Online University: Accredited Not-for-Profit Distance Learning
Americans from all walks of life have been flocking to colleges and universities seeking higher education, and it’s no wonder why—education pays. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012, when the average unemployment rate was 6.8%, it was only 6.2% for those who held an associate’s degree; furthermore, for those with bachelor’s degrees, it was only 4.5% and people with master’s degrees had only 3.5% unemployment.
Use Search Tools to Find Accredited Online Colleges
In addition to the directory on this page, the following are good search tools to use to find the right school for you:
- Professional associations in various disciplines, like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, are great resources for finding accredited, non-profit programs.
- A number of states provide an array of information on the colleges and universities within their borders on their official state higher education webpage.
- The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies, ranks graduate programs on a wide variety of criteria, including publications, diversity, job placement, and student support.
- A list of nonprofit distance learning institutions can be found at the United States Distance Learning Association. Although it does not provide accreditation information, that information can be found at the U.S. Department of Education.
- U.S. News and World Report ranks online and campus-based colleges. This is an invaluable resource for students putting together their list of preferred programs.
Understand How Distance Education is Delivered
Online accredited programs are typically organized on an online learning platform like Blackboard. From the platform, students obtain their syllabus and assignments, along with other valuable course materials. Students and faculty keep in close contact via e-mail and the platform’s message board.
For colleges and universities that have existed for hundreds of years, their online programs are structured like the school’s own classroom courses. Often, the classes have a fixed-time format, forcing students to “attend” the course at set times on scheduled days. With this kind of fixed schedule, typically the lecture is streamed live.
Online schools that have no actual classrooms are the most flexible. Lectures are often recorded so students can access them whenever they want. Interaction with professors and other students occurs through the class platform, Skype, and e-mail.
Many students in blended programs feel that they have the best of both worlds. They are able to have classroom interaction with their peers and teachers for courses that are more suited to on-campus study (like labs), while still having flexibility for other courses that don’t require such interaction (like writing classes).
Other blended programs incorporate in-person attendance and online learning in other ways. For example, some prominent MBA program includeresidencies, meetings that last three days to a week, typically at the beginning of the course, where students attend an intensive learning seminar similar to a professional conference. The remainder of the course is taken online.
See What It’s Like to Take a Class
There is no typical online class, because programs are tailored to the unique qualities of each school and its students. For those programs with fixed-length courses, students may attend classes throughout a typical semester, turning in assignments and taking tests according to the professor’s schedule. A typical semester is between 12 and 15 weeks.
With other programs, students may have a set amount of time to complete the coursework, and they turn in assignments and take tests according to their own schedules, but within the deadline (which could be anything from one semester to one year). Some programs even offer accelerated options allowing diligent students to complete a semester’s worth of coursework in about eight weeks.
Assess the Pros and Cons of Distance Education Programs
There are many advantages to distance education programs, but there are a few disadvantages, as well. For instance, students in online programs miss out on the social experience that a traditional, on-campus experience provides. Online students may also have more difficulty finding study partners and making connections with university personnel.
On the other hand, online students typically have flexible school schedules; this is a boon to busy professionals seeking additional education, nontraditional students with families, and older students who prefer independent learning to studying in a classroom with young adults. Remember, students tend to get their online university degree at their own pace; this can make all the difference to someone who wouldn’t be able to commit to a program with a rigid structure.
Although counterintuitive, another benefit to studying in a university online is the individualized attention students get from their instructors. Although e-mail doesn’t provide face-to-face interaction, electronic communication between professors and students in online courses can service more in-depth discussions when compared with the tight office hour windows most in-person professors rely on. Many believe this is because the convenience of e-mail encourages students to ask more questions, which teachers can answer in greater depth.
Decide if Attending a University Online is Right for You
Online universities are not for everyone. Those who have always dreamed of attending university, pledging a sorority, and studying in a wood-paneled library will not necessarily enjoy the online experience. However, for a large number of people, an online education is the best option.
Students with disabilities
Despite the attempts made by brick and mortar schools to comply with ADA requirements and other laws, it remains the student’s responsibility to arrange for necessary academic and physical accommodations for their disabilities. In fact, as many disabled students have learned, they often have toprove their disability by providing the results of diagnostic tests and copies of prescriptions.
With online degree programs, disabled students avoid much of this frustration. Many disabled students note that the online environment is already suited to meet their needs. They also report enjoying the flexible schedule, which allows them to spend extra time on challenging assignments. Having all course materials, including lectures, available for repeated reference is also helpful, not only for students with disabilities but for all students.
Returning from service abroad, veterans face a harsh economic reality—unemployment. In fact, although the overall unemployment rate in 2011 was 8.9%, the unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans was a whopping 12%. Luckily, most veterans realize that the more education they have, the better chance they will have of finding a job. With programs like the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, former servicemen continue to earn degrees and certificates that are in high demand.
Nontraditional, older students make up a third group thriving in online programs. With full-time jobs and families, working adults can’t always fit traditional classes into their schedules. Having the flexibility to access course materials and lectures at their own pace, and from the convenience of their own homes, allows a vast group people who had once given up on their dream of attaining a college degree to realize that dream and advance their career.
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