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Online higher education has become more popular than ever. With the number of online degree programs rising, enrollment of online students grew by 3 percent in 2017 from the previous year bringing the total number of online students to 3.85 million, according to a 2018 survey by Learning House. Once primarily associated with students who had a job or family commitments that kept them from attending traditional degree programs, online degree programs are beginning to appeal to a broader range of demographics. Business West reports a new trend that is seeing fresh high school graduates choosing online degree programs along with the usual non-traditional learners.
What exactly are the benefits of an online degree program? Moreover, how can online programs help you achieve the career goals you are looking for? Here are 10 primary benefits of online degree programs that make a compelling case to show how online higher education can help you earn the degree that you have long cherished.
Benefit #1. More access to higher education for more people
The benefits of online degree programs can be for everyone — high school graduates, busy professionals, back-to-schoolers, single parents and career changers — allowing students to study from the comfort of their own home, at a pace that they can cope with, and study at a time that is convenient to them. Online degree programs may be of significant benefit for:
- The single parent: If you're single, and a parent, and feel stuck in your career for lack of a degree, online programs can provide a way for you to earn the degree you're looking for while still being able to hold your job and looking after your children. Single parents often find the time to study after children have been tucked in bed, during lunch breaks, and over the weekends. It requires a good level of self-discipline but it can be done.
- The breadwinner: If your family relies on your income, especially if you're the sole breadwinner in the family, it can be a tough sell to convince them that you need to go back to school to earn your degree. Online degree programs with its self-paced, flexible study schedule can allow you to work and study simultaneously.
- The traveling professional: If you're on the road a lot, or on flights traveling from one destination to another, you might think earning an advanced degree to help push your career to the next level is out of the question. But it's not. Online degree programs can cater to your busy, traveling lifestyle allowing you to study on flights, listen to lectures on road trips and spend the time in hotel rooms studying for your degree.
- The high school student: The number of high school students taking college courses for credit during high school is on the rise according to a 2017 report on dual enrollment by Colombia College. After graduating from high school, these students may want to consider working part-time and earning a degree online at the same time.
- Adult learners: It's never too late to study and those who are well into their careers may want to earn a degree for the love of learning, or make a fresh start in a new career that complements the life experience you already have. Enrolling in an online degree program can allow these aspirations to become reality.
Benefit #2. Better online learning experiences as technology continues to advance
It can be said that online higher education owes its popularity to the development of cloud computing. Not only does cloud computing allow the storage of vast amounts of information, it has made it easier for online students to access educational materials and collaborate seamlessly with professors and colleagues. With advancing technology, online learning experiences are likely to get even better.
Online digital resources, such as ebooks, are often cost-effective, environment-friendly and can be accessed across all digital instruments such as a laptop, computer, tablet or smartphone. Digital resources may also work well with visual learners with videos, graphs and interactive e-books that can enhance the learning process. Students can listen to audible books allowing students to make the best use of their time, even while they are driving, make the best use of time even while driving.
Technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AI) have started to introduce immersive learning experiences. For example, students of history can explore famous historical landmarks through AI or medical students can study different organ systems and conduct operations via VR. Wearable technology, another frontier in technology, can be a game changer for elearning experiences as it continues to develop.
Benefit #3. Learning outcomes continue to improve
Inside Higher Ed points out that online student outcomes are lagging behind when compared to the traditional student. This is one reason why colleges and universities across the country are working hard to demonstrate their online programs can help students achieve their goals. Efforts are underway to continuously improve learning outcomes and some have already seen success:
- A 2016 Babson Research Survey Group revealed, "A majority of academic leaders in higher education institutions reported that they provided training opportunities and quality assessment tools for faculty teaching online."
- A 2017 supplement from the Office of Education Technology introduces various ways in which technology can be used to address long-standing, core challenges of online higher education such as access, affordability, and completion.
- "Making Digital Learning Work," a case study describes success strategies from six leading universities and community colleges that showed how these strategies resulted in higher retention and graduation rates, particularly for online students.
- Many state government initiatives for higher education include improvements in the quality of online programs and successful learning outcomes.
To ensure they do receive the quality they are looking for, prospective online students can go a step further by seeking certified online degree programs or courses. Certifications, like that offered by Quality Matters, generally demonstrate to students that such programs have undergone a rigorous peer assessment for quality. In addition to seeking certified online degree programs, students may seek colleges that participate in the National Council's State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA) which works toward enhancing the overall quality of online learning in the country, as well as increasing educational access for students across state borders. Programs that have such quality assurance indicators can help students gain the maximum benefit from their online degree program.
Benefit #4. An edge on your resume
Employers often look beyond educational qualifications for traits they deem important in their employees. According to a 2018 survey of business leaders by LinkedIn, employers look for soft skills like communication, time-management and collaboration in potential employees. A big benefit of getting a degree online can be that you develop these skills in order to finish your degree. Your communication skills can be honed through video conferencing and online discussion boards, your time-management skills can be highlighted as you juggle work and study, and you may be able to show some serious collaborative skills through working on group assignments with classmates who live in different places.
Additionally, employers can see your dedication to your particular field and that you are willing to put in the diligence required to advance your knowledge.
Benefit #5. Savings on accommodation and commuting
College students may need to take into account the cost of books, transport, housing and food, collectively called the Cost of Attendance (COA). Data from a 2019 NCES publication on postsecondary institutions and the cost of attendance shows that the cost of on-campus residence has risen overall in 2017-18. An eye-opening estimate by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) states that a whopping 80 percent of the total cost of attending a community college consists of non-tuition expenses.
One of the benefits of online degree programs is that online students generally save costs on dormitory and/or commuting expenses. For Maureen Taylor, a former online student, not having to commute had added advantages. She says, "Unfortunately, attending the universities meant travel time, rushing to class, carrying heavy course books, and the aggravation of Atlanta traffic…" When asked about why she chose an online degree, she states it simply, "I didn't have to drive anywhere at any time."
Online students who have children may be able to save on babysitting costs or day care expenses. For example, Jeannine Traynham, another online student found, "Being a wife and mother, it was easier for me to do schoolwork online. Who would watch the kids if I were in class?"
Learn more about the hidden savings of online degree programs here.
Benefit #6. Control over your own schedule through online flexibility options
Flexibility is a key attraction when it comes to online learning. Many online programs are open for enrollment year-round. Students are also able to tackle their next group of courses as soon as they are ready, no mandatory summer vacation required.
Many online programs are self-directed, so students can complete courses at their own pace. Online students are able to speed through subjects they are familiar and can revisit modules they find difficult until they are satisfied with their own progress.
In addition, depending on the type of job they have, family and other commitments, online students are able to customize study time and learning experiences with these options:
Nonsynchronous scheduling: This type of scheduling allows online students to view video lectures, collaborate in student forums, and access other class materials any time they want to. Students can work in the evening, during breaks, or whenever else their schedule permits. As Rosie Villa says "Online education gives you a lot more than any other school. You can search vast online libraries; you can interact with your teachers in a way that you can't in a big university class."
Synchronous scheduling: If you are an online student and can commit to scheduled class times, you can virtually attend a classroom and take part real-time in discussion through live video. Synchronous classes can allow you to gain a traditional classroom experience. Linda Rich, a former online degree student explains, "You actually forget that you're not sitting there and talking to people. The discussion boards can get lively."
Benefit #7. Possibly cut time to degree with credit transfers
Each college has its own criteria for credit transfers and this can effect the amount and the kind of credits you may be able to transfer to a program. Prospective online students have the advantage of being able to choose a college that allows them the maximum benefits in terms of credit transfers whether it's through previous courses you have completed or life experience. This may help you speed up time to degree and also save on tuition costs. A Learning House Survey of online students published in 2018 found that 85 percent of online learners had prior credits they could transfer making it a big benefit for the majority of online students.
Rosie Villa, a former online degree student echoes these sentiments stating "I chose Excelsior, for one, because they were very good about allowing me to transfer my credits from my previous undergraduate work. I started my education at a university in Russia and had some additional credits from another college here in the U.S., and they allowed me to apply that work towards my degree."
Benefit #8. Choice of well-reputed degree programs
Online education makes it possible for students across the globe to enroll in prominent universities where the desired online degree program is recognized for its quality.
Another advantage online students have is being able to choose a degree program that offers the kind of courses they are looking for to advance in their career. Since courses for the same degree program can differ by college, you may be able to find a degree program anywhere in the country that offers the kind of courses that you believe can enhance your credentials. This can be a great benefit for students living in rural areas or areas where the desired program is not available at their local college.
Take a look at our best online degrees here.
Benefit #9. Enhance employment prospects
According to the Lumina Foundation, about 60% of the workforce would need some sort of quality postsecondary education by 2025. Online degree programs can make it easier for individuals who want to carry on working and earn a degree to qualify for upcoming, in-demand, higher-paying jobs.
A report published by the Michigan State University and the Collegiate Employment Research called "Recruiting Trends 2018-2019" stated that the job market for new college graduates has continued to expand for almost a decade. According to the report, “more than 50 percent of employers seeking associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees plan to increase hiring. About 39 percent of employers recruiting master’s degree holders expect to increase hiring, while 43% of employers seeking master will add more positions.”