After being a student, and later an instructor within online and in-person classrooms, I’ve noted many advantages and disadvantages of pursuing an online education. While we all hope to leave college with good job prospects, the experience can be so much more. Let me share some of my observations to keep YOU veterans informed when picking through the pros and cons of an online education.
Let’s ask some serious questions:
How competitive is an online degree?
Here’s a harsh truth: An online degree can be taken less seriously, therefore less competitive as other in-person degrees. This is a rough reality, but one you should take into consideration when deciding to go with an online education. Usually, this has more to do with the institution notoriety as an online school (or mostly online school) versus in-person programs. Much of this is due to the for-profit element of some online schools and subsequent concern for the level of academics and adherence to quality standards in order for a student to achieve a degree.
Essentially, you should seek to get a feel if a school is more concerned for the bottom line of their corporate accounts or academic achievement of their students. This may be an issue even if the school is properly accredited.
Nonetheless, the advantage of pursuing an online education is obvious, especially for working adults. The flexible format can allow access to education that may not have been possible otherwise. Especially for those who work odd hour jobs – i.e. shift work (that prevent regular attendance to an in-person class). Ultimately, having a degree at all will open opportunities that would not have been an option beforehand.
Online or not, having a degree is always better than not having a degree.
Will I get a real education?
Education, under any circumstance, requires you to invest yourself in the process in order to get the most rewarding experience.
There is usually something of a buffer zone that allows a student to simply pass classes that check off requirements. An entire degree can be earned to some measure this way, but the education will be dubious. I’m referring to making all “C’s” and still walking out with a degree.
In online schools, this buffer zone is significantly wider. In my experience, more students pass with higher grades for less effort than in-person schools. Many online programs adhere to standardization practices. This can be good when ensuring quality classroom experiences. However, this practice can also hamstring instructors to adhering to university administration over student education.
Be honest with yourself about your goals here. There are careers that see the possession of a degree as a formality with focus on on-the-job training. On the other hand, other careers will rely heavily on academic knowledge. If you managed to achieve a degree by going through the motions and minimally checking all the boxes (online or in-person), you will be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to workplace success.
I wholeheartedly encourage anyone taking classes in any format to seriously invest themselves in their education. Put into the experience what you wish to take out. This will always result in a better education for the student, no matter what the circumstances.
Is the school interested in only obtaining a veteran population or more importantly, graduating an educated veteran population?
Since online institutions are widely for-profit schools, they tend to be more expensive than their academic focused counterparts. Of course, both institutions have concerns with profits, but it is their focus that makes the difference. (Think of this like companies: Company A is interested in making the largest profits with a secondary interest in the quality of their product, whereas Company B is interested in making profits through the creation of quality products.) There is a careful balance between blindly graduating students and ensuring they graduate with a good education.
This can be obvious through the school’s tone. With some careful observations, a sense of corporate branding over student and alumni accomplishments can be obvious. As veterans, we must be especially diligent in researching schools since the Post-9/11 GI Bill has encouraged a healthy sector of for-profit institutions that have expanded their tuitions to fit within the thresholds of the this veteran entitlement. Essentially, they charge just enough to attract GI Bill recipients. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when the institution appears to be more concerned about hosting veteran students than veteran academic success.
Ask some tough questions like:
“What percent of veteran students attend their school and what is the graduation rate among those veterans?”
“What is the average GPA of graduates?”
Do your homework before you get homework.
No matter how you cut it, in-person educations are better than online, further so are educations through non-profit institutions. But, life isn’t so simple. I say this having attended and graduated from both types of institutions. My Navy time simply did not lend itself to an in-person education and I don’t regret for a minute going the online path. Yet I am realistic about the decision.
Your education will inevitably be better quality with more assistance available to help you with your academic goals. On the other hand, life isn’t always tailored for these institutions and it may be impossible due to family and work circumstances to meet the requirements of these schools. For-profit online institutions offer a unique and worthwhile opportunity to achieve a degree that may not have been previously possible.
The best thing you can do is research and talk to school representatives and students who attend, especially fellow veteran students. Through all of this, find what program is right for YOU.
READ NEXT: Online Education : When Campus Won’t Cut It