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Online-only colleges are a growing industry, but do they fall short academically?

The University of Phoenix Online logo.
The University of Phoenix Online logo.
gr8matt/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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Not only are more brick and mortar campuses offering online courses, but several online only institutions have popped up in recent years. There’s online-only Western Governors University, which bills itself as the cheaper – but still accredited – alternative to traditional colleges. There are even peer-to-peer “universities” in which students teach one another about every topic under the sun. Is this a testament to the burgeoning success of online education? Perhaps, but critics contend that online courses are not as rigorous as a those of a traditional, four-year university. They say that online programs emphasize preparing students for jobs, and they don’t foster critical thinking – the classic mission of a university. But amid university budget cuts, emerging digital technology, and busy schedules, online programs may fit better with many of our lifestyle. And, when you consider that nearly three quarters of all University students are non-traditional (older, working, etc), then are online schools the wave of the future? And if they are, do they provide a thorough education? Have you received an online degree? What are the benefits and costs of having one? Online programs make education more accessible, but are employers less likely to hire someone with an online degree? How much potential do online enterprises have to change higher education?


Anya Kamenetz, Author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, also a senior writer for Fast Company magazine.

Cynthia Eaton, Chairs the New York state teachers union’s distance-education committee, English Professor at Suffolk Community College.