It’s common knowledge that the COVID-19 health crisis that mobilized governments across the world resulted in a near-stampede by schools, colleges, and universities to provide internet-enabled ‘distance’ learning to students suddenly locked out of their campuses during efforts to slow the spread of the virus; the facilities turned out to be something of a mixed bag.
While the ingenuity of tech engineers and educators kept some form of education alive for students isolated at home, there were also undoubtedly some downsides. In many cases, hastily assembled online courses couldn’t sufficiently make up for in-person teaching (and the associated learning that goes on spontaneously between groups of students talking to one another), though the online programs at least prevented a complete cessation of education.
Less well-known is that long before COVID-19 struck, some educational establishments had been carefully crafting high-quality programs for advanced learning entirely online. As employers today consider online degrees from authentically accredited universities equivalent to on-campus degrees, choosing the right one can open new career doors. Many of the best providers of online degrees are established brick-and-mortar establishments.
Here’s a quick guide for those considering an online degree on what to look for when deciding on a provider.
A preparatory consideration
Perhaps a preliminary consideration for a prospective online degree student is to take stock of one’s existing commitments and think carefully about planning a strategy for ‘ring-fencing’ study time at home in an organized way. Unlike campus-attending students, online students must craft their own timetable for engaging in learning programs. Building a home study regimen helps give distance learners the self-discipline they need to undertake their studies.
But what should you look for in the online degree program itself?
Support from the university’s faculty and administration
Studying for an online degree is ideal for people with financial and/or family commitments that preclude them from taking a full-time, campus-based degree. However, online programs require considerable self-discipline and hard work to complete successfully. Therefore, the university providing the online degree course must give distance learners top-tier support from faculty and administration. For example, the Baylor online DNP program offers online students plenty of support throughout their studies from a highly credentialed, learned faculty.
However, online students should also receive support from the university’s administration team. For example, student success coaches provide ongoing course selection and course load guidance. They monitor each student’s progress while checking in with them regularly throughout the program to discuss their needs. Administrators at Baylor University also support students in finding clinical placements for a clinically orientated course, such as the DNP, within traveling distance of home.
As Forbes recently noted, demand for leaders in the nursing profession (which the DNP equips its graduates for) is on course to grow from three million in 2019 to 3.3 million in 2029. Providing top-tier faculty and administrative support to distance students is paramount for successful graduation.
Check for the online degree provider’s accreditation and credibility
In a thankfully bygone era of online education, the ‘sharp practices’ of some for-profit online institutions muddied the waters. They evoked much employer suspicion, as their qualifications were frankly of poor quality. Happily, those days are over, mainly because several well-established traditional universities have carefully crafted high-quality online degree programs that employers recognize as such.
Universities that rigorously adhere to the standards of regulatory bodies such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or those of recognized quality assurance organizations such as Quality Matters (QM) are a safe bet for prospective students.
It’s also worth looking out for a university’s rankings and awards, as these are usually strong indicators of a high-quality program.
What networking opportunities exist for online students?
Few would dispute that the friendships forged among young students during a campus-based program are often life-long. And as friends enter careers and mature in their professional stature, they willingly serve as valuable networking stations, alerting old friends to new career openings becoming available in their university or profession.
Distance learners studying degree programs wholly online don’t have access to such spontaneous, face-to-face, on-campus friendships. However, this is where an online degree provider’s student success coaches can play an inestimably valuable role. Also helpful are the resources available at the university for ‘virtual’ networking (via the Internet) with fellow remote-learning peers for mutual support.
How flexible is the online degree program
Another way of phrasing this question is to ask, can the study requirements of my preferred degree be fitted around my full-time job and family duties? It’s hardly a trivial question, as mature students usually have these obligations – taking time out of paying the rent or mortgage, for example, isn’t a viable option for most people.
Good-quality online degrees are expressly designed to be flexible enough to cater for precisely those commitments and duties. Usually, however, online students will have to make themselves available for some fixed, scheduled video lectures, virtual class discussions, and, of course, in-person exams. Usually, these are manageable with some forward planning with employers and family. However, if there’s no flexibility, an online degree may not be viable unless you can switch to a more congenial employment arrangement.
Online degrees are generally best taken by those with the self-discipline and resolve to stick at them. It’s necessary to build a strictly followed home study regimen into the evenings and weekends and push on doggedly to course completion and qualification. However, all the hard work is worth it because of the career pathways a degree will make accessible.