Getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree may seem an insurmountable obstacle when you’re working a 40-hour week. But many Americans who have work, family and financial obligations that keep them from quitting their jobs to attend a traditional college or university full time have succeeded in finding a new way to meet their education goals and advance their careers.
Called distance learning, it’s an approach that’s taking the country — and especially the Internet — by storm. Dozens of accredited colleges and universities now offer online bachelor degree programs that require students to spend little or no time on campus. In most cases, you can learn to earn from the comfort of your own home.
The nation’s largest accredited private university, the University of Phoenix, is a good example of the trend toward distance learning. It offers online bachelor degree programs in business, technology, health care, education, and social and behavioural science. At the beginning of 2002, the last year for which figures are available on the Department of Education website, the University of Phoenix had more than 107,000 students enrolled in programs offered in classrooms and via the Internet through the school’s online campus.
While getting a degree from an accredited online university like the University of Phoenix can substantially boost your lifetime earning profile, online learning isn’t for everyone. Online learners do best when they’re highly motivated, are able to learn outside a traditional classroom environment, and have good computer skills and their own home computer.
If you fit this profile, here’s a basic checklist you’ll need to review before choosing an online degree program:
• Do you meet the academic requirements?
Like a traditional brick-and-mortar college, online universities have admission requirements that may vary according to your course of study. Certificate and online bachelor degree programs will require a high school diploma or GED certificate. Entrance requirements for graduate degrees will vary with the online degree program. At the University of Phoenix, for example, most graduate degree programs require a minimum of three years of related work experience and a bachelor’s degree with a 2.5 GPA or higher.
• Is the online university accredited?
Accreditation is a process that colleges and universities submit to voluntarily in order to receive their credentials. Because there are no national accrediting standards, you should research your school’s credentials and accrediting association. The U.S. Department of Education or the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation recognizes six regional and about 80 professional accrediting associations in the United States. The University of Phoenix, for example, is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
• Have you put your own goals first?
Take some time to research your options from the point of view of your own goals. To determine which school best fits your academic profile and educational goals, first list your criteria. Then, evaluate online degree programs based on their accreditation, features, and expenses. Once you have chosen several schools that interest you, visit their websites for more information. All online universities provide free, detailed information about their degree programs and free online access to enrollment counsellors. Ask school officials questions about such things as enrollment numbers, graduation rate, faculty qualifications, and any confusing details about the application process or academic policies.
• Can you afford it?
If you’re considering an online bachelor degree, make sure you can afford the costs for tuition, books (if any), and other admin or online fees. Remember, too, that you may not have to cover the entire cost of your online education alone. At the University of Phoenix, 59% of the University’s students receive all or part of their tuition from their employer. Even if your employer won’t spring for the cost of making you a better employee through continuing education, there are still other financial options available, including federal grant and loan programs with low interest rates.
Distance learning, especially in the form of an online university, is a great way to advance your career through an online bachelor degree or even a graduate degree in your chosen field. Following these guidelines will help make your search for the right online degree a pleasant and fruitful one.