The truth about an online degree

In the United States, a growing number of students are deciding to take their degree via online education. Within one year, the amount of online enrolments has risen by 21%, while the overall higher education population has risen by 2% (Allen & Seaman 2010). Technology that makes these changes in higher education possible continues to develop at a fast pace, and the opportunities of using online education is growing. People in favour of online degrees state that online education makes it possible for everyone to receive education, that it is easier to receive a degree online than a traditional degree at a college.  In the United States of America, a rising number of students are taking their college degree through online education, but the passing rates and the job prospects of an online degree are worse than those of a traditional degree.

An argument commonly used by opponents, people in favour of online education, is that it is easier to get a degree online in comparison with those earned in traditional college way. However, studies have shown that an online degree is not easier to complete than traditional courses. Students who take online courses often receive lower grades and are more likely to drop out. In addition, students who take online coursework in early terms were slightly, but significantly, less likely to return to school later terms. It turns out that students have difficulties with adapting to online education (Xu and Jaggers, 2011). Students are not used to self-directed learning. It is a step to change from traditional education, which the students have received during their primary and secondary education, to online education.

Apart from easier degrees, another argument opponents use is that online education makes it possible for everyone to receive education. Students who have historically been underrepresented in college, for example ethnic minority students, teenage mums and poor students are able to take on online education much easier than traditional education. Students following a course online also share the belief that an online degree is cheaper because money can be saved on matters such as online books, petrol to go to college and  is less need for day care. These arguments are not supported by facts. It turns out that minorities, like black and Asian students, are the ones likely to drop out in addition to students with weaker academic credentials, according to research (Xu and Jaggers, 2013) Facts show different outcomes with regards to money as well. To support this with an example, an online master course at Indiana University costs students about $52,000, while the exact same course in traditional setting costs $23,592 (Get educated, 2012). The gap between online and traditional education does not always have to be this big, but this example indicates clearly that an online degree is not necessarily a cheaper degree. Research by WCET (2009) found that among accredited colleges which offer the same online courses as on-campus courses, 49% of these colleges charge more for the online courses.

The final argument opponents argue is that employers value a traditional degree the same as an online degree. However, research has shown different results. A national survey about hiring employees showed that 96% of the employers would choose traditional degrees over applicants with virtual degrees (Wellen, 2006).

To conclude, research has pointed out some worrying facts about online education. Students are more likely to drop out compared to a traditional college setting. The main reason is that they have difficulties to adapt from traditional to online education. Ethnic minorities’ students are even more likely to drop out of online education. This suggests that these type of students are struggling even more in adapting to online education.  This is worrying because this could suggest that if online education would become bigger in the future; the gap between these students will be enlarged. In order to be successful, students have to consider if online education is the right way to study for them. They should research the online course thoroughly in advance of their studies, think critically if they can manage their own time management effectively and if they can handle self-directed learning. Changes in education like this are necessary to give students the possibility to prepare for and adapt to online education effectively and hopefully prevent them from dropping out of the course. Hopefully, the statistics about study results will eventually change and online education can become a more effective and beneficial way of learning.


Allen and J. Seaman. (2010) Class differences; Online Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group, USA.

Get Educated, Inc. (2011). Online Masters degree cost more than traditional residential programs.

Gladieux and W. Swail, (1999). Virtual University & Education Opportunity. The College Board, Washington.

Wellen, (2006). Degrees of acceptance. New York Times. Retrieved from:

WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. (2009). Online Education Programs Marked by Rising Enrolments, Unsure Profits, Organizational Transitions, Higher Fees and technical Training for faculty. Hanover Research, Pennsylvania.

Xu and S. Jaggers.  (2011). Online and Hybrid Course Enrollment and Performance in Washington State Community and Technical Colleges. Community College Research Centre, Columbia University, USA.

Xu and S. Jaggers. (2013). Adaptability to online learning. Community College Research Centre, Columbia University, USA.