them for careers in media, public relations, journalism, and organizational and corporate communication. Communication degree students are not only taught how to communicate well and appropriately but also how to identify and solve conflict through communication itself.
Here is another specialization that students can efficiently learn online. An online degree in graphic design teaches students various principles and elements of art and design as applied to marketing and business. Online degree in graphic design graduates can find success as freelancers but they can also find positions in agencies and corporations.
The online degree market is projected to reach $74 billion by 2025 from $36 billion in 2019 (HolonIQ, 2020). Among the contributors to this growth is the continuing effort of institutions to provide high-quality online degrees. For students to fully take advantage of online degrees, they must choose one carefully. Below are a few factors to consider when choosing an online degree program.
Although online degrees are known for their flexibility, students must also determine if the available teaching methods meet their expectations and schedule. There are degree programs consisting of both synchronous and asynchronous sessions and activities. Meanwhile, there are degrees that may require students to go to the school’s campus, service center, or proctored location at some point to fulfill coursework or laboratory requirements.
As mentioned above, employers nowadays care more about where an applicant acquired his or her credential than how one got it. As such, choosing an online degree program involves carefully looking at the institution’s local and global ranking, as well as the prominence of its faculty and alumni.
Enrolling in accredited online degree programs is vital to acquiring worthwhile education. In most cases, accreditations show employers that the student completed a program that has met stringent standards. Different specializations are associated with different accrediting bodies. For instance, when looking for an online computer science program, one must check for accreditation from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). Meanwhile, students planning to enroll in an online degree in project management must check for accreditation from the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Online learning is not without challenges. As such, it is ideal for an online degree program to provide sufficient support services. For instance, if you are unable to access your coursework due to tech issues or if you couldn’t upload an essay you’re supposed to submit, will there be someone you can call to assist you? This comes in handy especially for students and professors who are not particularly tech-savvy.
Taking an online degree means learning independently. However, it is also important for students to build their networks. Before enrolling, it is best to know if there are ways and options to interact with fellow students, faculty, and instructors.
Online degrees offer a practical and flexible way to get the necessary education and credentials that will help you achieve your career goals. Fortunately, there are several available online undergraduate and graduate programs in different fields and specializations that you can choose from.
The key to reaping the benefits of online degree programs and ensuring that you get as much value from them as possible is to carefully consider crucial factors. For instance, the affordability of a program is just one factor. The reputation of the institution providing the program is just as important, if not more. It may help to start looking at the online degrees offered by the best-value higher education institutions in the US. Hopefully, with the help of this guide, you will find an online degree that best suits your goals, skills, and interests.