It's easy to see why online degrees have grown in popularity. Online learning eliminates many scheduling conflicts and geographic limitations—and not to mention we are living in an ever-growing technological society. But despite the increase in the number of students taking online classes and enrolling for graduate degrees, seeing online credentials on résumés is still a new notion for many. Many human resources representatives are questioning why applicants have chosen to study from the comfort of their home instead of in a classroom and earn what some call an “empty” education. According to a 2005 Vault Inc. survey, 85 percent of employers believe online degrees are more acceptable today than they were five years ago. But still, the debate continues.
In short, yes, there are plenty of legitimate online programs that offer undergraduate degrees, MBAs, and PhDs. But the unfortunate perception is that obtaining an online degree is simple because of the popularity of fake degrees, also known as diploma mills. Customers can simply pay a fee and receive their diploma—not legit of course.
But just like any traditional university or college, not all online programs are created equal. Before enrolling, do your research so you don't waste time, money, and brainpower. Perhaps the most important quality to look for is accreditation—and verify it with an accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The CHEA says that it examines a school's performance in a variety of areas, including “expected student achievement, curriculum, faculty, services, and academic support for students.” Therefore, whether the school is online or traditional, it must meet a high level of educational standards to determine if it provides quality education worthy of the CHEA's stamp of approval.
Many students say there is a stigma associated with online learning, but others enjoy the technological aspect of a virtual classroom experience. Students become “tech savvy” and stay up-to-date with new software.
But, while many students enjoy earning their graduate degrees solo, a big disadvantage to students is the lack of social interaction and learning from their classmates—often a critical part of the learning process. To combat this, many online schools require online interaction with students and instructors several times a week.The bottom line employers seem to agree on is this: if you're a resourceful and disciplined enough person to earn a degree—whether listening to a lecture on a computer or in person—potential employers will see your dedication and give you a fair shot at the job. In the end, a degree is a degree.