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Online Courses vs. Online Degrees

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about for-profit colleges run by private corporations.  They’re usually technically accredited, and technically legal, but the way they go about things borders on fraud.  Okay really, they often cross that line, especially when it comes to false advertisement and luring prospective students with insane promises of income that just don’t pan out in real life, even for people who studied conventionally.

Every day I get email trying to persuade me to promote this or that online degree program on StudyItOnline.com.  Since I’m now aware of the shady dealings, I’m very wary of this.  I don’t know which programs are good or bad because I’ve never used most of them because they’re too expensive.

…and there’s your clue to the first step in not getting screwed.  If an online or distance learning program is more expensive than your local colleges and universities, opt for the latter.

I’ve taught online courses for going on 10 years now.  I have no overhead except my hosting bills and the commission I pay to Universal Class.  All together, that’s usually under $300 per month with all my students put together.  It likely costs an individual instructor working for a larger company nothing.  So let’s say by some phenomenal stretch, that it costs the company $100 per month to successfully teach each student.  They could charge $1000 per student per semester and still make a profit…but they don’t do that.

Instead, because they’re accredited, they get you to get a federal student loan or grant, and charge in excess of $6000 per semester.  Then if something happens to you and you can’t finish the course in their time frame or you lose your job, tough cookies.  Your credit is wrecked.

I’ve been told that quite often, these schiesters don’t even have a human instructor teaching anything.  Sure, they have videos of lectures, and all sorts of bells and whistles, but there’s nobody to answer your questions.  I’m not talking about things being slow.  I mean not at all.

Not all distance learning and online degree programs are messed up like this, but some are, so beware.  Be a smart shopper, and don’t sign up for these things impulsively.

Also, bear in mind that not all careers actually require a degree as opposed to credible certification.  For some, even if you get a degree, you’re still going to have to take licensing exams and/or courses required by the state.  Rather than shelling out thousands of dollars for a degree online, you may be better off spending a couple hundred on a course that will prepare you for the exams, and then taking conventional courses when you have a job and the money to do so.

In many fields, especially in computers and networking, the information is constantly changing.  You will be learning new things for the rest of your career.  This field isn’t as degree dependent as some others.  The main concern is whether or not you can do the job.

Look deeply into the requirements for jobs when you’re trying to make a decision about education.  Usually they say they prefer someone with a degree, but then they list the programming languages you need to know, and the duties you’ll need to perform.  If you can do all that, go to the interview.  They are going to pick the best candidate for the job as they see it, whether or not they have a degree.  They might not be able to find anyone who does, and will go with the one who can do the job.

Basically what I’m saying is never go into debt for an online course or degree.  Aside of our costs being lower, independent study is in some ways more difficult than conventional classes.  There is absolutely no justification for a school with no campus to maintain and that does very little on actual paper, and whose teachers communicate mostly through email and instant messaging, to be charging more than your local community colleges or public universities.

In the case of online studies, most of the cost should be to pay the instructor for their time, feedback, and maintenance of the course.  This is what’s worth the money.  If you don’t have an actual instructor, and it’s just a machine or a technician grading tests, it should only cost what it costs them to host plus a very very small margin so the business can keep running.

Oh, and another thing: there are actual universities that have online options.  If you’re going to take out a student loan, you might as well check those out.  It’s not as if no college has ever had students who work or prefer to study independently.  Before you give money to people you can’t go and see in person, see what’s available from people you can.

I started teaching online so that I could help people in fields I have experience in study when they don’t have that option in their area, or at least not for a reasonable price.  I like being able to open the fields up to people for whom education in them wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.  It really grates me that people are out there polluting online education by defrauding students and capitalizing off of the government.

So be careful out there.  Know your options, and choose wisely.

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