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Should You Continue Your Education with an Online Degree?

There is a battle raging right now about the usefulness of a graduate degree [3], or even of any college degree at all. Joining the fray right now is the online degree space.

A number of colleges and universities offer online degree programs, and there are online schools completely in the Internet education space. My husband teaches online classes for Utah State University, and one of them is a graduate-level course mostly aimed at teachers working on their master’s degrees.

While my husband’s students find it useful to continue their educations online, since the master’s degree will come with a pay increase, not everyone is in the same boat.

What is Your Online Degree Worth?

First of all, you have to decide what you’re trying to accomplish with your online degree, says Chris Cullen, Managing Director at Infinia Group and former Chief Marketing Officer for The Johns Hopkins University. “The benefits of an online degree are direction relational to the goals of the student,” he says.

If you are just trying to continue your learning for your own benefit, and don’t really care to use the degree, it might make sense to use free online learning resources [4] and open courseware. However, if you feel that advancing your education is essential to your career, either to receive better credentials or qualify for higher pay or a promotion, it might make sense to take advantage of the convenience of online classes.

But you still need to beware. Classes like those my husband teaches, and the online MBA programs offered by numerous respected and major universities, are fully accredited, and you enjoy the prestige of that particular university.

It’s a different story with a totally online institution. “It is safe to say that a completely online credential still does not afford the leverage and opportunity that any conventional degree does,” Cullen says.

“The job market is competitive,” he continues. “If the online credential is a basic requirement to advancement in your company or career path, the source may be mostly irrelevant as long as it is accredited.”

Look at your goals, and the requirements of your career. In some cases, all you might need is particular certification, and once you accomplish that — whether you take the required courses online [5] or in person — you can advance. In other cases, though, an online education might just be expensive, and leave you with a degree that is considered inferior to those from more traditional schools.

Besides, there are some benefits to continuing your education in a classroom environment. I remember the stimulating discussions and exchange of ideas in my own graduate program. These are experiences that aren’t as robust over the Internet.

Cullen agrees: “[I]f a student is hoping to share the same conversations, and benefit from the same category prejudices of college graduates, at least for now an online education still carries a reputational asterisk.”

What do you think? Is an online degree worth it? Would you continue your education online?

(Photo: CollegeDegrees360 [6])