What is the future of online degrees?

Will online degrees become more legitimate?

A BBC.com article last week raised this question: With online programs becoming more and more popular, why are they still suffering from an image problem? Could the increase in programs due to the pandemic finally change that?

Online education has both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

Accessibility. From a market efficiency perspective, a higher degree is accessible to everyone in the world, rather than to the limited number of individuals who can physically attend campus.

Cost. Online degrees are significantly cheaper than on campus, given the lower cost of living and the smaller administrative footprint of distance learning students.

User experience. As distance learning becomes the norm at most universities during the pandemic, institutions are applying the discipline of online user experience, rather than just pushing the classroom experience to a browser.

Challenges:

Rigor. In the brief history of online higher education, there was a perception, if not a reality, that degrees were less rigorous. It evolves rapidly and more complex degrees such as data science are awarded virtually.

Campus experience. The lack of a shared physical community dedicated to learning and growth is a factor. So are networking opportunities. Some people, as virtual work experiences have shown, simply do better or prefer the interactive human experience.

Perceived status. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if a degree is earned online or in person. More important will be the rigor of the field of study and the brand of the institution. A rigorous degree from a quality institution delivered online might in fact demonstrate a higher degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Impact on the field of higher education. Higher education is already in crisis, for example questioning the ultimate earning power of degrees versus the amount of student loans needed.

What will higher education look like in 5 years? Probably a lot less loans and smaller private universities, more sabbaticals, more use of community colleges – and a lot more online learning.

Isaac Cheifetz, Executive Recruiter of Twin Cities, can be contacted via catalytic1.com.

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