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If you're thinking about going back to college to complete your degree, you're not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 2.9 million degree-seeking students age 35 and older in 2001. But they're not all donning their Dockers and backpacks to do so. Many are turning to colleges and universities that offer online degrees and finding them more convenient and flexible to match demanding work and personal schedules. With instructor lectures available 24/7, threaded discussion groups that can be joined morning, noon and night, and accessibility from nearly every corner of the world, online degree programs make a lot of sense for a lot of people. Here are some things you should consider if you're thinking about hitting the books again.

Everyone's doing it.
There's an estimated 4 million students doing coursework "at a distance" at U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Distance Education and Training Council. And, nearly every higher learning institution offers some type of distance learning. From Boston University to Penn State's "World Campus," these traditional schools recognize that to compete for today's student they have to be anything but traditional. Though many colleges and universities offering courses online are familiar names, there are a number of newcomers that are winning the attention and tuition dollars of prospective students. Take the University of Phoenix, which was established in 1989 to serve the educational needs of working adults. Of the 130,000 students earning their college degrees at the University of Phoenix, more than 90,000 are doing so through the University's Online Campus.

Accreditation is critical.
Many online degree programs are accredited by the same organizations that evaluate and provide accreditation to other state and private colleges and universities. For instance, the University of Phoenix is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accrediting bodies. If you're looking to obtain a degree from an accredited, readily recognizable institution, you're in luck. Even "brand-name" universities like DePaul, Tulane and Villanova offer online degree programs. You can find a list of accredited online colleges at Or, check the website for the college of your choice to see what type of online programs they offer. Chances are you'll find any number that offer online courses and even full undergrad and graduate degree programs.

Employers value it.
Brian Mueller, CEO of the University of Phoenix Online Campus, notes that 50 percent of its students receive full or partial reimbursement from their employers for the classes they take online. Mueller admitted that for employers, the notion of online degrees took some getting used to in its early years. But these days, employers recognize the value their employees can provide to situations in the workplace by applying their newly gained knowledge from online college studies. They also know that learning to work in virtual teams, like the learning groups which are part of each class at the University of Phoenix, is a skill that's becoming increasingly more important in the workplace. And many corporate leaders recognize that accredited online degree programs are often more rigorous and intellectually challenging than traditional degree programs. Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Motorola and Intel are voting in favor of including online degrees with their tuition reimbursement dollars. Students can also apply for traditional financial aid for online degree programs.

The juggling act just got easier.
For working parents, coordinating their kids' school activities with work is hard enough. Adding on-campus evening or weekend college classes is often inconceivable. The flexibility and accessibility makes e-learning the ideal solution for those working parents looking to complete their degrees. According to Mueller, "Most course work requires participation five out of every seven days. But when and where students participate is up to them." Mueller notes that students who are working moms will often get in an hour online in the morning before the kids get up for school. They sign on again for a half hour to forty-five minutes during their lunch hour. After dinner when the kids are finishing their homework or are off to bed, they may get online again to join a discussion group, work on a project, or review lectures. In surveys conducted by the University of Phoenix, students say the online format works well with work, family and social schedules. Those who travel for their jobs also appreciate the ability to log on overseas regardless of time zones.

It's no piece of cake.
If you think that getting your degree online will be easy, you may be in for a surprise. Many students find the work extremely challenging and more difficult than traditional courses. But they also find it very stimulating. According to Mueller, most online courses at the University of Phoenix require students to produce a paper or major work project, which may be worth 25 percent or more of their grade. Participation for a minimum of five days a week in small group discussions can account for another quarter to one third of the student's grade. Mueller says that most students spend an average of 15 to 20 hours per week "in school online."

All it takes is time.
Sixty-five percent of students who enroll in the University of Phoenix complete their degrees. Typically associate and graduate degree programs are completed in about 2 years. Undergraduate programs vary based on the number of credits a student has upon entering a program. According to Mueller, most students transfer in with some credits already under their belt, on average about 45 credits.

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM

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