Are online degrees worth it?

June 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
In today's economy, online universities meet a very real need -- a more economical way to go back to school and retool your skills. But are online degrees of any real value? With some advice is Lindsay Blakely, editor of BNET.com, which provides working professionals the tools they need in today's workplace.

Here are the warning signs that someone might be dealing with a "diploma mill" instead of a legitimate online institution that would make a good screen to toss up. Lindsay says a lot of these are actually from geteducated.com, which runs a "diploma mill police" service, just so that it's credited appropriately.

· All you have to do to apply is hand over a valid credit card number.

· The school is not accredited.

· The school is accredited ... but NOT by an agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the US Dept. of Education.

· You're told you can receive a degree for a lump sum.

· Check the faculty list. If none is listed, or if the faculty attended schools that aren't accredited, walk away.

1. What they're good for and what they're not good for

Whether or not an online degree is worth it really depends on who you are and what your end goal is. It's easy to immediately recognize the advantages of going back to school online - you can work on your own time, there's no commute to class, and, of course, it's much, much cheaper (in some cases tens of thousands of dollars cheaper).

But there are some real tradeoffs to pursuing online education -

· Online coursework requires significantly more motivation on the part of the student. A lot of people need the social pressure and accountability that classroom meetings create.

· Perhaps the biggest reason to think long and hard before going back to school online is that employers still don't give as much weight to online degrees as they do traditional degrees. Last year, the career site Vault.com surveyed 172 employers and found out that only 35% of them would give equal consideration to a job candidate with an online degree. And even though 50% more employers are seeing applicants with online degrees on their resumes, less than 20% of those employers hired candidates with online degrees.

· At a time when so many people are out of work - especially highly educated people with traditional degrees - online degrees may be even less valuable.

So if your goal is to make a major career change, work in a competitive industry or work for a top company - it's worth considering what you won't get out of an online degree. That being said, employers do tend to look more favorably on online degrees from traditional colleges and universities. More than 30 percent of all "traditional" colleges in the U.S. now offer at least one degree program online.

2. Which kind of accreditation holds more weight: regional or national? And what's the difference? Technically, neither one is more "official" than the other. But regional is often considered to be the gold standard. Here's why: Regional is the most widely accepted accreditation: The vast majority of colleges and universities (85%) in the US are regionally accredited. Credits and degrees are widely accepted in transfer situations. But regionally accredited institutions tend to be more competitive to get into, less career-oriented, and more expensive.

*National accreditation could save you a lot of money: one estimate puts a regionally accredited online MBA at more than $20,000. While a nationally accredited online MBA program averages around $13,000.

3. Key warning signs you might be dealing with a "diploma mill" instead of an accredited institution Geteducated.com offers a great service called the "diploma mill police" - here are some warning signs they say you should watch out for:

· All you have to do to apply is hand over a valid credit card number. Avoid schools that promise "you cannot be turned down" for a degree. Your academic record, grade point average, and test scores should be part of the application process.

· The school is "verifiable," "authenticated," "licensed," "approved" - but not accredited.

· Your university is accredited ? but NOT by an agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the US Dept. of Educations. Be wary of agencies that claim to be "worldwide" or "international."

· You're told you can receive a degree for a lump sum. Colleges and universities don't usually charge flat fees. They charge per credit or per course.

· Check the faculty list. If you don't see any faculty or if the faculty attended schools that aren't accredited, walk away.

For more information, visit www.bnet.com

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