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3 things you should know about online degree completion programs

On June 15, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz announced a plan to help thousands of workers finish their college degrees. A partnership with Arizona State University is enabling the coffee giant to fully reimburse tuition costs for any of its employees who enroll at ASU Online with two years or more of transferable college credit on their record. While this program doesn't mark the first time a company has worked with a university to offer education to its employees, it is one of the most comprehensive and accessible degree completion plans to come out of such a partnership.

Even if you don't know the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino, there are a plethora of online options available today for those looking to complete their education on their own time. Here are three things every student should know about online degree completion programs:

1. They're getting more affordable

While it is a myth that online degrees are always cheaper than programs that take place on campus, some colleges and universities are making moves to offer deep tuition discounts for online degree completion students.

At The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB), for example, Texas residents can enroll in a two-year, full-time bachelor's degree completion program online for a flat rate of $5,000, provided they meet the following criteria:

  • Have an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in an engineering or technology discipline
  • Sign up for a minor in management
  • Have completed two math and two science courses that meet the Texas Common Core Curriculum
  • Avoid placements in developmental coursework
  • Have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher

Normal two-year UTPB tuition for Texas residents works out to more than $12,500, meaning students who qualify for this program will pay less than 40 percent of traditional program costs. Programs like these can be a great option for students whose degree programs were cut short by financial issues.

2. They cover a wide range of majors

Once upon a time, distance learning programs offered an abbreviated and sparsely accredited list of degrees. That seems like ancient history now, with universities across the country extending their well-regarded traditional degree plans into the online realm.

Here are just a few institutions that offer online degree completion options, along with a list of majors they cover (as of Fall 2014):

Ohio University
  • Applied Management
  • Nursing
  • Criminal Justice
  • Technical and Applied Studies
Indiana University East
  • Business Administration
  • English, Technical and Professional Writing
  • Communication Studies
  • General Studies
  • Criminal Justice
  • Mathematics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • RN to BSN
Kansas State University
  • Animal Science and Industry
  • Dietetics
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Family Studies and Human Services
  • Food Science and Industry
  • General Business
  • Interdisciplinary Social Science
  • Nutrition and Health
  • Technology Management

Most bachelor's degree completion programs are designed for students who have completed about four semesters, or two years, of prior college credit. If you're shy of the credit hour requirement, it can't hurt to talk to a counselor or registrar at your chosen institution about getting yourself up to speed.

3. They're not much different from traditional programs

Potential students do tend to be better informed these days than they were half a decade ago, but degree completion programs are relatively new on the national radar and could probably use some extra explaining. Here's a quick fact sheet to help potential students better understand their options:

  • Most degree completion programs culminate in bachelor's degrees. Some schools, namely Indiana University East, offer degree completion options where graduate certificates are awarded instead.
  • Online degree completion programs tend to take two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time enrollment is usually possible, however, and the number of credit hours required per semester tends to vary from school to school.
  • Many programs allow students to take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests to get credit for certain core classes rather than attending a full semester of class. Combining CLEP with online coursework can be a great way to cut down the legwork of degree completion.
  • Enrolling in online programs at local universities can offer unique benefits, as illustrated by the UTPB tuition break for Texas residents reported above. Students who study online with a local institution also have the advantage of possibly attending hybrid courses or speaking directly with professors and classmates whenever time can be made to travel to campus.

Opportunities like the Starbucks College Achievement Plan may not be available to everyone who's ever had to put their education on hold, but it's important to put the out-of-pocket cost of degree completion into perspective. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers who held bachelor's degrees in 2013 earned an average of $356 more per week than those with associate degrees or some college credit but no degree.

That may not seem like much at first glance, but that weekly figure adds up to $1,424 per month and $17,088 per year. Even if you're not one of the lucky baristas with the chance to complete their bachelor's for free, it still might not take long for most online degree completion programs to pay for themselves.


Sources:
"Starbucks Offers Full Tuition Reimbursement for Partners (Employees) to Complete a Bachelor's Degree," Starbucks, June 15, 2014, http://news.starbucks.com/collegeplan/Starbucks-press-release
$5,000 Completion BAAS Online Degree, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, http://www.utpb.edu/cobe/programs/undergraduate/engineering-and-technology/baas-in-industrial-technology/$5-000-completion-baas-online-degree
Bachelor's Degree Completion, K-State Global Campus, Kansas State University, http://www.dce.k-state.edu/courses/bachelorsdegree/
Degree Opportunities - Undergraduates, Ohio University eCampus, Ohio University, http://www.ohio.edu/ecampus/future/undergrad_degree.htm
Online Degree Completion Programs, Indiana University East, http://www.iue.edu/online/programs.php
"Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment," Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 24, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm