Continuing Education: The Value of Online Degree Programs & How to Choose One

Business.com / Education / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Learn about the benefits of getting an online degree and how to choose the right school.

Sir Francis Bacon once said, “knowledge is power.” I am a huge believer in this statement, feeling empowered when I learn something new that could help me in my career.

In many industries, continuously learning is key for optimal performance and could lead to higher income.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who have a bachelor’s degree in the United States make a median salary of $1,137 per week as opposed to people with just a high school diploma who make $678 a week.

If you’ve been considering going back to school to finish your bachelor’s degree, earn a second bachelor’s, or get a higher degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree, completing a degree online has its advantages especially when time is scarce.

Related Article:How Can Education Fully Embrace the Digital Age to Help Students Professionally?

1. Convenience

I’ve looked into dozens of online degree programs and each had a trending benefit, classes could be taken at the convenience of students providing deadlines are met.

With I took a course with University of Denver’s Creative Writing Master’s track, for example, the professor gave us a syllabus up front that noted deadlines on every assignment. We typically had a full week to get the detailed writing assignment in for the week and a few days to get smaller assignments submitted in between. The course was manageable despite me working a full-time job and doing freelance writing work on the side.

Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College have the same type of structures, differing slightly between degrees and professors, just to name two other schools.

2. Quality and Reputation

Being close to my family, when I was first started looking into and applying for a degree that I would take online, I told my dad, a now retired manager, and he was skeptical. He felt that there were a lot of schools offering these degrees as a way to make easy money and the quality of degrees along with the reputation of schools offering them was questionable. While I, of course, can’t speak for every school out there I can tell you, there are in fact schools that go against this perception.

BestSchools.org listed the best online colleges for 2016. Topping the list include reputable schools such as Penn State, University of Florida, UMass, Boston University, Northeastern University and Indiana University.

The University of Florida has gained recognition for providing high-value education through a plethora of online programs at different levels. UMass received honors in distance learning earning the United States Distance Learning Association’s Excellence in Distance Teaching Education award. In addition, according to BestSchools, UMass online students receive instruction from the same faculty and earn the same degrees as students who get their degrees on campus.

3. Increased Knowledge Retention

Strong online programs “take full advantage of the interactive power of social and multimedia” and “multimedia tools have been scientifically proven to improve memory in our brains by providing strong sensory cues that help us remember what we learn,” reports U.S. News. Because of this, students “use the power or multimedia to remember what they learn.”

Related Article:Plug In: 4 Ways Technology Is Changing On-the-Job Training

How to Choose an Online Degree Program

As I write this article, GuidetoOnlineSchools.com notes that there are 22,363 degrees from 604 schools in the online school space. With so many options, here’s how to narrow down the schools and online degree programs that are right for you.

1. Consider your motivation for wanting an online degree

What do you want to learn and get out of your experience? When considering your motivation, be specific by listing your goals. For example, instead of saying “I want to get an online degree in management to help me get a promotion,” you might say, “I would like to learn about the problems businesses of all sizes face so I can lead a team toward successfully solving them.”

Based on my experience (and the experience of others I spoke to who have taken online courses) in many cases, online courses are a lot more work and harder than on-campus courses. Degrees of any kind are big time and money investments. 

2. Make sure the school you choose is accredited

Accreditation sets the quality standards for schools essentially. The University of South Dakota advises steering clear from schools that are not properly accredited, regionally or nationally, adding: Most schools will display this information on their websites, but if they do not, make sure to call and ask.

3. Learn as much as you can about the courses

If course descriptions are not listed on school websites, reach out to representatives and get the descriptions of all the courses you would need to complete the degree. While many courses have the same names from school to school, the actual work can be drastically different.

I looked into so many online degree programs before choosing University of Denver’s. I did not want to take courses that were theory based (as so many were). You have to go back to what your goals are and find out how they match up with what the courses offer.

Related Article:Do This Instead: Why Education Doesn’t Equal Entrepreneurial Success

Top Schools by Degree

As you continue doing your research, here are a few top rated schools that offer online degree programs in select industries.

Accounting (Bachelors) 

  • Colorado State University Global Campus
  • Old Dominion University
  • Auburn University (tie)

Business (Bachelors)

  • Penn State World Campus
  • University of Massachusetts
  • Florida International University, Landon Undergraduate School of Business

Human Resources (Masters)

  • Colorado State University Global Campus
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Trident University International

Marketing (Bachelors)

  • Tiffin University
  • Dallas Baptist University
  • Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Here’s to your success.

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