The value of an online degree makes a compelling case for skipping the traditional on-campus experience of a university and instead opting for classes that are offered exclusively through the Internet. These programs can help students avoid the pitfalls of a high student debt load while enabling them to seek a larger number of internships and traditional employment opportunities. Despite their many general benefits, however, not all of these online degree programs offer the same value and quality to their students. When researching online programs, it’s important to use a few key metrics and considerations to separate the good values from the dangerous deals. Here’s what to look for in an online program.
Regional and Professional Accreditations
First and foremost, a good online degree program will bear regional accreditation by a CHEA-recognized body. Regional accreditation is the gold standard of college accreditation, attesting to the school’s academic rigor, strong outcomes, and overall quality of every degree program offered. This accreditation is also essential for students who will be receiving financial aid. A school that lacks recognized regional or national accreditation will not be able to offer Stafford Loans, Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, or any state-related aid programs to its students. Further, a student who wishes to transfer schools or enroll in a graduate program may not be able to transfer their credits to this new effort without regional accreditation.
Professional accreditation helps to ensure that a specific program, like business or nursing, meets the highest standard of academic excellence. Though optional, these programs enhance the value of the school’s degree programs and might give students an edge in both employment and graduate school admissions in the future.
Retention and Graduation Rates
An online school with regional accreditation will be listed in the Department of Education’s College Navigator database, where students will find information on first-year retention and six-year graduation rates. The first-year retention rate shows the number of students who attended their first year of classes and came back the next year, making it a key measure of student satisfaction. The six-year graduation rate shows the number of students who completed their degree within at least six years, and shows both student satisfaction and the school’s commitment to guiding its students toward the next phase of their professional lives. Low percentages are an indication of a bad value.
Overall Cost of Tuition and Fees
Of course, one big part of the value equation is the actual cost that students are paying to attend an online degree program. Though these costs were once higher, with most online programs offered by private, for-profit schools, that is no longer the case. Students can look into online programs offered at in-state tuition rates by universities near where they live. This will reduce their cost of attendance and inherently increase the return on investment that they enjoy after completing the degree program. If the costs seem too high, simply move on to a better, more affordable program that falls in line with financial expectations or limitations.
Three Metrics for Assessing the Value of Online Learning
Online learning presents real opportunities for students to minimize their expenses while maximizing the value and ROI of the degree that they receive at the end of their chosen program. To make sure that the value of an online degree is strong, check into its accreditations, actual costs, and whether or not students are satisfied with the program they’ve chosen.