Reentering the academic world in pursuit of a degree, or another degree, is not a decision that is lightly or easily taken. If you’ve been working for some years and have find family obligations around you today that weren’t there when you were first passing through the university it’s a decision to revisit a former career with a new purpose and a more challenging set of circumstances. One of the ways to minimize the impact on your current employment and family trappings is to opt for an online course of study.
In the U.S. as in the U.K. more traditional universities are entering the online education domain every year. They have accepted the value of distance learning to the university and to the new breed of students who are either in mid-career or who are in an extended pursuit of a graduate level degree. An online program can be every bit as valuable to your professional credentials as a traditional degree. It can be cheaper than a campus program and much less intrusive on a life that has obligations beyond college classes. In the U.S. there are well over 150 traditional universities that have begun offering online degrees. Here are some suggestions for ensuring that the online university you choose will provide you maximum benefit.
- Accreditation: Neither the UK nor the U.S. have an official ranking system for universities and colleges. Both nations accredit universities however and in some instances accredit specific degree programs as well. University accreditation in the United States stems from six regional organizations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting bodies for each of six regions in the country. In addition there are accrediting organizations for many of the academic disciplines such as business, law, nursing, medicine, computer science, and dozens of other specializations. The list of recognized accrediting bodies for the regions and for academic fields can be found at the Commission for Higher Education Accreditation.
- Cost: The key to determining the true cost of an online degree is researching the fees and ancillary costs that may be associated with each class or each semester, exclusive of tuition. In a few cases there may be a surcharge for international students. But many schools have a technology fee attached to online educational services, fees for learning materials (even if they are delivered online) and additional charges that can remain obscure until after you’re enrolled. Devote the resources required for a detailed conversation with the admissions office for the school you’re considering.
- Schedule Flexibility: Most schools have adopted the “asynchronous” course delivery model, wherein a lecture or class presentation is recorded in digital format and available for download on demand. However some classes have required real time sessions which can be rewarding encounters via webcam with your professor and fellow students. Those instances require specific scheduling however. There are also some schools still utilizing broadcast techniques for live delivery of a classroom session, whether it’s a lecture or a lab. Make sure the class technology meets your needs/
- Licensing issues: In the United States there are some professions that are licensed by the fifty individual states. Nurses, teachers, social workers, some engineers, and therapists of all sorts must be licensed by a state, and in many cases the degree for the profession must be earned in the state or approved by the state. The same condition no doubt applies in the UK, so ensuring that an educational credential earned remotely will serve its professional purpose where you work and live is critical. Licensing requirements also often include an acceptable internship.
- Degree value: This issue is one that virtually all graduate students have thought out, but circumstances can change quickly. There are many recently graduated doctorate students in the UK that cannot find academic job openings. In the United States, despite the stories of teacher shortages there are thousands who cannot find work. The same is true for social workers, even though the federal government says there is a shortage. There is nothing more disheartening than emerging from graduate school and finding no job market. A business administration or social work degree that required an internship is a good opportunity to make professional contacts while you’re still in school.
Links and Resources
Council on Higher Education Accreditation for a list of accrediting organizations for graduate degrees.
U.S. Department of Education for a list of accredited Universities.