Online Degrees Make Sense

Median Weekly Earnings by Degree Level

You've probably heard that the right education can deliver a boost to your earning power, but you don't often see hard data on just how much of a difference it can make. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published statistics from its own survey of the nation's job market, and there's some real food for thought in the numbers:

  • College graduates earned an average $1,137 per week in 2015; high school graduates with no college experience earned just $678 -- a difference of more than $65 per day
  • Mean annual compensation for bachelor's holders works out to $59,124, while those with just a diploma earned an average of $35,256 -- a yearly advantage of nearly $24,000
  • For every $1.00 earned by an average college graduate on the job market, a high school grad without a degree makes around $0.59

Salary advantages aren't the end of the story, either; the BLS also found that high school grads with no college experience are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as workers who have a bachelor's.

Online degrees are more accessible today than ever, thanks to advancements in broadband connectivity, software tech and a growing number of traditional institutions offering programs in virtual classrooms. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) counts 717 colleges and universities in the U.S. where students can earn various undergraduate business degrees online, and more than 1,200 schools in the country have online training options for students looking to enter the health care field.

Enrollment in online courses and programs climbed each year from 2003 to 2013, according to a 2014 report published by the Online Learning Consortium, more than tripling from 1.97 million to 6.71 million in just those ten years. It's also reported that negative perceptions of online programs among employers have declined considerably -- three out of four employers see a qualification earned online as equal to those earned on campus, according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report.

Advantages of Getting a Degree Online

If you aren't sure what it would be like to earn your degree online rather than on campus, here's a visualization that might help: imagine going to class in the traditional way, except your classroom is in your house and you can pause and rewind lectures if you miss something.

Here are some more specific ways that online education differs from the traditional, campus-based classes:

  • Flexibility -- Most online courses allow you to attend each week's lecture portion at any time that works with your schedule. Provided you can finish your assignments before their due dates, the days and times at which you attend lectures or complete textbook readings are generally up to you.
  • Financial -- It's often the case that online courses cost less for universities to produce, and those savings can be passed on to students. Some digital distance education programs also use e-textbooks and other digital materials, which typically cost less than the ink-and-paper variety.
  • Upgrading job qualifications -- If you're looking to increase your skills before angling for a promotion, or complete some continuing education requirements, online courses are usually easier to fit into a full-time work schedule. Education, health care and business disciplines tend to be prime territory for this advantage, although online training is making its way into other fields as well.

Choosing a Degree

When looking into online programs, it's important to be aware that some lend themselves better to the virtual classroom than others. Subjects that require extensive lab work may require attendance at a campus facility or satellite learning center, and even fully online schools often require that internship or residency sections are completed in person.

It's also important to check the accreditation status of the school and program you're considering. Accreditation shows that an institution has met the national standards for education quality, so you can be confident that coursework you do there will be recognized by employers and other schools. It's not that unaccredited colleges are against the law, it's just that they haven't been verified by the same set of standards as other schools, and some employers or graduate registrars may not accept their programs as legitimate.

Be sure to check out our Best Online Degrees tool for the most up-to-date data on programs and related careers on national as well as state-by-state level.

Explore Online Degree Programs

Whatever your professional or academic goals, chances are that online education can be a piece of the puzzle that helps you achieve them. Here's our online degree programs in various subjects of study. Explore and compare different programs by not just subject, but degree level, potential career paths and outlook and more and evaluate a path that will work best for you.

Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 15, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
Online Learning Consortium, accessed July 15, 2016: Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, February 2015, http://info2.onlinelearningconsortium.org/rs/897-CSM-305/images/gradelevel.pdf#page=51; Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States, January 2013, http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf#page=40;
Bachelor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study, Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, July 2013, accessed July 15, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_322.10.asp
How Employers View Your Online Bachelor's Degree, U.S. News and World Report, March 4, 2014, accessed July 15, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2014/02/28/what-employers-really-think-about-your-online-bachelors-degree
FAQs about Accreditation, U.S. Department of Education, accessed July 15, 2016, http://ope.ed.gov/ACCREDITATION/FAQAccr.aspx

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