Everywhere you look today, there are ads for online degree programs. Billboards, radio, TV, and even our computers are hit constantly with information about how easy it is to get your degree online. Established large universities such as The University of Maryland in College Park even offer online classes now.
So what can we learn from the rapid multiplying of online schools and degree programs such as DeVry, The University of Phoenix and Kaplan University? That there is definitely a market for these institutions, as evidenced by this Kaplan University ad that has been running on Google: "School too expensive? Earn a degree online in less time & save money.
What does an online degree student look like?
Who are these people getting their degrees online and why are they opting for this more modern educational format than the traditional chalkboard classrooms?
These students are people you know: the guy that lives next door, the girl in accounting, and the young mom you see at carpool everyday. The common link among these various types of students, and what draws them to the online world of education: time and money, just like the Kaplan University ad says. They seem to go hand-in-hand. If you work to make money to pay for things, you do not always have the luxury of NOT working to attend school full-time because you require an income; and at the same time, if you are working full-time, you do not always have the time necessary to attend school during the regular class day.
An Internet World
An ideal option: a new-age school that doesn't suck away all your time or all your money, but that still manages to give you the education that you want, need and desire in a slightly different, but equally effective format. The sacrifice: taking classes online that are taught at night or on the weekends. These online schools and universities are showing America that we are moving from Madonna's Material World to Obama's Internet World.
Dad, director of operations, and online degree candidate
Kevin Brandt's days are long and tiring. As a father of two young children living in Annandale, Va., and working full-time as the director of operations for Trusted Choice Inc., Brandt seldom finds himself with extra time on his hands. Yet, Brandt is among this growing group of Americans that are seeing the benefits to higher education and are taking the necessary steps to achieve their goals; he is making the time to work toward his Graduate Certificate in e-Marketing from the University's of Virginia's School of Continuing & Professional Studies, to benefit both his company and his own professional development.
Getting your employer's support
When Brandt decided to pursue a graduate degree, he says he "initiated the discussion with my employer." Brandt wanted to stay abreast of the current trends in the marketing world to "stay relevant" as an employee. He was confident that his employer would support his desire to pursue his education because "much of what I do on a daily basis is directly related to e-marketing," he notes.
Brandt was right. His employers saw how the furthering of Brandt's education would be a win-win for all and elected to cover the $6,000 cost of the two-year program. For this investment, Trusted Choice not only keeps Brandt as a full-time employee, but also reaps the benefits of everything that Brandt learns from his classes -- knowledge, information and skills.
"In return I bring back what I learned to my job and apply the academic aspect to the everyday work that I do for my company. It also increases our internal capabilities and makes us less reliant on outside consultants, which can more than offset the cost of the program," Brandt says. "In order to remain relevant in the competitive job market, a young professional needs to stay on top of his game. I obviously have a personal vested interest in maximizing my skills."
Choosing a school
When I asked Brandt how he choose the University of Virginia's program over all the other ones he looked at, he admitted that it was basically out of necessity. Brandt is an online student because he is also a victim of the time-money conundrum that so many Americans face. Sitting in a classroom all day and working toward a degree, even if it was only for one year, is just not an option for someone like Brandt.
The other factor that came into play while choosing a school was the name. The University of Virginia is an established, well-known institution with a reputable name -- aspects which Brandt feels will help to showcase his degree.
Brandt admits that completing the work for the degree and keeping up with the demands of classroom time are challenging, especially with all of his other work and personal responsibilities. Thursdays, his class night, have now become extra long for him, but he knows that in two years when he has his degree he will be happy. "I just want to learn to do a better job every day, which in turn hopefully opens doors down the road -- whether it is with my current employer or somewhere else."
Advice for students considering an online education
Here is Brandt's advice to others thinking of pursing an online degree: "Make sure you are committed. Online learning is different than a traditional in-class education, but don't mistake it for being easier. It has been more than 10 years since I stepped foot in a classroom -- virtual or not -- and the required commitment to either is the same. If you plan on investing your time and yours or someone else's money, make sure you are in it for the long haul."
And Brandt is living proof that, though not easy, pursuing an online degree while working full time can be done.