All of us have seen the tremendous growth in advertising for online degree courses recently.
And although we are focused on traditional four year college careers, we must acknowledge the growth of online learning.
Initially online courses targeted people who were already in the workforce, who wanted to beef up their resumes and enhance their qualifications.
But now, younger students are moving more and more towards e-learning, and not just with the for profit online universities. An increasing number of brick and mortar colleges are introducing online courses into their curricula.
Is there some kind of higher education evolution (or revolution) going on?
Should all students be pushed towards a four year college education?
Let’s consider a different model…
In the traditional British system, high school students would take a series of exams around the age of fifteen. Depending on the results a student would leave high school to go to a vocational school, into an apprenticeship, or straight into the workforce.
Apprenticeships are also a common occurrence in other European countries.
The students with a higher academic performance would return to high school for another two years, after which they would again take higher level exams.
Based on the performance, the students would go on to college or they would enter the workforce (often as a trainee for management or specialized skills).
So there existed a natural filtering process, which might not be perfect in many ways, but allowed the non-academics to move out of the school system and pursue a career.
Is a similar system evolving naturally in the USA?
At a certain point, it seems that it became a general expectation that all American children should go to college to obtain a four year degree or higher.
With the rising cost of college tuition, combined with the cutbacks in funding for state schools, the burgeoning educational debt, and the shift in skills required in the evolving marketplace, are students and parents reevaluating their priorities?
Online degree advertising stresses the concept of convenience, and often promotes from a platform of “grants and scholarships”, and typically leads potential students to “for profit” institutions.
We will not review any online college courses here, but let’s highlight some of the major factors you and your student should take into consideration:
- Online universities are typically “for profit” ventures. This is not a criticism per se, but remember the motto “buyer beware”, and check out comments/complaints
- Is your student academically motivated or more inclined towards learning a specialized skill?
- If it is a vocational course, do businesses recognize the degree for hiring purposes?
- Are the courses accredited? Unaccredited courses and degrees are typically not recognized by employers or other colleges.
- Are there any (positive or negative) reviews about the quality of the course content or the responsiveness of the teachers?
Even if you are able to address these and other issues, there is still the question about the student’s academic goals and learning style. Some people just need to work in a classroom environment. Staying at home and studying online might just bore them to tears.
Also, the departure to college is a major milestone in the life of the family, with the beginnings of independence, responsibility and new socialization in addition to the academic career.
The family discussion concerning vocational rather than academic learning is certainly a valid one, especially in light of the constant inflation of tuition costs. We should expect the growth of online learning opportunities to continue with, hopefully, increasing quality. A sign of solid progress is that an increasing number of brick and mortar schools are implementing online courses.
The issues of quality, accreditation, and testing capabilities of online universities still need to be properly addressed and resolved. We recommend that the more academically inclined student stay with the traditional brick and mortar four year college experience, or find a community college that provide transferable credits.
The old chestnut, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” could not be more appropriate, along with “Buyer beware!“.