Online university students have increased tremendously in recent years. A decade ago, the quality of online education was questionable at best. That perception is changing rapidly. This type of education once dominated by for-profit universities is booming as public universities join the battle.

About 33 percent of college students take at least one online course, according to a survey by the Babson Survey Research Group. Employers and schools are recognizing that online courses can be as effective, and sometimes more effective, than classroom courses. As universities adopt virtual learning, so does the acceptance of online degrees.

Eventually, one-third of college students expect to study alone on campus, one third expect to study online and one third will do both, according to a study by Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research. Because the competition is getting bigger the quality also increases.

Competition Increase Quality

Traditional universities offer more and more degrees online. As a result, those who are already in the online education market are forced to expand the titles they offer and improve their job placement rates.

For students who work online degrees are still the most popular to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Eduventures conducted a survey in which it estimates that approximately 29 percent of online students are working to obtain an associate’s degree. In addition, 42 percent study to obtain a bachelor’s degree, 27 percent to obtain a master’s degree and 3 percent to obtain a doctorate. Expect those numbers to change in the coming years.

The most popular online degree is the MBA, and it has been the business for a long time. According to Fortune magazine, it is reported that some MBA programs now enroll more students online than in traditional programs.

If you are thinking of studying without attending a classroom due to the increasing quality of online programs, we can help you decide. We will analyze the data that shows who is learning online, what employers think about online degrees and why students choose this path.

Who is earning an online degree?

Those who began college but didn’t finish

The online programs attract little to 18-year-olds who spent the summer touring university campuses or dreaming of attending one of them since childhood. In fact, the largest proportion of online students are between 20 and 30 years old. A curious fact is that about 80 percent of online students have earned some college credits elsewhere.

As online programs increase, the possibility of accepting transfer credits in an effort to accommodate these students increases. The University of Washington, for example, created an online program with reduced tuition specifically for students who already had a university. In fact, state universities estimated that there were 900,000 adults in the state of Washington alone who had started college but not finished.

Those who are balancing a career or family, or both

The flexibility of online programs is a great advantage for students who work or care for a family. A survey was conducted of students who had dropped out of a university program and then began an online degree, where 43 percent said a personal event had prevented them from completing their studies in the classroom. The second most common reason given was that the student had started a job that interfered with class attendance. Almost half of the students online have children.

In addition, online courses allow workers to adapt their education to their work schedule. Also, online students who are also parents can do school work in the afternoon or on weekends, saving the cost of childcare. Some parents who have stayed at home to raise their children to see a degree online as a way to boost their re-entry into the workforce.

Those who want to change fields or move up in their careers

A survey of students enrolled in online programs was conducted, the main reasons students gave to obtain their degree were: I wanted a career in a new field; I wanted the satisfaction of completing my education, and I needed more education for a better job. In some cases, an employer will pay part or all of the tuition for employees returning to college. Both Starbucks and Wal-Mart have formed partnerships with online universities to offer their employees a discounted enrollment.

What are the pitfalls of online education?

Students are less likely to complete online courses

According to a study by the Community College Research Center Students are nearly twice as likely to withdraw or fail introductory math and English courses in online programs. This is due to gatekeeper courses designed to eliminate students who need corrective education. The New York Times mourns that struggling students tend to fall even farther behind when they enroll in online courses because instructors are less likely to offer academic help.

Online education requires more discipline

Chief academic officers surveyed, 41 percent said that it was harder to retain students taking online courses than classroom courses, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. That number comes with some caveats. Online courses attract students who face barriers to education or are reluctant to enroll, so the dropout rate may have as much to do with the students as with the course style. However, Public Agenda made a study, where both students and employers agreed that online courses required more discipline. Some employers view the most online degrees as a badge of discipline and perseverance.

How do you choose an online degree program?

Seek out quality

The shortage of online degrees used to be enough to attract students. Not anymore. The top three reasons students gave for selecting a school were: the overall reputation of the school, cost, and having the ability to set their schedule, according to the Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research survey. Students said they prefer a higher-rated school over the cheapest option, and graduate students were the most likely to prioritize a school’s reputation. The first step to find a reputable school is checking that it is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education keeps a database.

Make job placement a priority

A school’s reputation is based on the ability of its graduates to land jobs and succeed at those jobs. In the past, online schools faced criticism over their job placement rates. The University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit school in the country, didn’t have career-counseling services for its graduates, according to Time magazine reports 2012. In fact, the Senate denounced the school in a report, and shortly after that, the school launched a new job placement initiative.

Students are willing to know that their degree will pay off. In a survey, online students said that the best way a school could market itself was with a high rate of job placement, according to Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research. Some schools are even working with employers to best design their curriculum.

Broaden your search

A few years ago, job candidates wanted to avoid asking questions about their titles online because many employees viewed the titles as inferior. A Texas worker could proudly claim his degree from a Texas university without questions, while a person who had a job in Texas while earning a degree from a school in North Carolina would be subject to scrutiny. With a wider acceptance of online programs, students can choose the school that best suits their needs.

What are the most popular online degrees?

Business and nursing programs have long been the most popular among students studying online, according to data from Aslanian Market Research. Schools are rapidly increasing the degree and certification options, and many majors are further divided by specialty.

Top majors for undergraduates:

  • Business administration
  • Nursing
  • IT
  • Criminal justice
  • Early childhood education
  • Psychology
  • Medical billing
  • Accounting
  • Computer science and engineering
  • Social work

Top majors for graduate students:

  • Business administration
  • Nursing
  • Elementary education
  • Educational administration
  • Criminal justice
  • Health administration
  • Psychology
  • General mental health counseling
  • Special education

Why choose an online Education?


The majority of online students choose this format because of its flexibility. Even students at traditional schools are increasingly expecting that classes be offered at multiple times so that they can fit in work responsibilities. Laureate and Zogby Analytics, made a survey where 44 percent of college students said that they expect college courses will someday be offered without set times to allow students more flexibility.

According to an article in The Guardian Online classes can also benefit students who might struggle in a big lecture hall. Students with dyslexia and those who speak English as a second language can view Web videos and slides more than once if they need to.


College tuition is skyrocketing. In many cases, online degree’s tuition is slightly less than that for a campus degree. Sounds logical: Schools pay a lot to maintain their beautiful buildings and grounds, not to mention state-of-the-art recreation centers. In a few cases, the online discount is bigger than normal. The Berklee College of Music recently began offering online degrees half cost as much as those earned on campus, according to The Boston Globe.

The biggest savings, usually, come from living at home instead of on a college campus. Besides, Online students also save in transportation, and for those with children, the cost of childcare.


Nearly 90 percent of online students surveyed said that online study was as good as or better than classroom study. And their professors agreed! Seventy-four percent of academic leaders believed that online learning was as good as or better than face-to-face learning, according to the Babson Survey Research Group.

Combatting the perception that online learning is isolating, some students and professors said that online debates were more robust because the Internet provided a layer of anonymity.

What do employers think about Online Education?

Many employers prefer a traditional degree, but opinions are shifting

In a survey, 56 percent of employers said that they would prefer an employee with a degree from an average-rated traditional school to an employee with an online degree from a top-rated school. However, views of online education are improving. A 2011 survey of adults found that fewer than one-third believed that online education was as good as a traditional degree. In 2013, nearly half of adults believed the two were of similar quality.

One bright spot for students who are well into adulthood: Employers said they viewed online education as a good way for older college students to improve skills, according to Public Agenda.

Some employers are embracing online education

Ever heard of Western Governors University? Neither had most employers, so the private school began seeking their input on curriculum, according to Time magazine. Now those employers are eager to hire college graduates. Similarly, UPS has partnered with schools to create a curriculum that will yield graduates with skills that meet company needs.

An online degree still carries more uncertainty than a traditional degree. Students are less likely to finish their education, and employers are more likely to raise questions. But online degrees are rapidly gaining support from colleges and employers, and this trend is expected to accelerate. Students entering an online program today will likely find the job market even more welcoming when they finish.

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