|Earning a top-notch education has never been easier, thanks to the number of universities and colleges offering online degrees that allow students to learn at their own pace and in the comfort of their homes or workplaces. The choice is staggering, with hundreds of majors being offered and technology such as email, online course material, videos, and virtual classrooms have made online courses and degrees extremely popular.
Associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, masters' degrees and even PhD degrees are available online.
According to the Sloan Consortium Survey Report on Online Education for 2008, 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall of 2007 term - representing a growth of 12% over numbers for the previous year.
What to look for
The first thing to tick off on the checklist would be to check out listings of online colleges and see what they have on offer, especially the degree and choice of majors. The follwing article, Online vs. Classroom Education, contains fruther details regarding attending an online school.
Top online colleges offering associate degrees are: DeVry University, University of Phoenix. Top online colleges for Bachelor's Degrees are: University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Colorado Technical University, The Art Institute Online, Grand Canyon University, and TUI University.
For Masters Degrees, the top choices are: University of Phoenix, Keller School of Management, Cardean University, Colorado Technical University, DeVry University, and Grand Canyon University.
Online Diplomas and Certificates are available at these colleges: Cardean University, DeVry University, and The Art Institute Online.
Once you have your choice of college and degree figured out, the next most important step is to check if the online college is accredited. Based on a set of criteria, online colleges are granted a status that indicates education quality - accreditation is essentially an approval stamp. There are many fraudulent online colleges on the Web and some that are not accredited may meet state requirements as well. To avoid being taken in, it is always a wise choice to go with an accredited online college. That way, getting recognition for your degree or credits transfer will not be a problem in the future. Moreover, federal and state student financial aid is available to only accredited colleges.
Just ensuring that the college is accredited is not enough. Students must make sure that the accreditation is a recognized one and also keep checking for updates on accreditation. The Council for Higher Education (CHEA), a Washington D.C. based private non-profit organization, and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) review the quality of education and effectiveness at colleges and recognize some of them. USDE recognition is a prerequisite for federal student financial aid and CHEA recognition is for academic quality.
CHEA also recognizes 46 accrediting bodies, including faith-based, regional, private career and professional organizations, and USDE recognizes around 41, including the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council Accreditation Committee. The CHEA database has contact information for over 7,000 degree-granting institutions, non-degree granting institutions and more than 17,000 programs that have received accreditation by organizations in the United States recognized either by CHEA or by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or both.
[Source: Degrees.ClassesUsa.com, Chea.org, Ope.ed.gov]
Costs of attending
The student loan, such as the government-backed Stafford Loan, is the most preferred form of financial aid, while corporate tuition assistance from corporations such as AT&T or FedEx comes a close second. Private loans such as loans from Citibank and Key Bank are also available. Some programs participate in military tuition benefits that come under the purview of the GI Bill.
While figuring out the costs of an online degree, the cheapest is not always the best. A student should take time to read the fine print for costs such as technology or distance learning fees apart from the tuition fee. Also, the cost of an annual campus residence, which is sometimes part of the degree, should be factored in.
[Source: StudentAid.ed.gov, GetEducated.com]
In-state and out-of-state tuition rates will vary and some universities even charge more for online degrees than for regular on-campus programs. For example, Florida Gulf Coast University's Web-based MBA's tuition for Florida residents is under $11,000. Tuition for non-residents for the same degree is almost $40,000.
As per some 2008-2009 statistics, the estimated annual cost of higher education is:
Online degrees give students the freedom of working at their pace. A student can finish a degree in 18-24 months or even less, given the motivation. It's important to have floating time schedules that allow you to fit your coursework around other responsibilities but it's even more important to stick to schedules for homework, assignments, term paper, essay and dissertation in order to obtain a degree on time.