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Which Degree Is Better? Difference Between Online Degree and Campus Degree Programs

What is the difference between online degree and campus degree programs? Beyond the obvious distinction of campus-based courses and online delivery, there are several important differences students should be aware of when choosing the right program for their educational and career needs. Below we break down the differences between a campus degree versus online degree.

Pros and Cons of Online Degree Programs

Pros – Is an Online Degree Worth It?

    The biggest pro of an online college degree is the flexibility it provides working professionals. The majority of students who take online courses do so because of personal obligations such as work and family. The traditional educational model of taking a full-time course load of on-campus classes does not fit for a wide swath of learners who need to balance their education, personal, and professional lives. Most online programs are asynchronous, which means students can work on their coursework and complete tasks as their schedules allow. The professor posts readings and assignments and students can complete coursework at any time, provided they meet deadlines. Whether you’re looking at the pros and cons of online MBA programs or the pros and cons of online masters degree programs, flexibility is the biggest benefit of online degrees.
    The cost of education goes well beyond the nominal amounts of tuition, books, and fees. Students who attend brick-and-mortar institutions incur hidden costs such as gas, food, wear and tear on a vehicle, parking, recreation, and extra student fees. These often-hidden costs can add up to hundreds of dollars per month but can be mitigated or eliminated by choosing an online program. Students need to calculate these types of expenses when considering their education. Many students ask whether an online degree is worth it or not and in terms of saving money; the answer is yes.
    Before the proliferation of online degrees, millions of potential students were left out of the postsecondary educational loop due to their geographic location. While there are thousands of colleges and universities spread out across the United States, many students lived outside of an institution’s service area. Simply put, they lived too far away. Additionally, many students did not have the financial or transportation means to commute to a school multiple times per week. Geographically dependent students are often the ones who are most vulnerable in terms of socioeconomic status and therefore would benefit the most from a college degree. Thanks to online degrees, these place-bound students no longer have to overcome geographical boundaries to earn a degree.
    Traditional college classrooms favor more extroverted students. Professors often utilize a Socratic teaching style that lends itself to students more comfortable with speaking up in front of their peers. While this is effective for some students, many do not find this type of learning environment conducive to real learning. This teaching style often leaves many students prone to skipping class or experiencing increased anxiety, which can negatively impact learning.
    On-campus classrooms typically employ a lecture-heavy style that decreases student engagement and learning. While research clearly shows this is not an effective method of teaching and learning, this is the style that persists in almost all college classrooms. One popular myth that persists is that online learning is not as effective as attending an on-campus class. This is not only incorrect, but a study conducted by IBM found participants learned five times more material in online courses than traditional face-to-face classes. Online learning content is much more student-centered and creates an environment of engagement with the material rather than the passive listening that occurs in lecture-style classrooms. Students interact with content and employ critical thinking, which leads to deeper learning, understanding, and retention.
    Compared to traditional on-campus classes, the retention rate for online courses is markedly better. It is not even close, according to a study conducted by Arizona State University. For the study, Arizona State examined its own institution along with several other postsecondary institutions including Georgia State University, the University of Central Florida, and the Kentucky Community College system of institutions. Once the data was analyzed, the numbers were staggering. Students enrolled in a Kentucky community college who enrolled in at least one online course were 18 percent more likely to persist and 21 percent more likely to graduate. Moreover, students at the University of Central Florida who took 40-60% of their courses online graduated approximately a year and a half sooner than their peers. The authors of the study pointed to three salient factors that impacted the numbers – it’s simply easier to learn when the students dictate the pace and time, and it’s easier to access the class from home than commuting to campus.
    Online courses include more frequent assessments that consistently measure student performance compared to traditional on-campus classes. Traditional courses typically have assessments in the form of major tests every few months. This leads students to cram course materials, which is not effective for in-depth learning. Additionally, tests are limited in their effectiveness and do not accurately measure learning for most students. Online courses have smaller assessments embedded throughout the course. They also use different assessment techniques other than tests such as papers, discussion posts, and more. A study conducted by Harvard University found that more frequent assessments reduced student distractions and increased learning.
    Not only is online learning more flexible, but it is also far more efficient concerning time. Studies measuring time efficiency found that employees spent 40-60% less time in online training courses compared to traditional lecture-style classes. Instead of dedicating large blocks of time to attend class, students can allot small increments of time dedicated to focused learning. And when you factor in the time cost of travel, parking, and walking from class to class, the time savings are significant.
    As we previously mentioned, there are differences between online degree and campus degree programs. On-campus classes cater to the strengths of extroverted students. By default, this leaves out a significant portion of bright students who never get the opportunity to showcase their intellectual prowess. Online courses level the playing field and allow students who have previously been looked over to show their talent and skill. Students not as comfortable sharing in a class can experience a high level of intellectual and personal growth through communication with their professors and peers using other channels such as video, discussion posts, and emails. This can have a significant impact on the student’s self-esteem and academic confidence. Additionally, students who might have never approached a professor in person have the opportunity to be mentored by and network with their instructors.
    Online courses offer the opportunity for students to develop their computer-mediated communication skills. The modern workplace requires employees to be adept at communicating through various media including email, chat, video conferencing, and text. Because these channels are used in distance learning courses, students get plenty of practice to hone their technology-based communication skills.
    The environmental impact and footprint of attending on-campus classes are significant. Millions of commuters fill the roadways while institutions continue to take up wide swaths of land completing capital projects such as new buildings and parking structures. Some experts estimate that online learning reduces energy costs by nearly 90% while reducing CO2 emissions by over 80% per student. That means students not only benefit from online learning but the earth does as well.

Pros and Cons of Online Degree Programs

Cons – Is an Online Degree Worth It?
Online learning certainly has plenty of benefits, but there are drawbacks that students should consider when comparing campus degree versus online degree programs. Below we take a look at some of the potential drawbacks students should consider when choosing between an online degree or campus degree. Remember, there are differences between online degree and campus degree programs. Here are a few cons to think about:

    Attending on-campus classes is a long-standing tradition dating back hundreds of years. When people think of the traditional college experience they picture students sitting in large lecture halls anxiously writing down the words of their prolix professors. As such, online courses and degree programs are still seen as educationally inferior and lacking compared to their campus-based counterparts. Even though research shows learning outcomes are often better on online classes, the stigma persists. Much of the myth concerning the inferior nature of online classes comes from the early years of online degree programs operated by unethical businesses that capitalized on pocketing the money of eager students.
    Online learning can be difficult for extroverted individuals desiring face-to-face interaction. While there are millions of extroverted individuals succeeding in their online courses, the courses can prove to be more of a challenge for extroverts due to their lack of in-person communication. Students may choose to take hybrid courses that blend classroom learning with online content. They may also choose to register for a mixture of on-campus and online classes should their schedule permit.
    Distance education is most often an independent venture where students have a great deal of autonomy within the context of workload and time management. Organized students find this to be one of the main benefits of online degree programs, as opposed to traditional programs. Students who rely on instructor reminders and other sources of outward motivation may find online learning isn’t for them. Students with less than stellar time management skills may have difficulty with the independent nature of distance learning courses.
    When it comes to the pros and cons of online degree programs, students often cite the lack of a traditional college experience as one of the most significant drawbacks of online programs. Online degrees are great with efficiency and independence and therefore lack the social aspect that on-campus programs and institutions provide. Students wanting to enjoy the out-of-the-classroom aspects of college such as parties, sporting events, and extracurricular clubs will find online degree programs stifling and unfulfilling.
    Technology requirements and acumen can be a drawback for some students when considering enrolling in an online degree program. When considering the pros and cons of online MBA programs, which can be even more technical, potential students should make sure they are comfortable with the technology demands the program requires including costs and skill set. Fortunately, the vast majority of online degree programs don’t bog down students with unnecessarily burdensome or difficult technology demands. While there is a slight learning curve, students also have access to faculty and staff who can assist them. Additionally, many programs allow students to test out a sample class before applying.
    Online classes are often very unique, which can make it difficult for credits to transfer to a different program or institution. Online courses are often scrutinized more closely by institutions, which can also impact the transferability of credits. Additionally, most brick-and-mortar institutions hold regional accreditation while many online colleges and universities hold national accreditation status. Both are valid in the eyes of employers and educators but it can negatively affect credit transfers. For most students, this is not a problem as they do not intend to transfer to a different college or university but it is something to consider when weighing out the options of enrolling in an online or traditional program.
    The proliferation of online degree programs has given millions of potential students access to a postsecondary education that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity for. With that said, the variety of online majors is not the same as it is for on-campus programs. The most popular online majors such as business, education, healthcare, nursing, and computer science are readily available. Those wanting to major in certain arts and humanities disciplines may not find what they are looking for. The good news is that online majors are expanding more and more with each passing term, with more majors being added frequently.
    While the overwhelming majority of on-campus programs accept international students, some online programs will not let internationally based students matriculate for a variety of reasons. International students should make sure a potential program will accept them.

We hope this information proves to be helpful to those considering online college versus campus degree courses. There is a lot to consider and ultimately it comes down to what the best fit is for a particular student and his or her unique situation. It all depends on finding the right educational environment that will allow the student to be successful and to thrive.

This concludes our list of the difference between online degree and campus degree programs.

CVO Staff
September 2019

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