Distance learning has grown considerably in the past 100 years and with the advent of computers has become not only a complement to classroom study but a way to get an advanced education no matter where you are. According to Alexandria Walton Radford who compiles statistics for the US Department of Education, distance education enrollment has increased for an 8 year period both for students enrolled in at least one distance education class as well as those enrolled in a degree program (3). This growth in computer aided education has led to many advances in online degree programs but it has also led to many abuses. Online degree programs are a viable alternative for attaining a college degree but research is necessary to confirm the legitimacy of a program.
The cost of sustaining traditional schools against the rising costs, as well as competition from online, for-profit organizations is becoming a major concern for many colleges. Michael Horn, education executive director of the Innosight Institute, states “I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10-15 years half of the institutions of higher education will have either merged or gone out of business” (qtd. kiener). Another relatively new form of online learning is provided by MOOC’s, which are massive open online courses, these are provided by some top rate universities and are free to participate. These MOOC’s are becoming much more popular but they do not count towards a degree and people tend to start them then loose interest so their completion rate is about 10% according to an article in CQ Researcher on online education (kiener).Concerns such as these are another reason that many brick and mortar colleges are increasing their technology to branch out into the realm of online classes.
Statistics show that distance learning programs have increased in popularity in the past 20 years for quite a few reasons. Online education.org is a website dedicated to helping students decide which options may be best for them. An article by Dr. Greg Beatty details a few of the "pros" in favor of online education which may include: Flexibility for those who may have full time jobs or family responsibilities. Reduced tuition, which may include the possibility of state aid for accredited programs. Accessibility for those who may have mobility issues or difficulty getting to a brick and mortar college. Another increase in popularity has much to do with breaking through the myths associated with online learning. John Ebersole, President of Excelsior College, has more than 40 years’ experience handling the issues facing adult education and was one of the first critics of online learning in the 80’s, talks about the truths behind many of these myths. One of the big myths is that online courses can’t deliver the same degree of learning as those with a teacher right there and, although many may wish otherwise this misconception is untrue, in fact there is “no significant difference” according to many studies comparing the two. Another myth is that employers won’t accept employees who earned their degrees online. The truth is that a survey done in 2011 showed that two-thirds of the respondents who were knowledgeable about online education believed the educations received to be compatible with those earned at traditional school.
Now that we know why online programs are useful it is necessary to look at the options available. This is when it becomes vitally important to pick the most reputable program possible and also where there is the most possibility for abuse because of the many options. Due diligence is a necessity to make sure your degree is worth the paper it is written on. One of the most blatant abuses occur in the form of what is commonly referred to as a “Diploma Mill” (Ezell). Allen Ezell co-author of the book “Diploma Mills” defines these as, “Organizations that award degrees without requiring [their] students to meet educational