Sloan Consortium, a group of organizations dedicated to quality online education, said in the seventh edition of its annual report on the state of online learning in the U.S. that online enrollments, which have been growing at a faster rate than the total higher education student population, are showing no signs of slowing.
The report stated that over 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall term of 2008 – an increase of 17 percent over the previous year and far exceeding the 1.2 percent growth in the overall higher education student population.
It is clear that online education is emerging as a popular choice for the new-age student. However, a debate is still raging over which is better – online degree programs or on-campus degrees. While there is no easy answer to this because which of the two alternatives work better for you depends to a large degree on your circumstances, let’s compare the two modes of education on some important parameters to get a clearer picture.
Online: One of the greatest breakthroughs of online education has been that it has made higher education accessible to many people, who are unable to attend a bricks and mortar school for a variety of reasons. Moreover, online students are not bound by any geographical limits. They can apply to any school of their choice as they are free to pursue an online program from anywhere.
Campus: Campus-based education still works within a fairly rigid structure. From location to lodging, everything needs to fall in place if you are considering traditional, classroom-based degree programs.
Online: “Diploma mills” are the biggest bane of online education. Diploma mills are fraudulent institutions that sell unaccredited degrees, which involve no serious academic study. It is, therefore, imperative that students check the credentials of a university offering online programs. Accredited online degrees are accepted as valid degrees by academicians as well as employers. There is no greater indicator of its validity than the availability of federal student aid to those enrolled in an eligible online degree program at an accredited Title IV-eligible institution.
Campus: Although there may be some fraudulent bricks and mortar schools, the prevalence of such schools is comparatively less than substandard or unaccredited online schools. However, even if you are attending campus-based programs, it’s good to have your tracks covered by checking the reputation and accreditation status of the school.
Online: Various research organizations have statistics to prove the growing acceptability of online degrees. Academic leaders as well as employers now acknowledge the legitimacy of online programs and most treat them at par with traditional degrees.
Campus: According to some experts, certain programs are less suited for online only schools. Campus-based learning is generally advisable for disciplines like engineering. Programs that require extensive practical and hands on training or involve great deal of laboratory work are better pursed at a bricks and mortar institute.
Online: This again ties back to the question of validity and acceptability of online degrees. There has been a greater acceptability of online degrees because of the perceived improvement in the quality of education disbursed through these programs. In fact, many universities have started offering online programs to capture the growing market. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 66 percent of 2-year and 4-year Title IV degree-granting postsecondary institutions reported offering online, hybrid/blended, or other distance education courses during the 2006-07 academic year.
Campus: The quality of education offered by reputed campus-based programs is most often top-notch. The faculty members are trained and the programs, designed by experts, adhere to strict quality criteria. However, there is a rising trend wherein online degrees offered by an institute are exactly the same in content as its on campus degrees.
Online: This is where online education wins hands down. The flexibility offered to online students is unparalleled – whether it’s in terms of the pace of learning or setting your own schedule. Online degree programs are ideally suited for working professionals or those who have other responsibilities. Online programs allow them to draw a better balance between work, home, and education.
Campus: Campus-based programs are pretty structured and still operate within rigid schedules. There are set timetables that need to be followed and a minimum attendance requirement for most on campus degrees. It is often difficult for people to manage full-time jobs while they are attending a bricks and mortar college.
Online: Online degree programs are more economical than traditional degrees. If you pursue a degree online, you also benefit from saving costs associated with commuting, housing, food, and textbooks (as the study material is available online and costs considerably less).
Campus: The spiraling cost of college has been an area of concern for a long time now. However, given the state of the economy, the sky-rocketing tuition fee for campus-based programs is discouraging many from pursuing higher education altogether.
Evidently, degree programs, both online and traditional have their pros and cons. That’s probably why many colleges have now started looking towards hybrid education, which combines the best of both worlds. A generous use of technology and liberal amount of flexibility coupled with world-class practical training and invigorating social interactions – that’s where the future of education lies!