The Savvy Student’s Guide to Online Colleges and Online Education
|Online Education Guide Table of Contents|
|The History of Distance Education|
|The Benefits of an Online Education|
|The Drawbacks of an Online Education|
|Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Online Education|
Online colleges and online education now occupy an increasingly large portion of the academic landscape. Yet just two decades ago, the idea of a virtual classroom was a high-tech novelty. The idea that online education could ever replace the traditional classroom would have seemed exaggerated, even far-fetched. The World Wide Web (as it was cumbersomely known at the time) was in its infancy. We were only beginning to imagine its potential to impact our lives, let alone the transformative effect it would have on our education.
Today, the Internet presents a world of opportunities that have completely transformed the state of modern education from the way we learn, study, and test to the way we engage information, assignments, and each other. Thus, where online education once satisfied a niche population of students and invoked scrutiny for its questionable academic rigor, the accountability of its assessments, and the quality of the overall experience, it is today both an inextricable part of the broader educational sector and a massive private industry.
Though both of these facts betoken the rapid proliferation and market penetration of online colleges (and online education more generally), they also suggest a dual socioeconomic development. On the one hand, we have witnessed a remarkable growth in the credibility and perceived normalcy of online education, to the extent that today even the most vaunted and respected academic institutions incorporate some degree of online education into their broader set of course offerings. This has helped to undergird the perceived value of online colleges and to impose a level of accountability on its practitioners. In turn, employers and members of the general public have come to view online education with increasingly less suspicion.
On the other hand, the growth of online colleges has contributed to the expansion of a for-profit institutions in which education may be marketed as an internet commodity. The result is a significant sector within education consisting of institutions still to some degree trying to define their academic credibility or accountability, but with considerable marketing and recruitment resources. More traditional non-profit colleges only recently delving into online education thus find themselves in competition with more established for-profit online colleges. The latter have been doing online education for two decades and have considerable connections in industry and the corporate world, providing continuing education for companies that might otherwise have sought more traditional schools to advance their employees’ knowledge and skills.
Like any industry emerging from two decades of solid growth, online education exists across a spectrum of highly variable quality, credibility, and accessibility. Moreover, within this spectrum, the compatibility between a student and a given online college will also vary considerably. For those seeking an online education, finding the right institution and subsequently getting the most out of this institution can be challenging. There is a dense morass of marketing material, rankings, and course offerings through which every potential applicant must wade.
The objective of this guide is to provide a life raft as potential applicants venture deeper into the online college waters. The following discussion aims to assist prospective online students as they navigate a marketplace that continues to grow and diversify. We offer a brief history of distance education, both before and after the advent of in-home web usage; a discussion of the benefits of attending college online; and a consideration of the potential drawbacks that online applicants must consider. The discussion will also include tips on how to initiate a search for the online college that’s right for you; how to make an informed decision; how to get the most out of your time in online college; and, finally, how to make your online degree work for you in the real world.
The advice we offer here therefore supplements the ranking of 50 best online colleges for 2016 at the start of this article. Likewise, it supplements TheBestSchools.org’s analysis of the 25 Best Online Degrees in today’s job market as well as our breakdown of The Best Online College in Each of America’s Fifty States. Use this Guide in coordination with any of our online college and degree ranking resources as you undertake your search for the right online college.
The History of Distance Education
Though the focus of this guide is online education, the origins of this educational approach actually date quite a bit further back in history than the proliferation or even the invention of the Internet. In fact, online education falls under the larger umbrella concept of “distance education.” Distance education refers to the experience of receiving instruction as mediated by some mode of communication that transcends geographical space.
According to a 2005 article in Distance Learning magazine, this educational strategy did begin with an innovation, but it wasn’t email. Long before the term “snail mail” had entered the popular vernacular, the innovation of standardized penny postage in the United Kingdom made distance education a reality.
In 1840, English teacher Isaac Pitman put the Penny Post system to constructive use, offering shorthand writing instruction through mailed correspondence. What most differentiated Pitman’s approach from prior attempts at correspondence education was the educator’s own active feedback and assessment of completed work. This bilateral communication between remotely located educator and student would form the basis for distance education.
In just three years, Pitman had parlayed his innovation into the Phonographic Correspondence Society and, thereafter, Sir Isaac Pitman’s Correspondence Colleges. Pitman’s approach gained ground with educators throughout Europe as the nineteenth century wore on. According to Distance Learning, the late 1800s saw the emergence of several leading distance education institutions, including Edinburgh’s Skerry’s College in 1878, London’s Correspondence College in 1887, and, in Sweden, the influential Hermod’s, which was officially established in 1898.
The strategy even gained ground in the United States before the turn of the century, with newly established institutions like the University of Chicago making correspondence education a major part of their educational arsenal as early as 1890. Within the decade, major distance education institutions had emerged in Boston and eastern Pennsylvania as well.
As with online colleges today, early distance education was greeted with mixed feelings. According to Distance Learning, correspondence education “was designed to provide educational opportunities for those who were not among the economic elite and who could not afford full time residence at an educational institution. Many saw it as simply a business operation, and viewed this alternative as inferior education. Moreover, these distance opportunities extended education potential to the masses, an extreme departure from the undemocratic educational system that characterized the early years of U.S. history.”
Distance Learning posits that in spite of the reservations of its critics, distance learning spread thanks to a cultural push for more equal educational access in the U.S. In a similar way, this account will demonstrate that online colleges today are very much affected by the same mixed bag of support and criticism that impacted distance education in its earliest incarnations. That is, the desire for equal educational access continues to collide with questions of quality assurance all across the online college industry.
Another common feature of distance education throughout its history is that technological innovation has often been the force to spark its evolution. With the proliferation of radio in the earliest 20th century, a number of the first regularly broadcast programs incorporated educational instruction coming from universities and other places of learning. In many developing nations, call-in educational programs remain an important channel for teaching otherwise remote, isolated, or impoverished populations.
By the late 1930s, television was beginning to supplant radio as the preferred medium for broadcast correspondence education. According to Distance Learning, in 1951 Cleveland’s Western Reserve University became the first school to offer college credit courses through television broadcast. New York University, which adopted the approach, offered “Sunrise Semester” courses through a partnership with CBS from 1957 to 1982.
Synchronous Distance Education
What most separates this earlier form of distance learning from its present online incarnation is asynchronicity. That is, traditional modes of distance learning have relied on correspondence with transmission inherently delayed or—to say it simply—out of sync. This means lapses of time necessarily interrupt the cycle of instruction, inquiry, response, assignment submission, assessment, and feedback. Though asynchronous distance learning historically overcame the physical limitations caused by spatial distances, the challenge of temporal lag or delay always limited its dynamism and appeal.
The first attempts at overcoming this obstacle took the form of two-way audio communication between students and educator, not much different from a multiperson telephone conference. By the end of the 20th century, media such as open broadcast cable and “interactive instructional TV” (ITV) would combine this audio communication with video. This approach to televised live lecturing became increasingly popular during the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, many early-adopting U.S. state governments employed ITV in order to establish statewide distance learning networks with considerable success.
Of course, all of these innovations would merely set the virtual stage for what the web has made possible. In the mid-1990s, as household web usage became increasingly standard, its synchronous, multilateral education capabilities began coming into focus. The web had made the immediate transmission of video, audio, graphical, and compositional content considerably easier, more reliable, and more accessible. In 1996, Jones International University became the first online university in the United States to receive full accreditation, when it gained recognition through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
By the start of the new millennium, online colleges moved from the educational fringe to center stage as one of the fastest-growing forms of education in circulation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “from 2000 to 2008, the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in at least one distance education class expanded from 8 percent to 20 percent, and the percentage enrolled in a distance education degree program increased from 2 percent to 4 percent.”
Today, online education occupies a place of great importance in the grander scheme of higher education. In spite of concerns over the business imperatives that sometimes drive this educational sector (an issue discussed at length throughout this account) and in spite of some early skepticism over the instructional quality distance education can achieve, it is now clear the benefits of online education far exceed its drawbacks.
In an overview of distance learning, an associate professor and Director of Business Education from the University of West Georgia (2007) surmises that “Several changes have taken place in online education over the years. Online education has moved from a minor alternative role of ‘ learning by correspondence’ to the center of life at most universities. The Internet has played a significant role in these changes because it has assisted instructors to more effectively respond to the limitations often cited regarding online education and it has been used to deliver instruction to students and employees at remote sites.”[12, references omitted]
As the benefits have become self-evident, so too has the prevalence of the online college industry. Universities and private enterprises alike have substantially increased their investment in online colleges over the last decade or more and have, in turn, enjoyed broader enrollment capacity and greater revenues.
Both by way of traditional universities and for-profit corporations, online colleges have become a largely entrenched dimension of America’s broader educational strategy. An article in EdTech Magazine (2012) offers a set of statistics illustrating not only that online colleges are an important part of education, but also that web-mediated distance learning has actually replaced the brick-and-mortar classroom experience for many students. For still other students, online education has forged and widened a previously non-existent learning space, one that makes higher education accessible to those who might otherwise remain disenfranchised.
According to EdTech Magazine, 65 percent of students consulted in 2012 had taken some online classes. A nearly identical 64 percent of full-time faculty at community colleges taught through some form of online distance education.
The Magazine goes on to report that 60 percent of four-year private schools and fully 90 percent of four-year public colleges offer online classes to their students. For two-year colleges, the number is 91 percent.
Also, as of 2012, 58 percent of all colleges and universities offered degrees for which every bit of coursework could be completed online. Statistics also reflect a shared and growing perception among students, faculty, and college administrators that online education is an essential part of the future of education and that the increased accessibility and flexibility that it facilitates is improving educational opportunities in far-reaching and profound ways.
U.S. News & World Report tells that 2012 marked a 10th consecutive year of growth for online colleges, with more than 6.7 million students having taken at least one online university course through the previous year. Moreover, Babson Research reported that in 2013 this number exceeded 7 million. This represents a remarkable pace of growth from just 1.6 million students in 2002.
Researchers say that online colleges reached their peak rate of growth in 2005 with a massive 36.5 percent increase in enrollment over the previous year. Growth has slowed substantially since then, with online colleges recording a 9.3 percent rate of growth over the previous year in late 2011. Researchers largely attribute this slowed pace to the fact that so much of the student population has already adopted online education. For this reason, a plateau in growth may be approaching eventually. Still, at this juncture, the new annual crop of college and post-graduate aspirants keeps the number of online students rising—a trend that is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.
In the next section, we focus on the impact of these trends, noting the wide range of benefits conferred by the growth and entrenchment of online colleges.
The Benefits of an Online Education
The explosion in online college enrollment over the last decade makes perfect sense. Web-mediated education has opened up a world of opportunity to populations previously excluded and it has transformed the strategic landscape for traditional institutions of higher education. All told, its benefits are considerable and are likely only to grow more numerous and impactful as the technology, standards, and processes which channel online education are refined. Next, we consider some of the most compelling benefits of an online education:
For many potential students, online colleges represent the one and only path to a formal higher education. Because the web-mediated nature of online colleges allows for instruction and interaction that is both synchronous (live online lectures, live chats, etc.) and asynchronous (lecture podcasts, bulletin boards, email exchanges), students have a better opportunity to balance personal or professional demands with academic responsibilities.
Consequently, online college is an attractive option for many students who must also work for a living. According to EdTech Magazine, 27 percent of distance learners in 2012 also maintained full-time employment.
This not only implies the benefit of improved control over schedule management, but also suggests that in the broader scheme, online colleges are making higher education more readily available to those for whom economic limitations might otherwise preclude enrollment. The proliferation of online colleges means many aspiring students no longer face a choice between working and learning. For many working Americans who wish to learn new skills, enhance their professional stature, or simply improve their body of knowledge, online education presents a chance to do so without sacrificing either income or career trajectory.
This is one of the reasons that online education has proven so popular among adult learners who wish to balance hectic personal lives with the pursuit of new skills and certifications. According to a CNN (2010) article about employment and online education, “Online degree programs are designed to help adult learners with busy lives earn their degree without being tied down to class times and without having to go to campus,’ says Jeff Caplan, dean of strategic enrollment management at American Sentinel University, an online university.”
For prospective students already immersed in a career or who have a family to support, the flexibility and accessibility afforded by online education may make it the only realistic way to return to school.
Over the past decade, online colleges have also seen significant jumps in enrollment from younger members of the workforce. In particular, during the Great Recession that began in 2008, many young graduates who were dissatisfied with the job market ahead of them or who wished to make themselves more valuable to prospective employers found shelter and opportunity at online colleges.
In a marked contrast from the preceding era in which “going back to school” meant leaving one’s job, online colleges are enabling young workers to actually improve their job security. The scheduling flexibility and efficiency of online education is something about which most employers are quite enthusiastic. Indeed, some employers are even willing to help fund this education, if it means employees can use newly learned skills and knowledge within the company. Many larger, publicly traded firms have well-established programs that help to facilitate this kind of continuing online education.
In many ways, online education substantially expands and improves access to higher education for countless groups that might otherwise not have the opportunity. For prospective students living in remote geographical settings or sparsely populated rural regions, brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning may be few and far between. By contrast, online colleges are physically accessible to all with a computer terminal and a high speed web connection. This diminishes the need for relocation, housing, or a taxing commute for many students. For many others, it does nothing less than make higher education feasible.
This extends to American students who must study from abroad, whether because of personal obligation or military service. The flexibility of scheduling and the elimination of spatial limitations means that students can continue to pursue degree programs from anywhere in the world.
Of course, this access doesn’t just apply to people limited due to their immediate geographical surroundings. The same is true for those who struggle with any number of potential impediments to access, mobility, or engagement of campus facilities. Online education eases the transportation burden on those who may struggle with physical disability and can represent a safe alternative to daily use of a university’s facilities for the handicapped.
This same benefit makes online education an attractive option for seniors wishing to return to school. Those who lack the means or physical ability to step into a classroom can still gain the knowledge or skills they desire without leaving the house.
That said, many online colleges are still learning how to accommodate a full range of disabilities. A recent federal lawsuit filed against Harvard and MIT casts this challenge into harsh light. According to the suit raised by the National Association of the Deaf, both of these venerable universities are guilty of discrimination against the hearing-impaired for failing to provide captioning for their constantly growing set of online course offerings. According to the Boston Globe (2015), the lawsuit targeted the schools because they are among the most prominent and most rapidly expanding providers of “massive open online courses (MOOCs).”
The goal of the suit is to bring greater attention to the need for all online schools to accommodate this and other disabilities with greater inclusiveness. Based on their early responses to the charges, Harvard and MIT appear likely to adopt new standards over the coming year, including captioning for the hearing-impaired.
Though the accessibility of online schools represents a leap forward for broad cross-sections of the population, the case against Harvard and MIT denotes the need for continuing improvement and refinement of what is a relatively young phenomenon in education. The case also suggests a trajectory in which the continued expansion of online education, especially through reputable institutions such as Harvard and MIT, should precipitate a continued improvement in its accessibility, and the standards that define it.
As a corollary to the improved flexibility and accessibility afforded online college enrollees, this medium also provides freedom from many of the social challenges relating to the college experience. Among the most basic of these advantages, the online student need not navigate campus busing systems, risk the ever-present campus parking ticket, or face the threat of physical tardiness. Students can attend classes without any of these pressures.
Moreover, an article in U.S. News & World Report (2013) indicates that online colleges can actually alleviate far more serious pressures. In the last decade, thousands of veterans have returned from war in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. For many, the transition into civilian life is a very difficult one (especially those suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD). The G.I. Bill is designed to ease this transition by sending army veterans to college and ultimately helping them gain the skills they need to move into long-term civilian careers.
Nevertheless, not a few veterans struggle to adapt to campus life, while many others simply do not desire this dimension of the educational experience. The article in U.S. News & World Report recognizes that for many veterans returning from tours of combat duty, it can be difficult and unappealing to connect with recent high school graduates taking their first steps away from home. The article notes that for many military veterans transitioning into college, an online education is optimal.
Students in online colleges also enjoy an inherent flexibility that allows those who remain affiliated with the military to continue their studies even when their responsibilities call for unusual scheduling demands, geographical relocation, or deployment.
Naturally, these benefits are not reserved for military veterans alone. However, the popularity of online courses among former servicemen and -women is a perfect demonstration of the value of a self-guided learning experience. For those who wish to procure a meaningful education without undertaking the cultural experience of campus living, online colleges may be ideal.
College is expensive, usually in money and always in time. Certainly, this has been a major area of concern over recent years among lawmakers, within the media, and even in the nation’s highest executive offices. Students are leaving college and graduate school saddled with staggering loan debts and in spite of hand-wringing at the highest levels of government and educational leadership, relief from rising tuition rates does not appear to be on the near horizon.
Therefore, it falls upon you, the student, to make informed and intelligent decisions about the wisest way to invest in your education. According to an article published by Money Crashers (2014), the College Board reported that “the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2012–2013 school year was $8,655 for state residents attending public colleges, $21,706 for out-of-state residents attending public universities, and $29,056 for students attending private colleges.”
The article points out that these figures do not include the also considerable expenses of housing, food, personal needs, transportation, campus services, and other incidentals related to campus life. Given that the tuition figures cited above will likely only continue to rise, defraying these costs could be a game-changer for many prospective students. Students studying exclusively through online colleges enjoy a university-level education without the traditional expenses associated with the college experience.
Some online courses also provide their own internal, web-based texts to students. This is perhaps more valuable than one may at first realize. The College Board reports that the average student actually spends an estimated $1,200 per year on books and supplies, a figure that reflects a meteoric 82 percent rate of inflation between just 2002 and 2013. In fact, says an article by CNBC (2014), the cost of textbooks is so high that in a recent survey of roughly 2000 students from across 150 different campuses, 65 percent indicated that they had opted out of purchasing a required text because its cost was too great.
Online colleges present a far better alternative to simply opting out of crucial classroom material. To many critics of the academic publishing industry, the digital texts used routinely by online colleges point toward a far more equitable textbook market. Accordingly, consumer advocates have called for an expansion of the “open textbook” market, where faculty-composed and peer-reviewed materials are available freely online to students. CNBC reports that a number of major universities have invested in the development of open textbooks, but that uptake remains minimal.
Ultimately, though, this trend gives us cause for optimism that the approach taken by online colleges toward open and accessible digital course materials may actually have a positive and catalyzing impact on traditional education. The innovations that have been born by necessity through online education may actually lead to greater access and lower costs for students in brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Technical Skill Development
High speed Internet and mobile smartphone technology have permeated every aspect of our lives, from the modern workplace to our homes and recreation. From video-conferencing and insta aneous document transmission to telecommuting and global correspondence, web technologies are an absolutely essential part of nearly every business sector today. Those with the skills to harness these technologies will have a considerable advantage in the job market.
As it happens, online education inherently requires you to master many of the technologies and skills that future employees will seek out. Even as you focus on the content of your online courses, you will naturally adapt to the technical demands that require you to attend live online lectures, access previously recorded media, incorporate research while using required materials, submit your own materials, independently manage your own working timetable, and coordinate with others through a number of web-mediated channels.
All of these are skills that will make you a more valuable candidate to potential employers. An article in the U.S. News & World Report (2015) notes that community colleges are often on the cutting edge when it comes to online course offerings. This, the article notes, is at least partially attributable to the fact that the process for approving new courses at a two-year college is faster and less encumbered by bureaucratic hurdles. As a result, online community colleges have been particularly effective at incorporating rapidly evolving technological ideas, processes, and standards into course offerings.
To this end, according to U.S. News &World Report, Judy Baker, dean of online learning at San Jose’s Foothill College, observes that “employers in Silicon Valley seem to value the skills acquired in community college online courses just as much as in for-profit or four-year institutions…. In some ways, community colleges are able to be more agile and responsive to quickly changing workforce training needs.”
The article notes that many of the highest-growth employment sectors for online college graduates are those in which web technologies have become an inextricable part of everyday work. This includes fields such as healthcare, energy systems, broadcasting, and marketing. Students of online colleges often have regular contact and familiarity with technologies that the average student does not require. This may serve as a distinct advantage with employers who are seeking demonstrable experience with certain computer-mediated operations.
This is also true for those professions that allow or even require some degree of telecommuting. The “modern workplace” is, in some ways, a figurative term that, like the web itself, transcends the boundaries of time and space. With a mobile phone in every employee’s pocket and wireless web access in most corners of the globe, the workplace is everywhere. For positions where travel is required, where working from home can help to offset small business costs, or where one must be accessible at all hours of the day, the skills gained through an online education will be directly applicable.
The Drawbacks of an Online Education
Clearly, there are numerous benefits to an online education. So, why haven’t affordable web addresses completely replaced the high-end real estate of expensive college campuses and extravagantly pillared academic halls?
Well, aside from virtual frat parties simply not measuring up to the real thing, there are pitfalls to online education you must consider before proceeding. As you decide whether an online college is right for you—and consequently, which online college is most likely to meet your needs—you should be aware of the following drawbacks:
Inconsistent Quality Control
The quality of education, in all its forms and in spite of price tag and name, is highly variable. This is true whether you choose to study at a community college, a private university, or a vocational institute. The array of courses offered, the qualifications represented among educators, the cultural atmosphere, and the general reputation of any educational institution will figure into the value of its degree. The same is true of online education offered by organizations and institutions both storied and recent, venerable and disreputable, defined by educational excellence and by the pursuit of profit.
As with any college application process, what is accessible to you and appealing to you defines your search for the right online college. Make sure you conduct due diligence when researching the quality of the degree program that attracts your interest. It is easy to find accessible online courses offered by highly reputable and respected places of higher learning. But it is just as easy to invest in an online degree program that has little or no practical value. Sadly, the same is true for many traditional degree programs.
In any case, the onus is on you, the prospective student, to seek out an online college that is at once compatible with your needs and worth the money you intend to invest. No matter how affordable your online education is, your degree is only worth as much as the the knowledge and skills you gain and the respect that the degree from that college or university commands, especially in the workplace.
This is not to say that a university’s reputation is the prime factor of importance when it comes to quality of education. In many instances, the degree that you earn will take second seat to the skills you attain during your course of study. If this is true for you, then you need to seek an online college with a positive track record in its quality of instruction. Consider conducting some research on the employment rate for those who have previously graduated from a given online college program. Evidence that graduates are enjoying gainful employment in their chosen field of study is usually a good indicator of an online college’s relative quality.
In addition to considering the job placement rate of each online college, you are wise to be wary of those online colleges with low graduation rates. For-profit colleges, on average, have more student turnover than non-profit colleges.
In this connection, an editorial in the New York Times (2013) cites a five-year study released in 2011 that monitored the progress of 51,000 students attending Washington State community and technical colleges. The study determined that students who were enrolled ion more online as opposed to brick-and-mortar classes were substantially less likely to earn a degree or move on to a four-year college.
The reason offered by researchers is that too many students begin their college education lacking the basic learning skills needed to succeed in college: from independent time management and healthy study habits to competence in compositional English and research capabilities. This is true of students attending both traditional and online college classes. But it means that many students beginning their college education genuinely need the assistance, support, and motivation often found on campus, either through faculty, college counselors, existing student services, or one’s classmates. Without access to such a support network, ill-prepared students run the risk of struggling with their academic and personal responsibilities.
This means that in deciding to attend an online college, you need to give very serious consideration to your preparedness to take on its inherent challenges without the support that students attending brick-and-mortar schools are more likely to get. If you feel that you would benefit in a significant way from this support—and for some, such support may mean the difference between graduating and dropping out—online college is likely to present some daunting challenges—indeed, challenges that may hinder you from obtaining a degree.
In part, these challenges drive the focus of the next section.
Lack of Campus Experience
For some students, the campus experience is an absolute necessity. Indeed, college is the first time that many young people will venture out from under the wing of a parent or legal guardian. To a significant extent, this will mark a first attempt at independent living, at managing one’s own schedule and personal affairs, and at balancing freedom with responsibility. Campus life is a remarkable educational experience that the online medium cannot replicate.
Stated simply, if you consider this experience to be a necessary part of your personal education, online college is probably not for you. This does not preclude you from taking some online courses from the comfort of a dorm room or off-campus housing facility. However, it does suggest that you are an unlikely candidate for earning a degree exclusively through an online college.
Another drawback is the difficulty of replicating the dynamic experience of being in a classroom or an interactive lecture hall. According to U.S. News & World Report (2015), a 2013 study released by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College found that online students consistently lag behind their counterparts in the university’s brick-and-mortar classrooms. In many instances, respondents cited a lack of direct interaction with their fellow students as a major reason. Humans are social beings, and education thrives through social interactions.
One of the features that make college attractive to the inquiring mind is the extent to which it promotes the exchange of ideas and the engagement of discussion that is only possible in a room full of keen fellow learners. For many, the asynchronous rhythm of an online bulletin board system that online colleges provide simply doesn’t do enough to simulate as well as stimulate that experience. Though small group interaction is possible through video-conferencing, no technology yet exists that can facilitate the type of rapid-fire exchange and engagement that occurs in the physical classroom.
The same disintermediation can impede the ability of students and educators to develop a constructive working relationship. Without seeking direct engagement, a student may find this mode of communication decidedly more impersonal than even a large lecture hall. When it comes to these features, your personal preference will play a significant part in your final decision. How much you need or desire face-to-face interaction will be a strong determinant of how satisfied you are likely to be with an online education.
If online colleges are your only option and you have limited background with web-mediated education, prepare yourself for a more solitary learning experience. Moreover, if you feel that you would benefit from real, face-to-face interaction, contact others in your class who might be interested in creating a local study group. As we note in the “Tips” section of this guide, meeting with classmates at a coffee shop or library to discuss course content—or simply to become better acquainted—can be a great way of overcoming the sense of isolation that sometimes accompanies online education.
Cloudy Career Prospects
There is a justifiable concern for many prospective students that some employers view online education with suspicion. Even as online degrees proliferate and gain increasing mainstream credibility, some employers remain skeptical of their value relative to the traditional degree earned by attending a physical campus.
Still, an article in U.S. News & World Report (2012) notes that increasingly employers are less concerned with the medium through which individuals receive a degree than with the institution that bestowed it. The article goes on to say, “hiring managers understand that online courses from top programs, such as Harvard Business School, are credible, according to [Brad] Remillard [cofounder and executive recruiter at IMPACT Hiring Solutions Executive Search in Orange County, Florida]. ‘If Harvard puts this on, it’s probably a high-quality program,’ he says.’”
This is to say a degree earned online from a truly venerable institution has the same respect as a traditional degree. Today, employers are accepting online degrees with an increasing sense of normalcy. They are, however, looking over carefully the online colleges which award these degrees.
In the “Tips” section of this guide, we will offer a few recommendations for navigating a job market that has decidedly mixed feelings about online education.
Results May Vary
At the heart of your search for the right online college is your own level of compatibility with web-mediated education. One of the key differences with online colleges is that in many ways you are truly on your own. Much of your research will have to be self-guided. Your ability to maintain an effective study schedule will be up to you. You will have limited access to campus personnel, guidance counselors, and faculty. Therefore, before determining whether online college is the right path for you, make sure you can properly deal with this type of independence.
One of the valuable aspects of campus life is that there are many services and personnel close at hand to help you ease into your course of education. Such services can help you locate academic assistance, plot out your path of study, select your major, and participate in meaningful campus activities. You must do much of this navigation on your own when you attend an online college. This can make for a difficult adjustment period and one that can interfere with your studies.
This is not to say that online education is completely lacking in support services. All online colleges will have some support services. Yet, as with all other aspects of online education, the support services offered will vary from one school to the next. Before beginning an online degree program, make sure that the school in which you are enrolling offers a range of services commensurate to your needs and expectations.
If you feel comfortable flying solo—and many students are more than prepared to do so—an online degree program may be right for you. If this is your first attempt at managing your educational affairs without the assistance of parents or teachers, make sure you are up to the challenge, that you are using all the support services available to you, and that you have somebody in your corner, be it a family member or a professional tutor, to help you through the early stages of transition and hold you accountable.
As an editorial from the New York Times (2013) points out, your performance at an online college is determined in large part by the way that you have historically approached education. The editorial observes that “courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.”
It is important that you, as the college applicant, know into exactly which of these categories you fall. For some enrollees, compatibility will require the adoption of improved study habits, better schedule management, and a stronger work ethic. Of course, the positive offshoot is that if you can successfully make this transition, you will also be gaining absolutely essential life skills. These skills won’t just help you to succeed in your online education; they will make you more valuable to prospective employers.
That said, high rates of non-completion are rampant in online education and suggest that one must be realistic about one’s abilities before deciding to go this route.
As you navigate the challenges specific to selecting a college that suits your needs, one important issue you must consider is accreditation. Accreditation is the educational stamp of approval that guarantees your selected academic institution has attained certain standards of operational, procedural, financial, and academic practice.
Accreditation is critical as evidence that a degree-holder is properly credentialed in his or her given field of study. This makes accreditation an important part of turning your degree into employment and subsequent professional growth. Accreditation is also an equalizer among academic institutions, so that degrees, credits, and prerequisites allow one to transfer between accredited institutions. The flip side is if you get course credits or a degree from an unaccredited school and then try to transfer them to an accredited school, you may have your work at the unaccredited school refused.
Accreditation can tell you a great deal about the quality of the college or university of your choice and the value of the degree you seek. Therefore, before we continue our discussion of the online college search process, it is appropriate to spend some time defining and discussing accreditation.
The Importance of Accreditation
There are particulars that you must understand regarding accreditation if you are to effectively differentiate between a reputable college and a college more commonly referred to as a “diploma mill.” Diploma mills are low-quality and sometimes even fraudulent educational companies that prey on prospective college students.
Because there is little overarching or central authority presiding over the American system of higher education, colleges exist across an incredibly broad spectrum of quality and credibility. The accreditation system gives you at least one instrument for determining where a given college falls on this spectrum. That said, the quality and credibility of an accreditation can itself vary as a consequence of the reputation of the accreditation agency. Not all agencies are regarded with equal esteem, a fact that must figure into your search for the right college.
At the very least, the college you are considering should be accredited by an agency that is recognized both by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and/or by the Council For Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These entities are the closest equivalent in our existing system of higher education to central authorities; their recognition should therefore be considered the bare minimum for determining an accrediting agency’s credibility.
Another matter of critical importance relates to financial aid. In order to receive federal financial aid, a student must be attending a college or university accredited by a USDE-recognized institution. Similarly, employers who exercise tuition reimbursement programs for employees engaged in ongoing education usually require that the schools their employees attend be USDE-recognized.
Regional Accreditation is the most rigorous and most highly regarded form of accreditation. The Department of Education recognizes the following six regional accrediting agencies:
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
As you seek the right college or university for your intended course of study, find out if it has received regional accreditation from the above agency corresponding to a given region. If you are considering a set of colleges in Massachusetts and Connecticut, for instance, seek out the New England Association of Schools and Colleges seal of approval.
According to this association, regional accreditation agencies are responsible for reviewing and certifying the quality of “research universities; community colleges; liberal arts colleges; state colleges; religiously affiliated institutions; special-purpose institutions in the arts, sciences, and professional fields; military academies; historically black and Hispanic-serving institutions; and tribal colleges.”
This association goes on to note these regional agencies provide this quality assurance in the public, private, profit, non-profit, secular, religious, urban, and rural contexts. Such agencies also provide accreditation regardless of age or student body size.
National accreditation agencies are often less rigorous in their standards and less beholden to Department of Education oversight. A great many nationally accredited schools are for-profit or vocational institutions. The variance in quality is far greater among institutions that hold only national accreditation without additional regional accreditation. Be sure that you understand the difference between regional and national accreditation agencies and, further, that you know which national accreditation agencies the U.S. Department of Education recognizes.
Accreditation agencies not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education are often shell organizations created to facilitate accreditation for otherwise disreputable schools.
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the following national accrediting agencies:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
If you desire that the school you attend have one of these national accreditations, you will be wise to focus only those schools that also include the geographically pertinent regional accreditation. Indeed, these distinctions are critical as you navigate the broader system of higher education, particularly as you move between institutions (transferring credits and degrees). Typically, a regionally accredited university won’t accept credits from an institution with lesser accreditation. You are likely to run into the same difficulty if you attempt to enter a master’s program at a regionally accredited institution using a bachelor’s degree from an institution with only national accreditation.
Brick-and-mortar colleges, exclusively online colleges, and colleges with a campus but also offering online education all face the same basic accreditation hurdles. Courses and degree programs need to deliver measurable learning outcomes, and these outcomes apply to online education as much as traditional education. In particular, online courses go through the exact same review process and must meet the same standards as traditional courses. But note, for online education may be additional conditions simply for verifying the identity of online students.
For institutions that provide the majority of their courses (i.e., 51 percent or more) through the online medium, they can supplant regional accreditation with accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). DETC has received recognition from both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council For Higher Education Accreditation for accrediting institutions that provide the majority of their courses online.
In addition to regional and national accreditation, which you can use to evaluate the quality and credibility of a chosen college or university, there are numerous levels of accreditation you can employ to evaluate a degree program that attracts your interest. Most reputable schools hold a wide range of specialized accreditations in addition to regional recognition.
Specialized accreditation may be important if you are pursuing a degree program from which you anticipate continuing on to graduate school or to a profession. In either event, specialized accreditations can help you to determine how graduate school admissions officers or future employers will look at your degree. The Department of Education recognizes about 40 specialized accrediting agencies, while the Council For Higher Education Accreditation recognizes about 60 agencies.
Examples of leading specialized accreditation agencies include the Council of Occupational Education, the American Bar Association, the American Dental Association, and the American Psychological Association.
How schools earn accreditation
According to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), regional accreditation “is a self-regulatory process based on rigorous standards.”
Accordingly, academic institutions receive accreditation based on internal evaluations conducted by colleges and universities and in accordance with such rigorous standards. Once self-review is complete, accrediting commissions call for a peer review of the applying university or college. Following these steps, a commission within the agency determines an institution’s accreditation status. This process should also conclude with a concrete plan of action for subsequent review of accreditation status in the event that consequential changes take place in the way the institution operates.
Schools not awarded accreditation status at the end of this process often receive counsel and support from the accrediting agency so that they can make the changes and improvements needed to merit accreditation. For instance, the accrediting agency may identify lapses in quality or consistency of academic programs, and set out a course of action to redress them before the school can reapply for accreditation. Institutions with accreditation may lose this recognition due to a decline in quality or a problematic change in operations.
- The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs is a USDE-maintained site where users can search for accredited online colleges by name, location, or accrediting agency
- The Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations is CHEA-maintained site listing accredited schools and programs by discipline, location, and accrediting agency
- The Directory of Recognized Organizations is CHEA-maintained site rating accrediting agencies
- The College Navigator is a National Center for Education Statistics—maintained search engine of school accreditation status and accrediting agency
- Accrediting agency websites are agency-maintained sites provide lists of accredited colleges and universities
- College websites are college-maintained sites that can be used to find information about accreditations and accrediting agencies
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Online Education
At this point, you should have a pretty good understanding of both the benefits and drawbacks of an online education. You also probably realize that you don’t necessarily have to choose between online and traditional education. The facts and findings outlined in the above sections suggest that a majority of students today are taking a blended approach to education, balancing both traditional and online classes in order to complete a given course of study, earn a professional certification, or pursue an advanced degree. How you approach your online education is largely up to you.
So, now that you understand what to expect, how do you get started?
In the sequel, we offer a few basic tips that will make you a savvier online college applicant and a better online student. As you seek out the school that’s right for you, arm yourself with information, approach with enthusiasm, and proceed with caution.
Make an Informed Decision
We can’t stress enough the importance of doing your research before you choose an online college. Affordable or not, you need to know that you’ll be getting the most out of your investment. Know the difference between online colleges that provide a quality education and those that exist solely to turn a profit.
According to a 2012 study from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE), the quality of online colleges is inconsistent and variable because of the fast growth and deep entrenchment of certain online colleges whose main interest seems to be turning a profit rather than academic excellence. The study identifies “a group of institutions that give post high school degrees or credentials and for which some of the legal” constraints that bind traditional schools do not apply. For instance, the report notes, these institutions “can enter the equity market and have few constraints on the amounts they can legally pay their top managers.”
In this regard, the CAPSEE study has its sights especially set on for-profit online colleges. At TBS, we know of for-profit online colleges that offer a fine education and we also know of well-regarded non-profit online colleges that leave much to be desired. Moreover, it is simplistic to see for-profit colleges as motivated purely by money and non-profit colleges as motivated purely by academic excellence. For-profit colleges, if they are to succeed in the long run, need to provide a good product and thus are incentivized to strive for academic excellence. Alternatively, non-profit colleges can be tempted to cash in on their non-profit status, milking the government for student loans to cover their ever upward spiraling tuition costs. Virtue as well as villainy are thus distributed throughout both the for-profit and non-profit online educational sectors.
Still, the CAPSEE study is right to underscore that the rate of default on student loan repayment at for-profit institutions is nearly twice that for students attending public institutions. According to CAPSEE, the two-year cohort default rate for students from for-profit schools (whether graduating or dropping out) was 11.6 percent in 2008. This compares to a 6 percent rate at public universities and a 4 percent rate among those who have attended private non-profits.
Accordingly, the CAPSEE study draws the following conclusion about for-profit colleges: “For-profit institutions account for a large and rising share of federal financial aid. For-profit students have much higher default rates and account for 47 percent of defaults today. Default rates have been rising in recent years particularly for the for-profit chains and beyond what can be accounted for by basic student characteristics.”
This does not mean that you should limit your search to non-profit schools. Indeed, some for-profit schools have had remarkable success forging corporate partnerships and helping employees of corporations advance their education. Stories of success as well as stories of failure cover the entire gamut of American online education.
What this all means is that in searching for the right online college, you need to be thorough, exercising due diligence, and leaving nothing to chance. It should be your objective to weed out any potential colleges that have historically performed poorly where certain key indicators are concerned. Specifically, you will want to avoid enrolling in online colleges that have high rates of non-completion; colleges whose former enrollees have experienced a higher than average rate of student loan repayment default in the years after departing school; and colleges whose graduates have struggled to find or maintain suitable employment.
Moreover, you’ll want to check out the relative performance of those online colleges that offer courses in your area of interest. Search for rankings through sites like TheBestSchools.org to determine how the online colleges on your list rate. Make sure that before you enroll in an online college, you have conducted a thorough survey of its educational offerings. Be sure that it has everything you need, including a strong track record where educational outcomes and degree credibility are concerned.
On this last point, reputation is a significant factor. If it is your goal to earn a degree from your online college and to subsequently present that degree to a prospective employer, be sure that the school in which you plan to enroll is one that your future employer is likely to take seriously. Avoid online colleges who have earned a public reputation for producing lackluster curricula, mediocre instruction or, in some cases, even dishonest business practices. It is always a wise move to cross-check your intended online college against a Google search of pertinent news articles, scholarly journal pieces, or large-scale research reports. These may help you to differentiate credible online colleges from those that have a history that is less than savory.
As we will discuss further in the section below on securing your future place in the job market, your choice of online college is a critical one to employers. According to an article produced by CNN (2010), an Excelsior College and Zogby International poll found that 61 percent of American small business owners and CEOs said that they were familiar with the concept of online education.
The article goes on to note that of these business owners and CEOs, a compelling 83 percent said that they viewed an online degree to be equally as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program. According to CNN, “employers said such factors as the accreditation of the college or university, the quality of its graduates and the name of the institution awarding the degree were among other things they considered to make an online degree more credible.”
Learn which online degrees employers hold in esteem and use this knowledge to guide your online college search. You may even want to conduct your own survey among local small business owners and CEOs. Make some phone calls or send some emails to local leaders in a field that interests you. Before you begin your search for the right online college, ask how receptive these employers have been in the past to hiring employees with online degrees. You may even consider inquiring about a few specific online colleges that have produced employees for these hiring firms. This could prove a strong starting point for your search and can also afford you a stronger understanding of the features that future employers are looking for in an online degree.
Bear this in mind as you approach your enrollment decision: You will carry your school’s reputation into the job market with you.
Become an Independent Learner
As noted earlier in this account, one of the greatest challenges that many online students will face is that of adapting to true independence. For those who are self-motivated, who learn quickly on their own, and who have a demonstrated ability to manage a work and study schedule with balance, online college will make for an easy transition.
This is not true for everybody, however. If this level of independence is new to you, prepare yourself for what is ahead. In order to succeed in an online degree program, you must forge effective study habits, well-honed research practices, and a homework routine that works for you. Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is to initiate your online college experience very gradually. You don’t necessarily have to launch headlong into a multi-year degree program from the start. You could consider taking only a single class or just a few manageable courses as a practice run, perhaps through a local community where the cost per credit hour tends to be very low. Once you see how well you are handling one or two online courses, you will be in a better position to decide whether you are ready to handle a bigger course load.
You may find that you are a natural when it comes to managing your own schedule and working at your own pace. On the other hand, you might find that success in your chosen field of online study will require you to become a better studier, researcher, reader, writer, and technology user. You must get organized to succeed as an independent learner. Keep a calendar of your courses and assignments handy. Maintaining both a digital and a handwritten calendar can help to remind you of responsibilities and reinforce scheduling commitments. Use these instruments to plan ahead and to realistically balance your personal and academic responsibilities.
Making daily “to-do” lists is also a constructive way to keep yourself on track. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re new at this. Seek advice from friends, relatives, and others who have been down the same path. Once you get into a good working rhythm, you should be ready to take on a full online course load.
Master the Technology
In the “Benefits” section of this guide, we discussed the value of interfacing with cutting edge learning technology when you attend an online college. However, computer skills and savvy web usage does not come naturally to all learners attending online colleges. If this is your first time using your computer in a truly immersive way, it is important that you take the time to learn and master its capabilities. As an article in the Washington Post (2012) indicates, there is far more to online college than simply “learning which buttons to press.”
Indeed, the article stresses that successful online education is “about being at the center of many learning activities. You’ll gain practice expressing yourself online in a range of activities, from offering an opinion and supporting it with evidence in a discussion thread to reflecting on your experience as a learner in a blog. There are more ways than ever for teams to collaborate on projects across time and space. You might find yourself in a Google Hangout with your classmates so that you can see and hear one another as you work on a presentation. Though many workplaces allow for a remote experience, when learning online you cannot count on resolving something at a face-to-face meeting. Learning online promotes building new collaboration muscles.”
Always bear in mind, however, that in online education, technology is a tool to help you gain knowledge and skills. Technology is a means to an end. Therefore, don’t let technology intimidate you. Technology can be learned and there are lots of resources to help you learn it. Learning to use the hardware and software at your fingertips with confidence and efficiency will not only spare you frustration and make you a more productive student, it will help you to establish more open and intimate lines of communication with instructors and classmates. As we explore in the next section, your ability to create and maintain these lines of communication will have a strong bearing on your experience in online college.
For many students, the greatest virtue of online education is the ability it affords one to learn, study, and even communicate from the comfort and privacy of one’s own home. For as many others, however, this is actually its biggest drawback. The absence of face-to-face interaction with professors or classmates can deprive students of the academic and emotional support that these relationships often foster in an on-campus setting.
One of the best steps that you can take to improve your online educational experience is to use the technology in your hands to create real and meaningful connections. Establish a personal relationship through correspondence with your instructor. Create an open pathway for communication so that you will feel comfortable asking questions or seeking assistance should the need arise.
Be sure to avail yourself of the talents and knowledge of your instructor, even if you never have the opportunity to sit in the same room together. If you have never forged a constructive long-term working relationship via web communication, you might be surprised at how strong a communicative bond you can form. This is a powerful remedy against the isolation that often complicates online learning for some students.
You can achieve the same remedy when you make an effort to interact more closely with your fellow students. Become a regular and active contributor to bulletin board discussions and peer review sessions. You should also consider reaching out individually to online classmates in order to create either virtual or physical study groups, or even to plan casual social meet-ups just to blow off steam. Even if you aren’t sharing campus space, you and your classmates are sharing the challenges of navigating course material, working independently, and balancing personal responsibilities. Making a few friends could go a long way toward feeling part of a real class.
Job-Hunt with Caution
This is truly the burning question when it comes to online education: Will I be able to get a job with my online degree?
This front has mixed news. Some employers still have reservations based on the high variability in academic quality that exists in the online education sphere. Adding to this skepticism is the pervasive tendency among many employers toward conservative hiring practices, preferring a traditional campus-based education for employees to an online education.
However, this skepticism and conservatism are starting to give way as a generation of business leaders raised on web technology increasingly assume control in the private sector. Indeed, an article in Time magazine (2012) reveals that “According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers’ views of online education have improved over the past five to 10 years. More than half of human-resources managers SHRM surveyed for an August 2010 report said that if two applicants with the same level of experience were applying for a job, it would not make a difference whether the job candidate’s degree was obtained through an online program or a bricks-and-mortar university.”
The article goes on to point out that 75 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had in fact hired at least one applicant with an online degree in the previous 12 months. That said, the very same survey indicates that 66 percent of respondents felt online degree-holding applicants were not viewed as favorably as those with degrees earned in a traditional setting.
Managing these conflicting findings can be a challenge. On the subject, cofounder and executive recruiter at IMPACT Hiring Solutions Executive Search (Orange County, Florida), Brad Remillard, offers a sound piece of advice to those seeking employment with an online degree. There is no need, nor is there any law, nor is there any ethical standard that requires individuals to indicate they earned their degree online. To the contrary, one’s résumé must only identify the university that awarded a degree. In most cases, there is no special notation indicating an individual earned their degree through an online college.
This underscores the recommendation to exercise discretion when applying for a job. There is never a reason to specify on your résumé whether you earned your degree online or in a traditional classroom setting. Increasingly, students are experiencing higher education through a blended course of study that includes some combination of online learning and physical class time. Thus, the perceived dividing line between these two modes of education is becoming increasingly blurred to prospective employers. As online education continues its expansion into traditional institutions of higher learning and becomes a necessary part of the course catalogue for major colleges and universities, employers are becoming less apt to scrutinize the medium through which your degree was earned, though perhaps increasingly likely to place greater stock in the reputation of the college or university from which you earned it.
Some employers may even place a higher premium on prospective employees who have demonstrated the ability to manage their own education, to work well with others from a distance, and to operate on a flexible and non-traditional schedule. Indeed, the same skills that one might exercise to successfully complete an online education are highly adaptable to a wide array of 21st century jobs.
Still, for all of these gains, there are employers who may view online education as subject to too great a variance in quality. There are employers who, if pressed to choose between two worthy candidates, will instinctively choose one with a brick-and-mortar education over one with an online degree. Some employers are just plain old-fashioned.
The recruitment and interview process may reveal an employer who is receptive to or even places greater value on the online educational experience. As a future job-seeker, it is best to use your judgment when deciding to articulate or omit information regarding the medium through which you received your degree. Ultimately, as we have noted throughout this discussion, the institution from which you earn your degree and the applicability of the skills you have gained there will be of the utmost importance to employers. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to once again stress this point:
In choosing an online college, cast a wide net, carefully sift through your options, and exercise all due diligence!
Now that you have a better understanding of online education, you should be ready to choose the best online college for your needs. You should also have a stronger sense of the steps you must take in order to be ready for the challenges ahead.
For your easy reference, we offer this concise review:
- Improved Flexibility
- Better Access
- Self-Guided Experience
- Technical Skill Development
- Inconsistent Quality Control
- Lack of Campus Experience
- Cloudy Career Prospects
- Results May Vary
- Make an Informed Decision
- Become an Independent Learner
- Master the Technology
- Create Connections
- Job Hunt with Caution
We invite you to apply this knowledge as you begin the process of choosing an online college, online course of study, and online degree program. We also offer a few useful points of entry. The first place to look is our ranking at the start of this article: The 50 Best Online Colleges for 2016. In addition, see our analysis of The 25 Best Online Degrees in today’s job market as well as our breakdown of The Best Online College in Each of America’s Fifty States.
We wish you the best of luck in your search for the right online college!
- Accredited Schools Online (2015), College Accreditation Guidebook. Accreditedschoolsonline.org.
- Akanegbu, A. (2012) “50 Striking Statistics About Distance Learning in Higher Education | EdTech Magazine,” Ed Tech Magazine.
- Aspillera, M. (2013) “Benefits of Online Learning and Online Education” World Wide Learn.
- Bongiovani, T. (2012) “Five Tips for Making Online Study Work,” Washington Post”.
- Clark, K. (2009) “Online Education Offers Access and Affordability” U.S. News & World Report.
- Deming, D.J., C. Goldin, & L.F. Katz (2012) “The For-Profit Postsecondary School Sector: Nimble Critters or Agile Predators? (PDF)” The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE).
- Gaytan, J. (2007) “ERIC – Visions Shaping the Future of Online Education: Understanding Its Historical Evolution, Implications, and Assumptions, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration,” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 10(2).
- Haynie, D. (2013) “Five Great Jobs You Can Get with an Online Degree,” New York Daily News.
- Haynie, D. (2013) “Veterans Weigh Pros, Cons of Online Education,” U.S. News & World Report.
- Haynie, D. (2014) “What Employers Really Think About Your Online Bachelor’s Degree,” U.S. News & World Report.
- Hopkins, K. (2012) “Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree,” U.S. News and World Report.
- Ifie, C. (2014) “What Are the Benefits of Online College?” SeattlePI.
- Jones International University (2015) Accreditation. jiu.edu. (See also “First Accredited Online School, Jones University, to Shutter in 2016”, The Denver Post.)
- Levenson, M. & S. Annear (2015) “Harvard, MIT Sued Over Lack of Captioning on Video Courses,” Boston Globe.
- Lewis, M. (2014) “Should I Take Online College Classes?—Pros & Cons, Programs” MoneyCrashers..
- Lytle, R. (2013) “Five Tips to Succeed in an Online Course,” U.S. News & World Report.
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (2015) “U.S. Regional Accreditation: An Overview,” Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE).
- New York Times Editorial (2013) “The Trouble With Online College,” New York Times.
- Open Education Database (OEDb) (2015) “OEDB Accreditation Guide,”.
- Quillen, I. (2015) “Consider Whether to Take an Online Course at Community College,” U.S. News & World Report.
- Radford, A.W. (2008) “Learning at a Distance: Undergraduate Enrollment in Distance Education Courses and Degree Programs,” National Center for Education Statistics.
- Sheehy, K. (2013) “Online Course Enrollment Climbs for 10th Straight Year,” U.S. News & World Report.
- Snyder, T. (2013) “The Benefits of Online Learning,” Huffington Post.
- Tracey, M.W. & R.C. Richey (2005) “The Evolution of Distance Education,” Distance Learning – A Magazine for Leaders, 2(6), 17–19.
- Webley, K. (2012) “Can an Online Degree Really Help You Get a Job?Can an Online Degree Really Help You Get a Job?” Time.
- Wecker, M. (2012) “Online MBA Students May Face Challenges With Degree Reputation,” U.S. News & World Report.
- Weisbaum, H. (2014) “College Textbook Costs More Outrageous Than Ever,” CNBC.
- Zupek, R. (2010) “Employers on Online Education,” CNN.
1. Tracey & Richey, 2005
10. Jones International University, 2015. Unfortunately, after 22 years of operation, JIU resigned accreditation from the HLC in February 2016 and closed in March.
11. Radford, 2008
12. Gaytan, 2007
14. Akanegbu, 2012
18. Sheehy, 2013
19. Aspillera, 2013
22. Zupek, 2010
23. Levenson & Annear, 2015
25. Haynie, 2013
27. Lewis, 2014
28. Haynie, 2013
29. Weisbaum, 2014
32. Quillen, 2015
35. Wecker, 2012
36. New York Times Editorial, 2013
37. Accredited Schools Online, 2015
40. New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), 2015
41. Accredited Schools Online, 2015
42. OEDb, 2015
43. Accredited Schools Online, 2015
46. New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), 2015
48. Deming et al., 2013
51. Zupek, 2010
52. Bongiovani 2012
53. Webley, 2012
56. Wecker, 2012