Totally Online College Programs Grow in Numbers and Respect

A recent report by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics indicates that an ever increasing number of students attending Title IV institutions (a college or university that is eligible for federal financial aid) are enrolled in exclusively distance education programs. The total number of students in such programs for fall 2017 was 3.1 million. About 15.4% of college students are taking all of their classes online, and every year this percentage continues to increase.

For quite some time, online programs have long had a stigma among hiring gatekeepers. In a conference presentation in 2008, Columbaro and Monaghan suggest that, "This literature review spanning nearly seven years largely suggests that there still may be a marked stigma attached to online degrees throughout the hiring process." As a faculty member in 2008, I harbored similar suspicions of the quality of online education. But what a difference ten years has made.

One of my responsibilities as the Dean of Instruction at Linn-Benton Community College is to approve the hiring of instructional faculty. Quite a few of our faculty candidates provide transcripts from distance education institutions. Contrary to my feelings ten years ago, I have no concerns hiring these individuals as long as their institution is regionally accredited. And I think this is the position of many agencies and institutions across the country. Indeed, a recent report by the Center of Higher Education and Talent Strategy concludes that "Online credentials are now mainstream, with a solid majority (61%) of HR leaders believing that credentials earned online are of generally equal quality to those completed in-person, up from lower percentages in years past."

Does this mean you should enroll in an entirely online program? Not necessarily. It's an option. But like all of your college choices, you should consider several variables before making a decision. Just because an undergraduate program is convenient--you can take classes in your pajamas--doesn't mean its the best fit for you.


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