Perceived quality of online degrees
The recognition of the quality of online degrees compared to on-campus degrees varies. While most major online colleges are regionally accredited, the public perception of their quality is in dispute. Some experts argue that degrees in certain fields are more accepted online than in others, while some programs are less suited for online-only schools.
A survey by the Distance Education and Training Council found that 100 percent of employers who responded felt that distance education program graduates performed better on the job as a result of their degree (as compared to their previous performance). Additionally, employers felt that an employee receiving a distance education degree compared favorably, in terms of knowledge learned, to someone with a resident degree.
On the other hand, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in January 2007 on a Vault Inc. survey that found 55 percent of employers preferred traditional degrees over online ones. 41%, however, said they would give “equal consideration to both types of degrees.”
The Sloan Consortium, an organization funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to maintain and improve the quality of distance education, publishes regular reports on the state of distance education in the U.S. In its 2006 report “Making the Grade: online degree Education in the United States, 2006,” it stated that “[i]n 2003, 57 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face. That number is now 62 percent, a small but noteworthy increase.”
In some instances, an online degrees may be no different than a degree earned in a campus-based program. The instruction is often exactly the same, and the online degree contains no special designation. An example of this is the degree offered to Columbia University students who earn a degree through the Columbia Video Network (CVN) versus the campus-based program.
Prevalence of online education
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a distance education study based on the 2001-2002 academic year at 2-year and 4-year Title IV (Federal Student Aid)-eligible, degree-granting institutions. The study reported that 56 percent of all institutions surveyed offered distance education courses. The study also found that public institutions were more likely to offer distance education than were private institutions.
The Sloan Consortium, based on data collected from over 2,200 colleges and universities, reports that nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course during 2005 (a significant increase over the 2.3 million reported in 2004). According to the same report, about two-thirds of the largest institutions have fully online programs.
Until recently, students enrolled in online degree programs were ineligible for federal student aid unless at least half of their program was campus based (a law established in 1992 and known as the 50-percent rule). In February 2006, that law was repealed and now federal student aid in the form of federal loans, grants, and work-study is available in the U.S. for students enrolled in an eligible online degree program at an accredited Title IV-eligible institution.
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