Is a Cheap Online Degree Worth It?

Students across the country are increasingly confronted with search results and advertisements extolling the benefits of an online degree problem, with flexible schedules and all-online learning that sound exceedingly convenient to those who could otherwise not fit higher education into a daily routine that already includes a full-time job, raising children, and much more. Even as these programs grow in size and prominence, many students remain concerned: Is it worthwhile to pursue a degree from one of these institutions? Are they legit?

Unfortunately, the answer to this common question is a bit convoluted. Simply put, it really depends on the school, the degree, and the overall cost. There are perfectly legitimate, highly affordable online degree programs that really will propel students forward in their careers. Others, however, may not be as reputable. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Online Programs from State Universities are Definitely Worth It

The great thing about today’s major public universities is that they have the size, technology, and incentive to offer affordable online programs to non-traditional students. These programs are completely legitimate, and they’re definitely worth pursuing if the degree relates directly to a student’s current or future career. Public universities come with a few major benefits in terms of both online education and offline use of the degree:

  • In-state tuition means that these degrees are highly affordable, and students won’t even have to pay for added room and board costs.
  • Major public universities are regionally accredited, meaning their degrees are recognized by employers and worth the cost.
  • Students local to the university can always opt for in-person advising at a time that meets their needs, and they can always schedule a hybrid or offline class if their schedule opens up.

Private Schools Offering Online Degrees Could Be a Good Match

In addition to major, state-funded institutions that offer online degree programs, several of the country’s biggest private schools offer competing options. Of course, these programs don’t benefit from in-state tuition, but they do command the same name recognition and overall prestige as their offline counterparts obtained through conventional classroom learning. When choosing a program from a private institution, consider the following:

  • The institution should be accredited by a regional body. If not, the degree is likely not worth the time it takes to earn.
  • The institution should have name recognition that will benefit the student when they begin applying their degree to a job search.
  • The institution should participate in federal financial aid programs, even for online students.

Not Worth It: The Worst of the Bunch

Of course, for every highly reputable public or private school with name recognition and online degree programs, there is at least one school that takes advantage of students and offers no real value for the price of tuition. The warning signs to watch out for when selecting an online school include:

  • No accreditation, and thus no real benefits of obtaining a degree.
  • High tuition that is assessed on a per-degree basis, rather than on the basis of credit hours.
  • No real interaction with professors, no advising, and no real feedback.
  • Open admissions that don’t assess student performance or their best academic placement within the institutions.

By keeping these factors in mind, and sticking to highly affordable online degree programs from major universities, students will certainly find that pursuing higher education online is worth their time. The costs can be much lower overall, especially without paying for room and board, and the degrees granted are indistinguishable from those given to offline students at the same university.