An online degree means an accredited degree certificate obtained after studying with an institution that is based solely online. This may be because it has no offline campus or alternatively many established bricks and mortar universities are now beginning to offer degrees over the internet. One of the most famous and reputable universities to exist exclusively online is the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) established in 1995.
On the other hand, a well-known and established university that offers an online version of one of its extant degrees is Columbia University, New York. The courses they offer online are identical in every point to the courses offered offline with lectures being recorded and uploaded to the internet and homework being submitted and returned over the internet. Most online degrees awarded online are college undergraduate degrees but increasingly it is possible to pursue postgraduate study over the internet, with this being the case at both institutions mentioned above.
Unfortunately, there are a great number of degree mills online who pretend to be one of the above types of institution and advertise that they are capable of awarding such a degree without having the proper accreditation. The courses they offer are generally set at a level far below what would usually be required of a college student and, simply put, the degrees they award are not worth the paper they are printed on. In order to avoid being taken in by one of these organisations it is important that you take the necessary steps to ensure that the company who is offering you an online degree is legitimate. This could potentially involve checking with the United States Departmenty of Education or the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education whether or not the institution in question is properly accredited.
Whilst perceived by some as the lazy option, distance learning and in particular online has many important social benefits including enabling those with physical disabilities to pursue study to an extent that would otherwise be impossible for them. Moreover, the advent of online learning has meant that many full-time workers and those with other in-person commitments can for the first time begin to consider further study. As such, although online degrees are currently in an early stage of development the possibilities for the future are universally recognised to be well worth exploring. In much the same way as the birth of Wikipedia has made knowledge available to a far wider audience than previously, online degrees may make a degree-level education far more available than it formerly was.
The numbers are already growing. According to official statistics, over 3 million students took at lesast one course online in the year 2005, representing a marked increase from the year before. Furthermore, roughly 2 in 3 of the more established universities have degree programs that are fully available online. In the past there were difficulties associated with online study as a result of the so-called “50 percent rule”, a US law which mandated that half of any degree program would need to be conducted on campus rather than online if the student was to qualify for federal financial aid. In 2006, however, the situation changed and all U.S students enrolled in online degrees became eligible for federal financial aid.
When you are considering an online degree it is important to make sure that you are clear on all of the details, including whether or not you will be expected to attend any meetings in person. The question of where you will take exams is also important as it is usually required that you take your exams in a professional exam centre and invigilated by independent examiners. If you are taking a science degree then you may also need to attend sessions in a laboratory. As such, it is essentially that you do not assume that you will be able to take a full online degree without ever having to leave the house.
It is also important to ask exactly what you are getting for your money. As online degrees are a relatively new phenomenon even reputable providers will vary widely in terms of what they offer for your money. For instance, some institutions will offer you a dedicated course tutor who you can contact at any time with regard to your studies whereas others will not. Obviously the former generally represent far better value for money. Another question to ask is what happens if you cannot complete your course – are you likely to be able to receive any sort of refund? Are you billed for a full year whether you take it up or not? When are you expected to pay and will you be able to receive any sort of financial aid?
Another key benefit to ask for is the ability to complete the degree in your own time. Some providers will allow this and French universities in particular are known for offering online degrees with this option. There are, however, many institutions that will not allow it and will expect you to finish your degree within a certain timeframe or forfeit your tuition fees. This may be fair for some students but if you are suffering from a serious illness or disability then your circumstances may demand that you look for degree courses that you will be permitted to take in your own time. Again, the most important thing to do is to ask exactly what you are getting when you sign up for a degree course. Services vary widely and the only way to know what to expect, currently, is to ask.
In France, online degrees are common and are named CTEL for humanities or CTES for science programs. These are priced similarly to offline degrees and are much more economical than the US equivalent although they are invariably conducted through the medium of the French language. The concept of online education has proceeded unevenly around the world, however, with the concept being almost unheard of in many countries. In the UK, for instance, there are probably less than ten genuine providers of online degrees.