On-Campus vs. Online Degrees: Which One is Better?

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Distance learning has grown tremendously over the past decade. According to research company Eduventures, one out of every ten college students will be enrolled in an online degree program by early 2008. But until recently, online degrees have suffered poor reputations, due to the proliferation of diploma mills and unaccredited schools.

Who's right? Is online education, as critics claim, a cop-out alternative to a real degree? Or is it, as students argue, a flexible way to provide educational access to non-traditional student populations?

1. The Question of Access
When it comes to your education, access is a high priority. Can you get to a campus? Can you get to the one you want?

Online Degrees On-Campus Degrees
A report by the Sloan Consortium found that improved student access is the top reason why schools create online courses and programs. For students looking at a long commute, online education may be a better option. Large, traditional campuses may offer more internships and work opportunities connected to the college or university. If you're considering a nearby school, in-state tuition may offer further incentive to spring for a campus-based education.

2. Learning Styles
Think back to learning situations you've experienced at work, in high school, or in other educational programs. How do you process information-and how good are your study habits?

Online Degrees On-Campus Degrees
The ability to think independently is an asset to the online campus. You should also be able to budget your time and prioritize your education with existing commitments. Visual learners may find the most benefit here. Academic leaders cite the need for discipline as the most critical barrier to online learning. If you thrive in environments with group learning and teacher attention, on-campus college degrees may benefit you the most.

3. What Types of Degrees are Available?
The degree program you want may make the choice for you -- not all degrees are available online.

Online Degrees On-Campus Degrees
Programs in business, information technology, and healthcare management are popular choices for online degrees. Most course material translates well to the Web, and physical lab work is not necessary. Fields needing physical resources are typically best suited for campus-based education. Degrees in hard sciences, engineering and healthcare, for example, include labs and other hands-on activities.

Will Employers Accept Your Degree?
If you have a potential field or employer in mind, a little research may tell you how education has affected previous job applicants.

Online Degrees On-Campus Degrees
A 2005 report by Eduventures notes that half of the participants they studied regarded online education as "equally valuable," and ten percent saw it as "more valuable" than on-campus education. A recent survey of 270 small and medium-sized companies seeking managers or entry-level employees in accounting, engineering, business, and information technology found that a majority preferred on-campus degrees.

Want a compromise? Hybrid degree programs from traditional colleges and universities offer a mix of online and on-campus courses.

So which one is better? The short answer is: it depends on you. Whether you decide on campus-based education or pursue a degree online, you should choose the medium that fits both your learning style and your career goals.

By Amelia Gray

- The New York Times, "Degrees of Acceptance"
- Eduventures
- Sloan Consortium Publications

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