Value of an Online Degree

Is an Online Degree Legitimate?

Despite the growth of online education in recent years, many people continue to believe that online education lacks the rigor of traditional classroom instruction.  This attitude is quickly changing however.  As students begin researching the different educational opportunities available, they may wonder: is an online degree legitimate?

To answer the question directly: yes, a degree that you earn online is legitimate. In every way that matters, a degree that you attain by taking classes online is legitimate if that degree has been awarded by an accredited institution. Are there caveats? Yes, based on accreditation issues and variations in quality. Are there some who question the legitimacy of online degrees? Yes, but the number of dissenting voices are few and continue to drop every year.

One of the central components of the online degree legitimacy question is this: the worth of the degree you earn online measured against a similar degree you can earn in a face-to-face environment. If you can determine that an online degree measures well against a similar degree earned through traditional campus instruction, you’ve answered the legitimacy question.

How to Evaluate the Value of an Online Degree

1. Accreditation: One distinction about accreditation should be understood at the outset. For degree seekers of an online education, college accreditation is critically important.

The reason is that accreditation confers value and worth. Accreditation equals legitimacy. Any college must have accreditation from an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible to participate in the administration of federal student aid programs. Accredited institutions do not accept credits earned at unaccredited colleges. Virtually all graduate schools require graduation from a regionally accredited school. In the eyes of potential employers in government, science, law, academia, business, and every other field imaginable, the accredited degree that you worked so hard to earn is accepted, recognized, and respected.

With regard to accreditation, there are two key questions that you need to ask as you evaluate a school, college, or university:

Is the school of my choice accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies?

Is the program I am interested in recognized by its relevant professional association?

For example, if you are investigating a degree in nursing, check to make sure that the state board of nursing where the college has its home campus, has recognized this college as one of their approved nursing programs.

2. School Reputation: Consider the school’s reputation as a whole. What has been written about this college that appears in the news or is available on the web? In what year was the college established?  For how many years has the college been fully accredited?

Perhaps the school you are researching has both online and face-to-face programs. How does the face-to-face program measure up? Nowadays there are a variety of ranking systems of schools, like the U.S. News and World Report and The Princeton Review that may be consulted.

3. What is the value of this degree to me? For someone raising a family and/or working full-time, on online education may be the most valuable option because of its flexibility. Most online classes will require you to post assignments by a ceradult online college student with her childtain time each week, but you can do most of the work on your own schedule.  Indeed, the value of an online degree might multiply for a working adult whose job requires frequent travel or contains variable shifts. The same is true for individuals in rural areas, where educational opportunities might not be as plentiful compared to more urban environments.

4. Academic Value: Consider the following questions about the program you are considering.

•    Is the degree that I am earning online the same degree that this college awards to students who take classes on the campus, for schools that also have face-to-face campus instruction? In other words, will my diploma be the same diploma as the one students receive when they take their classes on campus?
•    Do the professors have graduate level training and experience that I will benefit from at this college?
•    Are course syllabi available on the website for prospective students to examine?
•    Will I receive guidance from an academic advisor in mapping out my course of study?
•    Do I know of other students who have graduated from this college by taking their courses online, and achieved the next step in their careers, like I want to achieve? For example, have alumni of this school passed the CPA exam, been admitted to graduate schools, or gained advancement in their places of employment?

5. Services Provided to Online Students: Find out what kind of resources are available to you as an online student.  Some examples of services to investigate are:

•    Online library services with an online librarian
•    Online registration for courses
•    Online academic advising
•    Online tutoring services
•    Online financial aid information and assistance available
•    Online bookstore
•    Online career services

Ultimately, you have to decide if online learning is for you. Weighing out these five essentials will help clarify the value of the degree program you are considering.

Accredited Online College

As a prospective online student who is making the decision to further their education, many factors come into play when choosing a school: cost, program curriculum, school reputation and your end goal (career, personal interest or hobby, etc.). As you research online schools an important consideration is the school’s accreditation.

Student researching accredited online collegesThere is nothing similar in the world of education to the distinction of proper accreditation. Either a school is reviewed, accredited and recognized as a legitimate and effective educational institution, or it is not.  A nationally accredited online college assures the earned degree is accepted and respected.

A school achieves accreditation regionally and from one of six U.S. Department of Education recognized bodies. Through a peer and self-review process that must be reaffirmed periodically, a school is measured for institutional quality. The six recognized agencies are:

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)

New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont)

North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming)

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon Utah, Washington)

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia)

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (California, Hawaii)

It is easy to search any of these sites to check if the school you are interested in is accredited.


For the student planning on applying one’s degree to further their career, enrolling in an accredited online college degree program is important because many employers, the military, graduate schools, and the government generally do not recognize degrees from non-accredited programs. It is quite a disappointment to complete a degree and learn it is unaccepted by a potential employer or to apply to graduate program.

Further, it is vital to know that any college must have accreditation from one of the above accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible to offer federal student aid programs. Without this distinction, a student cannot receive federally supported aid, which can make enrollment fees sometimes insurmountable.

Sometimes a student might find a school that is a perfect fit for their career goals that is not accredited. Great examples are technical training or vocational programs such as dental hygiene, emergency medical technicians (EMT), or even medical transcription. Some non-accredited institutes circumvent federal student aid by providing cost-assistance and finance programs for those in need.

For the student seeking to learn more for the sake of learning, whether a degree is accredited or not isn’t vital. Oftentimes this might include a retiree, or person interested in something specific for personal use, such as writing skills to write a book or photography as a hobby.

A final word for the prospective student is to do some due diligence. Explore and decide what the goal of your education will be – whether it is for pleasure, to earn your first bachelor’s degree or be certified in a specific vocation – then begin comparing accredited online schools that align with your goals. Remember, investing in your education is an investment in your future so be certain of what you are undertaking!