Why Now is the Time for Online Higher Education

There has never been as good a time to earn a graduate degree online as now. Top-ranked schools are offering high-quality programs, technological advancements make the learning experience incredibly robust and students can work towards a degree while maintaining their jobs and family lives. For those worried about the reputation of online degrees, that too has improved remarkably.

Two-thirds of academic professionals rate online programs as good or better than their in-person counterparts, according to U.S. News and World Report. One education consultant says 65 percent of managers view online degrees on the same level as those from brick-and-mortar institutions. With online programs finally receiving serious resources and respect, the time is right to start learning online.

Online higher education has grown tremendously in recent years and the offerings have become increasingly sophisticated, which means students have more options to choose from, and better ones at that. Students can earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees online in fields like business, nursing, engineering, teaching and many more. In recognition of the growing demand for online education and the need to separate the high-quality programs from the rest, U.S. News and World Report will release a new set of rankings specifically for online offerings in January 2012.

The most attractive component of online higher education for many students is the ability to attend top schools, like the University of North Carolina, Georgetown University or the University of Southern California, without having to relocate. Online students can keep their jobs, continue to pay their bills and support their families while advancing their careers simultaneously.

Even in fields like nursing and teaching where clinical and classroom time is necessary, the right school makes it possible; Georgetown nursing graduate students complement online learning with clinical experiences in their own neighborhoods, and USC teaching students upload videos of their teaching to receive feedback from professors and mentors, to stay on track towards earning their teacher certification despite being hundreds of miles away.

Technology enables students to learn from a distance, and recent advances are major drivers behind the increase in quality of online education. Students can attend live video classes with other students and professor, interacting as they would in a physical classroom through their computer’s webcams. Social networking tools are built into many online degree programs so students can ask each other for help, form study groups or simply socialize and make friends. While many fear they will be disconnected from professors, online students can reach instructors through e-mail or set up one-on-one video calls to receive feedback and help with coursework. Some programs even offer mobile applications, so students can keep up with their courses while away from their computers. With such robust technology, the online learning experience goes beyond mimicking the on-campus one, and aims to make learning better and more effective.

Online programs have other distinct features that make them attractive, like opportunities for travel and developing immediately relevant skills for the workplace. MBA@UNC offered at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, one of the best online MBA programs, require their students to attend at least two immersion weekends at different locations around the world, like San Francisco, Singapore and London. These serve as an extension of the classroom learning, allowing MBA students to develop leadership skills, connect with business leaders from around the globe and better understand the international business environment.

Graduates of the top online degree programs that have an on-campus counterpart are indistinguishable from other alumni in the school’s perspective. They have access to the same resources after graduation, are members of the alumni network and, most importantly, receive a degree of equal quality. The unique learning environment, however, often makes them even stronger employees. “The students really have to hone their writing skills and their ability to articulate in an online format,” online education consultant Danielle Babb told Fox Business. “When they’re done with their programs, a lot of their employers are finding that it’s a huge benefit to the company because they are able to articulate more clearly in writing, they’re earning promotions, and they’re being looked at as the go to expert in their field.”

This article was written by Social Media Outreach Coordinator, Harrison Kratz on behalf of CAREEREALISM-Approved Partner, 2tor – an education-technology company that partners with institutions of higher education such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to deliver their accredited MBA program online.

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