A Guide on How to Go Back to College: Part Three (Page 4)

Accredited Online Degree Programs

Accreditation does not ensure an online program’s overall quality, but degrees from accredited school tend to be more highly regarded by other schools and employers. If you have any questions about the reputation of the accreditation of the online colleges you are considering, you should check out the college’s accreditation status on the searchable database provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

If you have any misgivings about online programs being just a fad, take a look at the following statistics: From the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2010, the online student body increased by 10%. If you look at an even broader time period, from 2002 to 2010, the growth rate is 18.3% compounded annually. Comparatively, the student body at large traditional campuses increased only 2% over the same time period.7 Online colleges are not only here to stay, they are growing. This can only happen if the service they provide is giving their students what they need: flexibility, affordability, and a leg up in the job marketplace.

Here are a variety of accredited colleges with online programs you might want to check out: Albany State University, Western Governors University, Capella University, Thomas Edison State College, La Salle University and Kaplan University. Of note, the postsecondary institution in the U.S. with the highest enrollment in the fall of 2009, online or traditional, was the University of Phoenix Online Campus with over 380,000 students enrolled.8 There’s nothing faddish about that.

For many students, the affordability and flexibility of online programs is the most compelling reason to enroll. However, some potential students may have concerns about course quality, online college reputations with employers, and doubts about whether they can pursue the specialized degree they need for the career they want. Fortunately for these students, mindsets about online education in the academic and employment sectors are changing. In fact, over two-thirds of academic leaders believe that online is ‘‘just as good as’’ or better, than traditional on-campus education.9 That’s good news for you. Yes, there is a percentage that perceives online education as inferior, but that percentage is in the minority and trending downwards.

Whether you are interested in engineering, business, nursing, or teaching, these online programs can help you get there on your schedule and at your speed. You can become a college graduate even if you don’t get to cheer on your college football team on the weekend.

Hybrid Programs

A hybrid or “blended” program is one in which there is a blend of online and face-to-face delivery of class material. Generally, a substantial proportion of the content is delivered online; it typically uses online discussions; and has a reduced number of face-to-face meetings.10 Alternatively, some colleges may promote a mix of online-only classes combined with some courses that must be completed on campus.

The advantage to a hybrid program is the higher degree of flexibility for a student; however, many of these programs are tied to traditional institutions. As such, the cost savings aren’t as significant as those at an online-only campus. Oftentimes, traditional tuition rates apply and, if there is a synchronous portion to the class, a student still needs to accommodate their schedule to fit in to the course’s timetable. Most public universities offer some kind of hybrid program. You can check out what your state colleges and universities offer by going to their websites and conducting a search under online courses.

Who Are You and What Do You Need from an Online College Program?

Choosing an online program doesn’t have to be difficult. But it does take being honest with yourself about your family and financial obligations, study preferences, and end goals. Though online programs aren’t the only place to go to college, they may offer students with a high need for flexibility the best place to begin, and perhaps end, their pursuit of a higher education.

Keep in mind, as your academic needs shift and confidence as a student grows, you can also adapt your college route. With the expansion of the community college system, and rich tradition of both public and private four-year bachelor institutions, you are well equipped to find an online program that fits you now, but allows you to transfer credits to a more traditional school in the future, if needed.

As long as you’ve chosen an online path that actively assists in adaptation, you’ll be in great shape. Indeed, choosing the right college today is perhaps the best way for you to achieve educational success down the road.

7 The Sloan Consortium, Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011, p. 11

8 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics (NCES 2011-015), Chapter 3

9 The Sloan Consortium, Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011, p. 13

10 The Sloan Consortium, Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011, p. 7