As a higher education administrator or educator, you’re often tasked with educating students, parents, colleagues and the community about campus vs. online degrees. For years, online degrees were flanked in a stigma that they weren’t “real” degrees, compounded by the influx of “degree mills” that weren’t accredited. We’re now squarely in an era where online and hybrid education isn’t just accepted, but oftentimes encouraged. However, how can you inform potential students about degrees without showing a bias? What’s the best way to direct someone to pursue a traditional, hybrid or 100 percent online degree?
Everyone has some bias, but with sound facts and figures on the potential pros and cons of both campus and online degrees, secondary and postsecondary advisors can help potential students make the best decision.
The Pros and Cons of Higher Ed Degrees
Traditional, in-person learning in a brick-and-mortar establishment was the only approach for years. However, it might not be the best fit for everyone.
- Campus degrees are widely accepted around the world. Nobody will question a degree from an accredited, brick-and-mortar establishment.
- These degrees also offer the classic “college experience,” if that’s what’s desired. From drop-in hours with professors to Greek Life, intramural sports, student government, football games and dorm life, it’s impossible to replace this beloved rite of passage.
- Those who thrive with an in-person environment get what they need. Some learners require that in-class, interactive experience with minimal technology to fully digest the experience. This can be particularly true for mature students.
- There are more resources with a brick-and-mortar environment. From social clubs to programming, students usually feel that they “get more” at a traditional university. There are limits to what an online environment can offer.
- Innately, there’s a lack of flexibility with campus degrees. Everyone must be physically present, stick to dates and times, and work their life around earning a campus degree. It’s not feasible for some, especially in an increasingly virtual lifestyle.
- Costs can vary dramatically. It’s not just tuition that fluctuates from campus to campus, but also cost of living, taxes, commute costs and more. Going to school in suburban Kentucky is going to be a lot more affordable than going to a university in Manhattan.
- The “vibe” of the physical environment is strong, for better or worse. Students have to adapt to what they’re walking into every day.
- Not all classes are designed to mimic the real world. Increasingly, telecommuting, virtual offices and depending largely on technology are all required in the real world. Sitting in a tech-free lecture hall may not be indicative of the real world experience anymore.
(Next page: The pros and cons of online degrees)
Educators and administrators have been getting bombarded with questions about the validity of online degrees, even though many traditional campus degrees have been incorporating some aspects of online learning for several years. Formerly known as “distance learning,” there are also pros and cons to these programs.
- There’s plenty of flexibility for all involved, including students, professors and support staff. In many cases, classes don’t require everyone to be online at the same time, so everyone can keep pace on their own schedule. Participating from anywhere at any time offers ample room for life outside the classroom.
- Online learning reflects the world we live and work in today. Learning how to use various platforms, communicate effectively with the written word, and troubleshooting are all vital life skills.
- There are no geographic boundaries. If an educator wants to work for an institution but doesn’t have the capacity to move, that’s not a problem—online degrees means not being physically tied to any location. However, an incredible amount of discipline and ambition is required for anyone, educator or student, to succeed in a virtual environment. Experimenting with avenues for time management is absolutely critical to avoid falling behind.
- Online degrees give previously “brushed over” students a leg up. Professors can better encourage everyone to participate in a less threatening environment. Sometimes, online learning helps everyone connect more effectively with required participation.
- There’s still a stigma. Particularly in non-western countries, the idea of an online degree still carries the stigma of an “easy degree.” For those who are interested in opportunities overseas, having a CV featuring a position as an online professor might work against them.
- Online communication can be frustrating for some people who prefer in-person communication with all the verbal and non-verbal cues that it entails. For those who struggle to communicate in writing or aren’t tech savvy, online learning is an entirely new and intimidating beast.
- For many, there’s a disparity when you can’t meet your students and peers in person. Video conferencing is great, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but it’s not the same as bonding in person. For some people, that gap can be troublesome, especially without a strong network of family and friends outside of work. Human contact is important, and for those who rely on work to get their lion’s share of it, an online environment can be lonely and isolating.
- It can suddenly seem like a huge amount of work. There are two types of people: Those who think online learning is streamlined and those who think it requires a lot more work than traditional learning. Whether you’re an educator, administrator or student, you probably fall into one of these camps. If it’s the latter, it might seem like you have more work for the same pay, which can be very frustrating.
Campus degrees aren’t “better” than online degrees—or vice versa. It’s all a matter of preference, and there are people who are incredibly relieved that online degrees have been accepted in western countries. The best approach is to help a student find a program that offers the kind of environment where he or she will thrive.