Online Degrees in Information Systems

Computer technology and online networks are tightly woven into the business operations of many organizations. For example, many video game companies have added an online component to their titles, which gamers pay a certain amount per month to enjoy. This requires customers to input credit card information and send it over the Internet. How can they be sure this information isn't easily accessible by unwanted parties?

Individuals who earn an online information technology degree in information systems with courses in information security can learn the skills necessary to help organizations combat hackers, viruses and other dangers that may threaten computer networks. Of course, information security is just one aspect of this vast field. Other information systems professionals may perform server maintenance, create and manage large databases, analyze a company's technology needs, or supervise entire information technology teams.

Choosing the Right Online Information Systems Degree

Associate Degree in Information Systems: Associate programs typically involve a two-year investment. Students can learn about the history and development of computers, different programming languages, operating systems like Linux and Windows, and spreadsheet use. Associate degree programs also involve general education requirements like English, math, biological and life sciences, and communications. People who earn this degree may qualify for entry-level information technology positions, such as computer support specialist.

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Bachelor's Degree in Information Systems: A bachelor's usually takes four years of full-time study to complete, though some students may take less time depending on whether they earned an associate degree or have transferable college credits. Students in these programs will be expected to learn about data security and encryption, network design and management, and business topics such as accounting and resource management. Graduates of this degree program may qualify to become database administrators, computer systems analysts, or similar positions

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Master's Degree in Information Systems: Master's programs are designed to be more focused, building on the lessons learned during undergraduate studies, and can include research components. Students can learn about strategies for successful project management, proper implementation of new technologies and services in the industry, and the issues stemming from technological advancement. Students also learn research techniques as they formulate ideas for their master's thesis. Individuals who earn this degree may be able to qualify for positions such as computer and information systems managers or information security analysts..

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Doctoral Degree in Information Systems: A doctorate can take up to seven years or longer to complete, as the time to research and write a dissertation varies. The dissertation is an exhaustively researched academic paper akin to a master's thesis, but is usually of much longer length. Like the thesis, it must be approved by, presented to and argued against a panel of faculty members.

In order to produce a dissertation, students must learn the proper techniques for field and lab research, conducting surveys, and analyzing and mining data. Doctoral programs in information systems also focus on IT ethics, user experience design, and fraud detection.

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Career Opportunities for Graduates of Information Systems Programs

As businesses become increasingly reliant on computer technology to function, demand for properly trained individuals who can work with this technology will also rise according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2016). Earning a postsecondary degree can be a great place to start for those looking for a tech job, whether they're interested in providing IT support to employees, preventing hackers from stealing valuable customer information, or performing another function.

Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Information Security Analysts108,060$102,47028.4%
Computer and Information Research Scientists30,070$123,85019.2%
Computer and Information Systems Managers391,430$152,86011.9%
Database Administrators110,090$92,03011.5%
Network and Computer Systems Administrators366,250$87,0706.1%
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Graduates of online information systems degrees qualify for jobs throughout IT departments. An associate or bachelor's degree offers an entry point into an information systems administrator role. From this starting point, information systems professionals may move up the ladder via experience and advanced education.

Entry-level job titles include the following:

  • Computer support specialist
  • Database administrator
  • Network administrator
  • Systems administrator

Administrator-level IT careers should see rapid job growth of 30 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With additional education and work experience, administrators can advance into analyst, architect and management roles. These jobs bring greater responsibility and higher earning power, and require both technical and business expertise.

  • Job growth: Network systems and data communications analysts are the number one fastest-growing occupation in the U.S., according to the BLS, with 53 percent growth forecast for the 2008-2018 period.
  • Salary: Computer and information systems managers earned a mean salary of $123,280 in 2010 (BLS).

As technology's role in the workplace continues to evolve and expand, a degree in information systems has become increasingly useful in a wide range of business and organizational settings. Online associate programs in information systems provide students with a combination of general education credits and technology-oriented courses specific to the major. Coursework focuses on understanding both the large scale and individual user needs associated with electronically creating, storing, retrieving and transmitting information. Along with supplying students a foundation for entry-level employment, some associate programs may fulfill credit requirements that can be applied towards a four-year degree.

What Does an Associate Degree Program in Information Systems Entail?

An online associate degree in information systems typically requires two years of full-time study to complete. Curriculum includes a variety of technology and business related courses that teach students how to design, operate and maintain the hardware and software used to distribute data. Examples of study topics include:

  • Computers and Computer Programming: This course covers the history, development and functions of computers, as well as the programming languages that make computer hardware and software operate. Typically, students learn the specific features and uses of popular programming languages. Most courses also define and discuss the functions of algorithms in computer programming. Students may be asked to construct and illustrate algorithms using flow charts and perform basic programming.
  • Computer Operating Systems: In this course, students learn the functions and purposes of various operating systems, such as Windows or Linux. An operating system, or OS, is the collection of software that facilitates a user's interaction with their computer hardware. Most courses take time to define specific applications and systems software, as well as distinguish between different processes, programs and resources. Other topics may include memory allocation, virtual memory, and file management.
  • Electronic Spreadsheets: Due to the widespread use of spreadsheets in business and organizational settings, IT professionals are required to possess proficiency in the format. This course shows students how electronic spreadsheets function, and how they're used in areas such as accounting, records keeping, and project management. Studying spreadsheets helps illustrate the connections between user needs and information systems design and functionality.

Online associate degree programs in information systems also require completion of certain general education courses, such as math, science, and English. These subjects help develop analytical and critical thinking skills that can be applied to a broad range of careers and interests. In addition, most associate programs include electives, which are courses chosen by the student themselves. These elective subjects should align with both their personal interests and career goals. For example, students interested in a career in information security may take elective courses in criminal justice and cyber crime.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs in Information Systems

Due to the rapid pace of technological advancement, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2013) projects ongoing demand for professionals with information technology training. While many positions in computer-related fields, including information systems, require a bachelor's degree, employers may hire associate degree holders depending on their skill and experience. Some graduates find employment as computer support specialists, providing technical support to individuals and organizations. Bls.gov predicts that demand for computer support specialists will grow by 18 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020.

An online associate degree in information systems helps prepare graduates for careers with a wide range of employers including computer and software designers, information technology departments, financial and accounting organizations, business and corporate settings, health care facilities, and educational institutions. Graduates interested in expanding their IT training -- and employment opportunities -- should consider pursuing a four-year degree in the field.

Reliance on computer data is becoming increasingly prevalent in today's digital age, and companies need professionals who can create and manage computer systems to help solve problems and accomplish business goals. An online bachelor's degree program in information systems (IS) provides a combination of business management skills and technical knowledge, preparing graduates to address both organizational and user needs. Business courses may feature topics in accounting, statistics and resource management, while examples of technology-oriented courses include computer programming, database administration, information security, and Web design.

Most schools offer the degree as either a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems or a Bachelor of Computer Information Systems. Students may also be able to select an area of concentration reflecting professional interests and goals. Specializations within an information systems bachelor's degree program often include information systems management, new media communication technologies or information systems security.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Information Systems Entail?

For full-time students, an online bachelor's program in information systems typically takes four years to complete. Curriculum usually contains a combination of business, technology and data networking courses, providing the foundational skills necessary to implement and oversee information systems that support specific organizational needs. Examples of course topics include:

  • Systems Development for Business: This course explores the basic concepts of business information systems. Students typically examine how different hardware and software can be used to improve the flow of data within an organization. Along with subjects such as network design and systems testing protocols, students may learn how to use a computer programming language like Visual Basic.
  • Network Management: In this class, students learn how to oversee large computer networks. Coursework generally covers the various components that make up modern LANs, or local area networks, including routers, switches, cabling, and related software applications. Other topics may include telecommunication theory and practice, file servers, wireless technology, and common networking protocols such as Ethernet and TCP/IP.
  • Computer and Data Security: This course addresses the operational, legal and technological issues related to network and data security. Typically, students learn how to prevent or detect potential threats to a company's database, as well as how to deal with malicious attacks, corruption or unauthorized access. Classes may cover topics such as data encryption, user authentication, backup solutions, viruses, and antivirus software.

Typically, online bachelor's degree programs in information systems also require students to fulfill general education credits such as math, English and humanities. Electives may be included in the curriculum as well. These tend to be more specialized than core courses, and are often chosen by the students themselves.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Information Systems

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov.2013) reports that a majority of information systems and IT occupations require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field. As organizations continue to implement new technologies, and place more emphasis on data security, employment for information systems professionals should see faster-than-average growth across multiple sectors, particularly in the health care field. Examples of potential jobs for those holding a bachelor's degree in information systems include computer and information systems manager, computer systems analyst, and database administrator.

Computer systems analysts help determine an organization's information systems and technology needs. Due to increasing dependency on computers and rapid changes in technology, demand for these professionals continues to grow across the country. Bls.gov expects nationwide employment of computer systems analysts to increase 22 percent from 2010 to 2020.

To become a database administrator, one typically needs a combination of work experience and a bachelor's degree in information systems or a related field. These people are responsible for maintaining databases that hold vital company data, and make sure this information remains easily accessible and protected. According to bls.gov, demand for database administrators is expected to grow by 31 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020.

While many organizations now require their computer and information systems managers to possess a graduate degree, a bachelor's degree and several years of related work experience are still the typical qualifications. These professionals supervise a company's IT efforts, and depending on their area of expertise, their title may be Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, IT Director or IT Security Manager. Bls.gov expects an 18 percent increase in jobs nationwide for computer and information systems managers between 2010 and 2020.

Widespread reliance on digital data storage and transmission has created a need for professionals with in-depth technical and leadership skills to manage these vast computer networks. Online master's degrees in information systems can help professionals in the field enhance their qualifications by conducting research and solving the type of complex problems often faced by information systems managers. Programs offer knowledge and skills that can be applied to IS and IT leadership roles in a wide range of organizational settings, from corporate enterprises to public agencies.

Degree program options typically include Master of Information Systems, Master of Information Systems Management, Master of Science (MS) in Information Systems, and Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Information Systems Management. Concentrations within these master's programs span topics such as security, data administration and health information systems.

What Does a Master's Degree Program in Information Systems Entail?

Completing a master's degree usually takes two years of full-time study, but many candidates pursue online master's degrees on a part-time basis due to work or family commitments.

Master's degree programs are generally more focused on research than bachelor's degree programs. Students can build upon what they've learned as an undergraduate through advanced instruction, research and writing. The curriculum may vary according to the program, but examples of graduate level course topics in information systems include:

  • Advanced Project Management: Courses address management tools and processes used in managing information systems projects. These may include strategic planning, which involves planning the development and implementation of an information systems (IS) project and managing its expected impact on an organization. Best practices for IS project management and managing project portfolios are typically covered as well.
  • Issues in Information Technology: Classes examine current trends in information technology (IT), such as online privacy or cloud computing. Students research, review and analyze current developments and challenges affecting the field of IS and IT. Subject matter for these courses vary depending on recent advancements in data communications and networking.
  • Change Management: This topic relates to business and human resources management practices, but can also be applied to information systems management. Change management is relevant to information systems due to rapid innovations in technology. IS and IT managers work closely with organizational leaders to determine technology needs and solutions. Introducing new information systems can have a broad impact, and studies like these can help prepare students for planning and implementing technology change in an organization.

Students may also be required to research, write and present a master's thesis, a professional-quality paper based on a research topic chosen by students and approved by graduate advisors or committees. Alternatively, some online master's programs in information systems may permit students to write a research paper for publication or presentation at an academic conference. Check with admissions counselors to determine the exact requirements for completing online master's programs in information systems.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Information Systems

Graduates of online master's degree programs in information systems may pursue a variety of positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2013) expects faster-than-average growth in the following professions related to information systems due to increasing use of technology and rising concerns about data security.

Computer and information systems managers, including IT project managers, oversee an organization's overall computing technology efforts. Bls.gov expects employment in this occupation to increase by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020 nationally. These positions generally call for candidates to have skills in business administration and leadership in addition to relevant work experience. While some employers may accept bachelor degree holders, many require their computer and information systems managers to possess a graduate degree.

Another potential career path is that of information security analyst. These specialists recommend security guidelines to preserve the integrity of organizations' computer data, networks and systems. Bls.gov reports that employers hiring for these positions often seek applicants with an MBA in information systems as well as relevant work experience. Employment opportunities are projected to expand from 2010 to 2020 by 22 percent nationwide.

Although a doctorate is oftentimes preferred for postsecondary teaching roles, graduates of master's degree programs in information systems may also qualify to teach related subjects at community or career colleges.

Organizations are growing ever more dependent on electronic information systems, and ongoing innovations in data management and telecommunications require specialists with the know-how to oversee these networks. Online doctoral degrees in information systems are designed to prepare professionals for advanced careers in areas such as information management, information technology and software development. Individuals with doctorates in information systems may also be eligible for research and teaching positions at four-year colleges and universities.

Doctoral programs expand on research and analytical skills gained in previous studies, exploring theoretical applications in information science and information technology. Potential degree programs include Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Information Systems and Ph.D. in Computer Science and Information Systems. In addition to completing required coursework in information systems, students can expect to conduct extensive research and contribute an original dissertation in the field. A Ph.D. offered through a business school may have different requirements depending on whether a student's focus is technical, economic or managerial.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Information Systems Entail?

The length of a doctoral program depends on many factors, with most taking anywhere from three to seven years to complete. Although candidates may enter a doctoral program on a part-time basis, some universities require students to devote themselves to researching and writing their dissertations on a full-time basis. Online doctoral degree programs typically have time limits for completion. Prospective students should discuss specific requirements with an admissions counselor or graduate program director before entering any program.

While coursework may vary, programs typically cover computational methods, Java programming, computer architecture, network protocols and standards, database management, user experience design (UXD), information security and fraud detection. Potential courses in online doctoral programs in information systems include the following:

  • Research Design and Methodology: Classes examine experimental methods and procedures for research in the laboratory and the field. Studying the scientific literature in this area can aid students in preparing for independent research. Topics may include qualitative and quantitative approaches to research, as well as design theory to help students plan research projects.
  • Data Analysis and Mining: This course looks at the use of organizational databases to provide decision-making support, with an emphasis on technical, business and research concerns. Students learn a variety of ways to analyze and model data for both science and industry related purposes. Data mining is a particular technique that focuses on examining and summarizing important information for predictive purposes, such as increasing revenue or cutting expenses.
  • Sociopolitical and Ethical Issues in IT: The pervasive use of information technology has resulted in social and legal concerns such as privacy, patents and copyrights, freedom of speech, inequalities in access to technology, homeland security and international relations. Typically, students explore government policies for the protection of consumer information and related topics. Doctoral candidates may also gain background knowledge about current debates concerning the role of technology in society.

Online doctorates in information systems generally require several on-campus sessions, such as seminars, research proposal reviews, and paper presentations. Doctoral candidates meet with graduate faculty advisors both online and off during the preparation of their dissertation. The final stage of a doctoral program often involves defending a dissertation thesis before an academic committee and completing a teaching practicum.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Doctoral Programs in Information Systems

Doctoral degree programs in information systems can assist professionals in preparing for research and teaching careers. Potential career opportunities for graduates include work as computer and information research scientists or as instructors and researchers within four-year colleges and universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov. 2013), graduate degrees are also common among technology leadership roles.

Computer and information research scientists discover new technologies and find innovative ways to use technology in fields such as business, government, health care and science. Specialties may include computer hardware, embedded software or robotics. Bls.gov forecasts job growth for these professionals to increase by 19 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020. It also notes that employers have difficulties finding qualified candidates for research scientist positions.

Academic research and teaching within four-year colleges and universities may also offer career opportunities for individuals with doctorates. Research scientists at universities typically receive laboratory space, access to research facilities, and funding opportunities in exchange for teaching and publishing research papers and books. Nationwide employment for postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 17 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020, according to bls.gov.

Online doctoral degree programs in information systems also may put graduates on the path to advanced consulting work, book authorship, speaking engagements, or entrepreneurship.

"Computer and Information Research Scientists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm
"Computer and Information Systems Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm
"Computer and Information Technology Occupations," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm
"Computer Support Specialists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm
"Computer Systems Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-systems-analysts.htm
"Database Administrators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/database-administrators.htm
"Information Security Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts-web-developers-and-computer-network-architects.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
"Projections Overview," Occupational Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm

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