Technology in education is continuing to grow and is undeniably here to stay. Definitely not a bad thing when used well! Online education itself has grown tremendously. Whether you have a tricky work schedule, hate sitting in a lecture, live in a remote area, or have one of a number of other reasons–online classes may be your ticket to higher education. Not every option is worth your time and money, though.There are a few things to consider before you sign up with the first commercial you see.
Not every school is created equal. Just because a school is accredited doesn’t mean you’ll get a quality education. Scary thought, but make sure you do your research about the online programs you’re interested in pursuing. Is your work actually being graded and evaluated by a professor, or are you getting points for participation only? A’s are nice, but I’d rather get a B and be prepared in the field I plan on working in because I was challenged!
So how do you know if it’s a quality program? ASK. Ask everyone you can think of. Look for Facebook groups, LinkedIn conversations, or websites (some schools unfortunately have hate websites); reach out to people you know went there; call the Better Business Bureau; see if the Department of Education has any sanctions/investigations against them right now; call companies and see if they hire people from that school. There is tons of information available to help you find out.
Even if they’re considered “online,” there are different formats. I have taken online classes through one community college and three universities and they each had a different format. There are distance education classes where there is not much online, you just access the materials from your computer and send your work back to them. There are semester-long classes with video lectures, activities to do, etc. It feels like a normal class, you’re just online. Hybrid programs have some in-class time and some online time. There are video telecommuter-type classes where you’re in a room with other people and the lecture is broadcast from a main campus somewhere else. There are 5 week online classes where you’re just crammed with information, aren’t actually taught by a professor, and don’t really learn anything. Can you tell I don’t like that one? Again, research the programs you’re looking at and see if the format is something you would do well in.
I’m going to be real honest here: You will pay for online convenience. All those online schools you see commercials for have crazy high tuition. Someone may try to tell you that it is comparable to the cost of a regular public university, but that is bunk. There are a lot of very affordable options for school, you just have to look for more than five minutes. It is insane to me that anyone would pay $25,000+ for an Associate Degree (I just looked that up here and here). The only reason that would be okay is if it was for some type of program that gives you a direct career (think nursing, PTA, etc.), but even then that’s a little pricey. I think my AA in General Studies at Mesa Community College cost $4,000, but they paid for it because I scored well in the placement tests. Win! Online programs are not going to do that for you.
BUT there are some more-affordable-than-other options out there. The nice thing about online education growth is that traditional universities and colleges are joining the trend. Some will be more affordable! Check out the online out-of-state tuition cost at Rio Salado, Utah State University, and BYU-Idaho. Those prices are not too shabby when compared to others! Cost is a huge factor in education so don’t just settle with the first option or biggest name you know.
Are you planning on doing an entire degree online? Just need a few classes to finish up a degree or gain some skills? Does what you want to do necessitate you being in class? Does your future industry look down on online preparation right now? Do you have a timeline for completion? Are you working full-time? Do you have family nearby that can watch your kids? These are all questions (and there are more too!) that can make a difference in whether or not you should take classes online.
I’m taking classes online right now because they are prerequisites to get into graduate school, but I am going to do a traditional Master’s degree on campus. I would prefer to be in a classroom, but this allows me to work part-time, watch my baby, and get my school work done at a slower pace than if I had to take these classes at the university. Cheaper, too.
Before you spend the money, do an honest self-evaluation. Are you disciplined enough to do online classes? It’s one thing to show up to class and sleep in your seat (been there) and another thing to make sure you get up an extra two hours early so you have time to study. Even if it is an easy class, online requires a lot of discipline. If you need an authority figure in front of you to stay on task or just the regularity of it, maybe you should reconsider online. Some people thrive and some tank. That’s okay if it’s not for you.
What’s my personal opinion of online? If you can do it in person, I almost always think that is the better option. If that’s not going to work for you, then there are some really good online routes. Do your research so you don’t get scammed, and then get to work!