Recently, it has been impossible to ignore the heated debate surrounding higher education. President Barack Obama has aggressively petitioned for attention to the topic of student loans, increased competition in the work force has raised the bar for educational requirements, and alternative degree options like online, virtual programs have garnered a tidal wave of attention and press, both positive and negative.
To dispel some of the biggest untruths surrounding the topic, I wanted to lay out some of the top myths I have seen and heard in the marketplace. As the Chief Learning Officer of Penn Foster College, I want to make sure that students and potential students are armed with the proper information. Read on to determine what’s really going on with distance learning and what everyone should know when evaluating virtual education:
1. Online degrees are not accredited or are not accredited in the same way as ground schools. Truth: all schools, virtual or brick and mortar, can apply for the same types of accreditation; whether the school meets the requirements or not is not contingent on having a physical campus. It is necessary for potential students to understand the different types of accreditation as different industries and careers have varied requirements. Do background research and compare the accreditation of the schools you are interested in attending, as well as read up on the accrediting body of those schools.
2. Online degrees are not accepted in the workface as valid or as good as degrees earned at traditional campuses. Truth: as with Myth #1, potential students should ensure they understand the level of degree and type of accreditation required for potential career fields. These factors matter more to potential employers than the size or location of the school. Employers now more than ever are very familiar with the opportunities students have for online education.
3. Online degrees are more expensive. Truth: online degree programs are not necessarily more expensive than traditional ground campus programs; factors affecting this can be the type of degree/certificate desired and the level of institution- community colleges, universities offering post-baccalaureate studies, career schools, etc. Distance learning can cut certain costs for students including transportation to and from campus, housing and more. Additionally, some online schools have made it their mission to develop an educational model with some of the most competitive tuition costs in the industry to ensure graduates leave school without excessive additional debt.
4. The quality of the education suffers because of limited to no interaction with classmates and instructors. Truth: both virtual and traditional programs can choose to offer a variety of options to interact with other students and faculty. And, sometimes traditional schools don’t offer the best options; it is not uncommon for public state schools and community colleges to overcrowd classes/classrooms, resulting in limited personal attention and limited interaction with the instructor- not to mention reaffirming the belief some students have that they can miss multiple classes and just show up for tests/finals and have the same education. Online programs allow students to access classrooms, contact instructors, and interact in discussions on their own time so as to encourage an atmosphere of ongoing and constant communication.
5. Online classes are easier and therefore the degrees aren’t as esteemed/valued in the workforce. Truth: Both difficulty and ease of a class or educational program will hinge on multiple factors—is the student committed to being successful? Is the program designed to both educate and engage individuals looking to change or advance their career opportunities? Does the appropriate accrediting body, based on the workforce requirements, accredit the institution? Do your research and find out what online schools have good track records with job placement and those that work directly with corporations on job training. Graduates of these programs will leave with the skills and education necessary to pursue their career goals.
6. Students leave online classes steeped in debt. Truth: Financial aid for students can be a confusing and complicated process, and without proper guidance some students may find themselves in undesirable financial situations, whether they are going to a traditional or online institution. There are online schools that offer programs that can be financed monthly, and don’t offer loans. If money is tight, seek out a program that is accredited and affordable.
7. Online students suffer from a lack of experiences and resources like campus libraries, groups, tutors, etc. Truth: Many online schools provide students with the same resources and opportunities offered to students at traditional brick and mortar institutions. From vast online libraries to services such as student clubs and groups, career services, and student counseling, students can capitalize on the same opportunities at online schools as they can with traditional institutions. Additionally, the around-the-clock availability and immediate internet accessibility of many of these services provided by schools ensure a student’s desire to take advantage of them is not inhibited by limited group meetings and library hours.
8. One must be very technologically savvy to succeed with online classes and schools expect students to be prepared on their own. Truth: While it is a reality that to be successful in many modern-day careers, one must possess a basic understanding of technology and fundamental computer programs, many online schools provide ample resources to support those needing to sharpen their skills or develop a new skill-set to be as successful both in school and in the workforce. Depending on an individual’s learning style, students can view tutorial videos, browse common answers to frequently occurring issues, or seek one-on-one help from tech support, student counselors, instructors, student groups, and more.
9. Most online schools are scams and have no credible background/history. Truth: Distance learning has absolutely picked up steam in recent years due to increased demand and advancements in virtual learning opportunities, providing the chance for business-minded opportunists to attempt to ‘get a slice of the pie.’ It is important that students seeking the flexibility and convenience of quality online education determine the history of the school or schools they’re considering, and they will find that many of them have been around for a very long time. Not only have Ivy League schools recently joined the online education realm, there are some well-established, esteemed online institutions that have history dating back to the late 1800s.
10. Online school is basically like home school and students can expect to teach themselves everything. Truth: The biggest draw of distance learning is the flexibility of structuring one’s individual pace, allowing more opportunity for students to pursue their educational goals regardless of other responsibilities and commitments. It is important, however, that students seek out institutions that provide proper instruction and guidance as well as assistance and support provided to them and available when they need it.