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Cyberdiplomas: The good, the bad and the ugly31 Mar 2009 08:38 am

elearn.jpgI’m sure many of you all have been inundated with emails from distance learning schools lately; and you may have noticed more commercials for online degrees.

It’s a tempting proposition, especially if you lost your job in a dying industry and are considering reinventing yourself. And what’s easier than taking classes from the comfort of your own home?

Some schools are seeing record interest from individuals looking to reeducate themselves.

I just got an email from a PR person at a distance learning school called Excelsior College and they’ve seen a 30 percent jump in online course registration from July 2008 to March 2009, compared to the year ago period. The average age of the school’s students is 40.

Educating yourself is a great thing, no way around it. But you need to do your research before you run out and enroll for a cyberdiploma program.

First off, beware of anything you get unsolicited via email from an organization you’ve never heard of. Many of these so-called academic institutions are bogus.

You’ll have to do your own research and make sure these schools are accredited and have a good reputation. You should contact The Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Also, distance learning still has a long way to go before it garners the credibility of traditional college programs.

That said, these programs are way better than they were just ten years ago. Advances in web-based teaching tools, streaming video and cyber worlds have made online courses more like a real class room experience, creating a growing demand on the part of students. And colleges, including public, for profit and no- profit institutions, are jumping on the bandwagon increasing their online offerings.

Nearly, 3.5 million students were taking online courses in the fall of 2006, the most recent data available. That’s a 9.7 percent increase from the previous year, and has doubled over the past four years. And more than two-thirds of all higher education institutions now have some form of online offerings.

Having such a degree will definitely enhance your resume, but traditional college degrees are still preferred among hiring managers I’ve spoken with, if they had to choose.

In a MSNBC.com column I wrote on the topic, Excelsior College shared a study they commissioned of CEOs and small business owners that showed the long road ahead for cyber programs.

Only 45 percent thought online programs were as credible as traditional college campus courses. But among those familiar with online colleges, 83 percent found the programs just as credible.

“Right now, pound for pound, I don’t think it carries the same weight,” says Warren Arbogast, a higher education and technology consultant, when asked about an online degree vs. a degree from a traditional college.

Also, instructors and the experience at such cyber schools are considered by some to be subpar. This from a story I wrote for the New York Times on the topic:

Stephen Ruth, professor of public policy and technology management at George Mason University, said that while online classes could be very effective, they were “not on par, in my opinion, with traditional classes at top-tier universities.” One reason is that “the general ambience of the class provides a better experience,” he said.

Some in academia also say that online learning has created a second tier of instructors who work hard but are paid less than traditional professors.

While some colleges report paying teachers up to $4,000 a course, that’s not the norm.

“A great number of teachers who do distance learning tend to be part-timers, and they typically get paid $1,000 to $1,500 to teach a course,” Professor Ruth said. “A full-time professor gets maybe 10 times more to teach a course.”

Something to keep in mind when you’re deciding on where to get your degree.

If you’re planning on entering a profession where you know you’ll be up against applicants who have degrees from the top universities, it’s going to be hard to compete with a degree from a lessor known online institution.

If you need a degree to fulfill certain requirements for a job, then e-learning may be for you.

Don’t just jump because you get a tempting email. Do your homework before you don your slippers and start doing homework.

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