So what's the straight dope on online graduate degree programs?

I’ve been researching my options for graduate school and it seems that the field I’m looking into (military history) seems to be quite popular for online degrees. I’m not talking about ITT tech places, but rather long-standing universities like Norwich University.

Oh, here’s a direct link to the online, MA in Military history program at Norwich.

For what it’s worth (and as I think I’ve mentioned before), I’d ultimately like to get a PhD in History. If the way to that PhD is an MA program and then a separate PhD program, so be it. If it’s a combined program, that works too. One personal factor for me is that I work in a family business and there is a financial incentive for me to be available to work while in graduate school (my full tuition paid as well as a salary). In order for me to continue working, I’d need to stay in either Southern California or Las Vegas, NV. Although there are literally oodles of schools in both areas, there is some appeal to a (at least partially) internet based program.

So, my questions are basically:

Are programs like the one at Norwich legit? How would a respectable PhD-giving institution look at a degree that was predominantly earned online?

On a more personal level, are programs like the above a general bad idea? Would I be cheating myself out of a proper education?

At this point, all of my whacky grad school ideas are just that, but I do need to sort out what I’m going to do in a relatively short period of time (by next December). I’m not the world’s best student (3.0-3.25 depending on how well I do on any given quarter), but I’m a surprisingly good writer*and I’m fairly likable. Sometimes. :stuck_out_tongue: I’ll be graduating with two degrees: Political Science and History. I’ve yet to take the GRE, but I’m doing my best to prep for it. If anyone has any advice at all, I’m more than happy to take it. Have some schools you’d like to recommend? I’m all ears for that too (Why yes, I can hijack my own thread!).
*I say surprisingly because such a revelation would be shocking to anyone who sees how poorly I write on internet message boards! :smiley:

UNED (Spanish Long Distance University) has been giving non-presential or almost-non-presential degrees since 1972; I have a couple diplomas from them (individual postgrad courses which could potentially count toward a degree). The coursework consisted of watching a videotape, reading a book, filling in a bunch of multiple-choice tests and writing an essay. Send the essay and the tests to Madrid, get back months later a letter with my grade and the diploma. They’re still trying to deal with the notion of “internet lectures”, though.

My cousin got her law degree (in Spain it’s undergrad) from UOC, “Catalunya’s Open University”, which is a branch of a “physical” university. Lectures in the physical university are recorded fresh every year, webcast as they’re being held and then students (both from the physical and open courses) can consult them at will. Tutors are available via chat and email. She was both a full-time worker and a full-time student; there were times when she felt overwhelmed but being able to just listen to any clip at any time was very good for her.

I have a Master’s in Labor Safety from a combine created by an editorial house and two universities (including one of Spain’s most prestigious ones). No online work.

I wouldn’t have selected the College of Potatoville, but online courses from reputable universities are perfectly fine. Some employers may have trouble with the concept, but heck, some employers have problems with lots of perfectly reasonable concepts.

I’m assuming you’re asking this because you want to work in academia someday, and you’re wondering how a future employer would see a degree earned online.

I can’t speak for history, but my wife’s field (audiology) has turned towards requiring doctorates for practitioners in the last number of years. There are some brick-and-mortar programs, but none that are practical for my wife. Online was her only option.

She did her research before signing up for anything. She spoke with her current employers, with her fellow practitioners, and with physicians, with whom she sometimes needs to work. Her question was basically the same as yours: how would you see a doctoral degree earned online? And if you have no problem with it, can you recommend a program?

The answers she got were surprising. While most had no problem with an online degree, the consensus was that a few of the “big names” in education had online programs were not very good. Some of the schools who were known for having good in-person programs didn’t have very good online programs. And some schools that were not very well known had online programs that were seen very, very well by the field. And so on. As my wife did her research, a couple of schools started to emerge above the rest. She selected the one that seemed to suit her best and that was seen well by the field, and began its program. The important thing here is that she’s in a program that suits both her and her employers, colleagues, and physicians.

I guess my point here is that you may have a little more research to do. Naturally, you’d do this for your own sake (“What school has the programs I want to study?”), but you should do this also for the sake of your future employers (“What school offers degrees that are seen favorably by other schools?”). Just ask them. They may well have no problems with an online degree (or they might); and those that have no problems may suggest, as they did to my wife, some schools that you’d never otherwise consider.

I’ve done online graduate work on specific certificates but not on a graduate degree, so I’ll only speak to the experience, not the results.

On the plus side: You can work on classwork and such on your own schedule, not someone else’s. You can work is small doses throughout the day if necessary. You don’t have to commute. You can research from your seat at the computer.

On the minus side: You are entirely responsible for your own motivation. There is no immediate feedback from instructor or fellow students to build your enthusiasm for the material. You are isolated from the learning community.

Online classes are very handy, but they can’t substitute for the classroom experience, IMO.

Good point, but at the graduate level, lengthy class discussions for some people are not necessary, and in some cases not wanted. I know several people who are working adults with families and a mortgage. They do their class work from home and have no time to spend 3 hours in a lecture hall. They have the same master’s as someone who sat through the lectures, and will get the same jobs.

I should note that in the case of the above example (Norwich), their MA degree actually doesn’t say anything about being earned online- it’s a traditional degree that they’d normally give.

I definitely have my work cut out for me as far as researching, I’m just still a little weary about online only programs. Perhaps some professors or professionals can speak to the issue?

Thank you for those of you that have given your $.02! You’ve been fantastically helpful.

If you ultimately want to get a PhD, I absolutely, 100% would not do an online Master’s program.

Instead, I would apply directly to the PhD program of graduate schools which have a good history department specializing in your area of interest. You don’t need a Master’s to get a PhD, and in fact with some programs you’ll get a Master’s as part of the PhD process.

If you don’t get in anywhere, doing a Master’s first is not a bad idea, but only if you do it somewhere (a) people have heard of and (b) where you can get good recommendation letters. The latter is not going to happen with an online course.

By “some people” do you mean people in some fields? I know fields differ, but in my social science field the interactions with people were an important part of my graduate education. I learned a lot from my fellow students, and I cannot imagine interacting with the material in my courses without my colleagues in the classroom. My connections to them now that we are alums continue to be valuable to me.

I’m not in a position to hire people or recommend admission to PhD programs, but if I were, I confess I might look less favorably on an online degree program. Perhaps if I did that more often I’d have a different (or more enlightened?) view of online grad degrees. I don’t know. Academia tends to be a little traditional; I wonder how unique my old-fashioned opinion is, or whether it’s shared in the history field.

This is an extremely important point. Out of 8 people in my last online class, I was the only one left standing at the end. The teachers have told me this is standard, as most people think they can simply read the material, take a test, and be done. That’s hard to do with classes like Calculus!

I’m in my second semester of an online MS in “software engineering”–basically we cover topics like software architecture, process engineering, and requirements analysis. One problem I’ve noticed is that it seems to take an awful long time to get tests and assignments back from the professors. I’ve been waiting four weeks for one of my midterms, and I don’t remember it ever taking that long when I was attending universities in person.

On the plus side, the material’s been good and the program has been interesting so far. I think I’ve actually gotten more out the articles I’ve read for my own research than what’s been assigned to me. And I’ve been able to leverage some of the material I studied in library school back in the 1980s, into my current work.

On the minus side, not much sucks up all your free time like being in school. Every lunchtime during the week, I ask myself ruefully whither all those leisurely lunch breaks, sitting in the sun reading The New Yorker? :smack: Oh yeah, I went back to school. That’s where my time went.

In a related way, it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting things slide until it’s (almost?) too late. If you’re not careful, you can actually live out the nightmare of having to take a final exam, when you haven’t even been attending the course.

Professor here: if you are planning to teach at a college or university, you will likely encounter a lot of trouble getting a job with an online degree. Many institutions, unfairly or not, will not even consider interviewing a candidate who has an online M.A. or Ph.D.

Disclaimer: I am in English, where there can be up to 500 applications for one job; perhaps other disciplines are less impacted.

In the humanities, I can’t imagine a PhD without the seminar experience, which is the most important part of the MA program and the first couple of years of doctoral work. How would that work? I’d sort of cock my head at the candidate like the boy in the bubble and wonder how it all worked. My field isn’t as bad as English or History but someone from even a low-1st or 2nd tier brick and mortar school has a hard time finding anything in academia, and I can’t imagine trying it with a degree from an online program. History? Folly, IMO, sorry to say.

I am about to begin an online graduate program in software engineering. My question is this: the degree I am earning is the same as someone who sits through the lectures. Do people really have to preface their degree with “Online” as if it’s like “Yeah, she has great boobs, but she got a boob job?” Like it’s less meaningful?

I assumed on my resume I could throw Masters in Software Engineering just like those who actually attended the lectures.

If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do Spectre of Pithecanthropus?

I work for a department that does a lot of distance education (as a matter of fact, part of my job involves helping both students and instructors with the software systems we use to deliver the course materials). We’ve been offering a distance program for more than 30 years - long before computers became part of the equation. Our online master’s program is designed for working professionals who don’t have time to sit in a classroom every week. It’s the exact same program with the exact same course requirements as the residential program and is recognized as one of the best programs in the country in our field. There is no difference between the online degree and the residential one, and there is no need or requirement to designate which program the student graduated from on a resume. All of our students are considered highly desirable employees, regardless of which program they graduate from.

We also offer a PhD program for working professionals, which does differ in its content from the residential program, mainly because the residential program is focused on producing PhDs who want to work in academia, while the online program is for people who wish to work in industry.

There are ways to get distance students involved in class discussions without having them all physically sit in the classroom - we have online discussion boards and live real-time conferencing, for instance, which can accomplish the goal of students getting to know each other, learning from each other and working together in small groups, which is important in our field.

Distance education can vary in quality just like classroom education - as has already been pointed out, some universities that might have excellent classroom education might be lacking in the distance department, simply because they have not yet achieved the experience and knowledge to effectively deliver distance ed. The faculty has to be on board with the situation, too - delivering an online course has its own challenges which are different from classroom teaching and some faculty simply don’t have the desire to meet those challenges, so a lot depends on faculty attitudes.

Just as with regular classroom education, you need to research the situation - talk to a few universities whose programs interest you and find out how they do their distance education and if it sounds appealing to you. See if you can talk to some people who actually did the program and see how they feel about it. Ask them if they would the same thing over again or if they have regrets, and what those might be.

A lot of what you get out of an education depends on what you put into it, and this is especially true with distance ed. There are some things about online education that are great - it’s very convenient, for one, and it can cost you less in travel fees, etc. But it’s not for everyone. Some people find themselves needing more interaction and leadership from the professor and TAs - they tend to lose confidence if there isn’t someone right there to lead them. With online education, your instructor will be more the ‘guide on the side’ than the ‘sage on the stage,’ so you have to be prepared to be a little more independent and enjoy forging ahead on your own.

You also have to be comfortable with technology - that has its own frustrations at times and if you don’t have the patience to deal with that, you might not be a good distance ed candidate. Oh, and read the frickin’ manual if they give you one ;). Some days it seems like I spend all day answering the same questions over and over - that could have been answered just by someone reading the (well written and concise) instructions that they were given the first day of class.