Are you interested in going back to complete a bachelor’s degree that was never finished, or perhaps even begin working on one for the first time? Online education is likely to be an attractive option-with a format that is more conducive to a full time job and a student body where the mid-career professional dominates. Online degrees certainly have their advantages, but beware, for there are many serious negatives with going this route. What you may want to consider is an online degree from a traditional college or university.
Let’s give some air to a very controversial subject. Online degrees have a stigma attached to them, and in many instances that stigma is deserved. Non-traditional institutions that provide primarily online education such as the University of Phoenix, Capella, Walden, Western Governors and Argosy tend to have minimal entrance requirements, low academic rigor, and weak faculty members. Many other online only programs cannot even offer the regional accreditation that a university needs to be deemed legitimate. Completing one of these degrees may require little mental effort (though they can still strain the pocketbook quite significantly). And once you earn your degree, your resume may draw skepticism from potential employers.
But the academic landscape of online education is in flux, and more and more traditional schools are getting in to the act. Opting for an online program at a traditional college gives you the flexibility of online learning, but you’ll earn a degree from an established school and enjoy all the clout that comes with it. If you’re serious about returning to finish your bachelor’s, and you want to do it online, consider the online programs from one of these five traditional universities:
University of Maryland, University College
The University of Maryland got in to the distance education game early, and has been a pioneer in online programs for quite some time. They maintain one of the largest online learning programs in the country. UMUC offers a wide variety of undergraduate majors, and is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accrediting body.
Check them out at http://www.umuc.edu
University of Denver, University College
Perhaps you’re interested in an online program that offers more of an intimate experience. If that’s the case, you might want to look at the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program (BACP) at the University of Denver. DU is the oldest private institution in the state of Colorado, and has offered traditional degrees since 1864. The BACP, a relatively new addition, offers non-traditional students the opportunity to complete a BA in one of five broad focal areas: communication, leadership, public policy/social sciences, science and technology, and global studies.
The University of Denver is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accrediting body.
Check them out at http://www.universitycollege.du.edu
Similar to DU, Duquesne is another older, small to mid-sized private university that has entered into the online only marketplace for undergraduate education. Their School of Leadership and Professional Advancement offers BS degrees in ten different areas, most with a businessy feel to them.
Duquesne University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a regional accrediting body.
Check them out at http://www.duq.edu/leadership
Pennsylvania State University
Penn State’s “World Campus” program represents another major public institution branching into the world of online degrees. Penn State’s online offerings are eclectic. Twelve different undergraduate majors are offered, some quite specific and some very broad. All are either BA or BS degrees (which is a plus, see comments below).
Penn State is also accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Check them out at http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu
Oregon State University
OSU offers nine different undergraduate degrees that can be completed entirely online. The majority of these have an agricultural/environmental focus, but they also have more traditional liberal arts offerings in political science, anthropology, and general liberal studies. Another dozen traditional fields are available for a student to minor in as well.
Oregon State is accredited by Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, a regional accrediting body.
Check them out at http://ecampus.oregonstate.edu
Lastly, here are a few other considerations that you want to keep in mind when looking for an online degree program:
If there are no standards for credit transfers, the school is probably academically weak
Online programs are notorious for giving you as much transfer credit as possible, some even going so far as to offer credit based upon “life experience.” If you’re shocked by how much credit they say they can offer you, and how quickly you can earn your degree, it’s a sure sign of weak academics. Earning any degree of quality means hard work, and if they suggest otherwise to you, you’re probably talking to a degree factory.
Check for incestuousness
See if you can read faculty biographies of instructors in the program (if that information isn’t easily accessible on their web site, it’s a bad sign). Do many of them hold degrees from that institution? If so, an immediate red flag is raised. By and large, if the instructors are degreed from the school they are teaching at, it’s indicative of low quality and poor competitiveness. Beyond that, do the instructors seem qualified to teach, or are their credentials vague or possibly exaggerated?
Ask how your diploma will read
Remember, stigma is real and you want to avoid it as best you can. Would you rather have a diploma that said “Harvard University” or “Harvard University Online Edition”…easy choice, right? To that end, favor programs where the wording on the diploma earned online doesn’t vary from the wording on the diploma earned on campus. Also, traditional degrees such as the BA and the BS are preferable to BPS (Bachelor of Professional Studies) or any other more novel acronyms.
Regional accreditation is the only kind of accreditation that matters, and it is an absolute must for any program. If the program advertises some sort of accreditation with a federal or state education department, or an accreditation with an association of online schools, they’re selling you snake oil. I could start my own accrediting body tomorrow and accept anyone I like. But that accreditation wouldn’t have any value; only regional accreditation has value.
Returning to complete a college degree is a serious decision, and a very admirable undertaking. Recognize that it won’t be easy, and avoid the temptation to choose any program offering the path of least resistance. Obtaining any degree of value will require hard work and sacrifice. If you’re thinking about an online degree, consider earning it from a traditional university that offers online programs on the side. Consider the schools listed here, or any others that fit a similar profile, for there are many quality options out there. And remember to ask the tough questions; anything less would be a disservice to yourself.