Ever since online schooling has become an option, there has been plenty of discussion about whether this form of education is legitimate. People interested in learning virtually may ask: Is a degree from an online university respected? Or they question: Are online colleges credible?
While the antiquated idea of an online degree somehow being less of an education than a traditional degree has long since been proven to be untrue, demonstrating the value and worth of online learning for quite some time, the Coronavirus helped to put this debate to rest for good.
The Rise of Online Education
Although online classes today are almost synonymous with the internet, computer-based learning started way before the advent of the World Wide Web.
The educational system started using computer networking (email and computer conferencing) to stay in touch as far back as the mid-1970s.1 This was followed by the first completely online course in 1981 and the first online program in 1982, the former designed for adult learners and the second for executives.
The first online undergraduate and graduate-level courses came a couple of years later, in 1984 and 1985, respectively.1 In 1986, the first completely online degree program was offered — all of this before the internet was launched in 1989 and, several years later, the invention of the World Wide Web in 1992.
In 2000, a study broke down the state of online learning. After analyzing 50 virtual courses, its authors found that student engagement was high in these courses, both when interacting with the coursework and when interacting with other students.1 It also noted that “a large majority of the students surveyed reported satisfaction” despite experiencing challenges related to technical difficulties and slow networks.
Fast-forward to today and online education is going stronger than ever. For instance, in 2017, Inside Higher Ed reported that 33.1% of all students enrolled in college courses were taking at least one of their classes online.2 During the 2019-2020 academic year, that number increased to 51.8%.3
What’s perhaps most notable is that, when these most recent numbers were tallied, universities were told by the Department of Education not to count any classes that moved from traditional learning to online learning, solely as a result of the pandemic. So, more than half of the college students chose to take online courses before being forced to do so by school closures related to COVID-19. This highlights the rise of enrollment in online education, despite what was occurring in the outside world.
That said, it would stand to reason that the increased need for online college courses during social distancing would have given educational institutions the ability to perfect their curriculum and online class management processes. This could easily result in a better education for online students and, with it, a more respected degree.
Are Online Degrees Respected by Employers?
Even if both educational institutions and students see value in offering coursework online, do employers have the same level of respect for a degree that is earned virtually? According to one study, many not only respect online degree programs, but they also expect that this learning method is the way of the future.
In December 2018, Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy released the results of a survey it conducted on 750 human resource leaders from various industries and organizations, both small and large.4
It noted that 52% of those surveyed believe that most advanced degrees obtained in the future will be via an online degree program. Sixty-one percent further indicated that they considered an online degree to be the same level of quality as a degree earned in person — a number that is higher than in years before.
U.S. News & World Report takes this one step further by reporting that, while some businesses still prefer to hire job applicants that attended a physical classroom while earning their higher education “most employers today accept online degrees.”5
U.S. News added that many future employers were okay with hiring an applicant as long as the online school they attended had accreditation. Others even use it as a hiring tool, asking why the applicant chose distance learning to gain a better understanding of their decision-making rationale and skills.
The Pros and Cons of Online Degrees
There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with online degrees. One of the main advantages is flexibility. When you can do your studies online, you are able to do your coursework at a time that is most convenient for you. You also don’t have to take time out of your already busy day to commute to and from campus — which is an even greater advantage for students that live in regions that face inclement weather, such as ice and snow.
Additionally, online classes can be more affordable. The average cost of earning a bachelor’s degree online in 2021 is $51,091.6 Earn your bachelor’s at a traditional college and the cost is $35,720 — per year.7 Since a bachelor's is typically a four-year degree, this totals $142,880, or almost four times the amount of an online degree.
A con of online learning is that, because it does offer a lot of flexibility, students must be self-motivated and good with time management. No one is looking over their shoulder in class to make sure they’re doing their work. They have to set aside the time to take care of their studies on their own.
While different courses and fields of study vary, some require more laboratory or hands-on experience that an online degree may not be equipped to offer. This is another potential disadvantage of virtual learning. Some students may also learn better in a traditional classroom environment. For them, online courses might not provide the experience they desire.
The Pros and Cons of Traditional Education
Traditional education has a few pros and cons as well. One pro is offering face-to-face interaction with both instructors and students. This can help strengthen communication skills while also providing a somewhat social atmosphere.
Another benefit of classroom learning is access to labs and other hands-on learning tools. Some students learn best by doing. For them, practicing the skills in a structured environment helps them retain the information.
The cons? In addition to being more expensive than online learning, some find it difficult to get to class on specific days and times. If they work or have families to take care of, working around an inflexible class schedule can be difficult, if not impossible.
More introverted students may also feel out of place in a traditional learning environment. Being around groups of people could cause them discomfort, making it more challenging to obtain their higher-level education during these circumstances.
The Future of Education
Although COVID-19 did force some institutions and learners to transition their courses online, pre-pandemic numbers suggest that online degrees were becoming more mainstream on their own.
That said, the appearance of the Coronavirus likely helped change the future of education. It required that schools find ways to keep their students learning during a time of social distancing which, for some, meant updating their technology to provide a higher quality virtual learning experience. It also provided the opportunity for educational institutions to tweak their curriculum, making it was more in line with the needs of an online learner.
With online degrees becoming more prevalent, employers who have previously questioned their legitimacy may have a change of heart. This can help finally put to rest questions such as, “Are online universities respected?” or, “Are online schools credible?” The answer to these questions is yes, both now and in the future.
Educational leaders across the globe believe that online learning, or at least a hybrid learning model, is likely the future of education.8 As more institutions offer courses online, this provides students access to even more tools that can enhance the learning process, such as chat groups with fellow classmates, video meetings with instructors, document sharing, and more.
UMA – Offering Online Learning for Since 2009
Although the online degree landscape is changing due to COVID-19, Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA) has been offering students access to high-quality online education for over 13 years. Students enrolled at UMA can choose from a variety of online healthcare degree programs, each one designed to help prepare them for a career in the healthcare field.
Depending on the program you choose, you can earn your diploma in 11 months or your associate degree in 18 months.9 Your selected program may also include on-site opportunities such as externships and practicums. Additionally, your UMA tuition covers not just the cost of the courses, but also coursework materials like eBooks and software. Since the average cost of books and supplies is roughly $1,240 per year,10 this can provide students with even greater savings —beyond the monies saved by enrolling in an online learning program.
When you choose UMA, you also have access to numerous services designed to help both during your educational journey and after you have your degree in hand. For example, our students enjoy one-on-one academic support, assistance with resume and interview preparation, and more.
Contact UMA today to talk about your options or to enroll in the program you feel best aligns with your healthcare career goals. If you’re ready to join our 10,000+ overall student population, we’d love to have you!
1 Harasim L. Shift happens: Online education as a new paradigm in learning. Internet and Higher Education. 2000;3(1-2):41-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00032-4
2 Inside Higher Ed. Online Enrollments Grow, but Pace Slows. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/12/11/more-students-study-online-rate-growth-slowed-2018
3 Inside Higher Ed. Half of All College Students Take Online Courses. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/10/13/new-us-data-show-jump-college-students-learning-online
4 Northeastern University Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. Educational Credentials Come of Age: A Survey on the Use and Value of Educational Credentials in Hiring. https://cps.northeastern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Educational_Credentials_Come_of_Age_2018.pdf
5 U.S. News & World Report. 10 Things Employers Think About Your Online Degree. https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/slideshows/10-things-employers-think-about-your-online-degree?slide=2
6 Education Data Initiative. Average Cost of Online College. https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-online-college
7 Education Data Initiative Average Cost of College & Tuition. https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college
8 World Economic Forum. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/
9 Completion time varies depending on individual student.
10 Education Data Initiative. Average Cost of College Textbooks. https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college-textbooks