Online Programs Push Way into Mainstream 

In the 2011 8th edition of the Best Worst Online Degree Providers, 80 online universities rate “1 and the top 20 rate “5” at the top. Most others fall comfortably in between. It is the marginal schools, learners need to be cautious of before paying for an education that may or may not advance their careers.  Since 2003 the list of rated schools and ranked colleges has gone from barely two-dozen to several hundred.


Ambitious degree hungry non-traditional students, many obsessed with getting a degree from an "accredited" institution can get one pretty easily from most of the marginal schools. However, it does not guarantee the education is worth much. The only thing that matters to the student under these circumstances is that the degree is ‘accredited’.


There are two reasons for the recent surge of interest in America and the world causing the exponential growth of online degree programs from outstanding to marginal schools. The first is the dire state of the national economy. It alone is driving the demand by non-traditional students primarily seeking job security and advancement in a very tight, economically deprived, job environment.


The second reason is the rush to implement online education opportunities at any coast for schools that desire not to be left behind. This has not been met by overwhelming support from traditional educators. They are worried about what they perceive as a declining value of their schools and their own reputations because of it. Those that are most vocal feel genuinely that academic rigor is suffering. The criticism is not without merit.


 Longtime higher education faculty resistance to teaching online is brought about by their belief that the only reason traditional schools are getting into it is because they have seen for-profit online schools explode in size and profits. In reality and at least partly, this deduction is true. Online schools have been taking large chunks of potential market share from traditional universities around the globe.


With endowments and legislative largesse on the wane, colleges and universities are seeking ways to supplement revenue in spite of traditional faculty objections.  College administrators foresee offering online education opportunities using their own traditional and accredited reputations as a gateway to improve their own bottom lines. They soon find out cash windfalls do not follow the “Build it and they will come” mentality.


Students just do not just tumble through their door when a school announces it has online curriculum and degree programs. With the increasing demand and participation increasing among competitor schools, the marketing, recruiting and retention efforts become more costly offsetting anticipated gains. There is no halfway “let’s try it first” alternatives that lead to prosperity. For schools that have held back, they are finding out the hard way.


A traditional school contributing an “all in” strategy to adding an exclusive e-college or online distance education division is more likely to be successful over the short and long terms then others still waiting, It is increasingly apparent by the growth of online education and the incredible percentage of acceptance by students (90%) that adding online curriculum will suffer if a school new to online education does not make a major commitment to grow and expand the online side of their schools as quickly as possible.


The ratings in Best Worst Online Degree Program Providers show nearly 80 schools who have not made or continue to fail to make committed efforts to rigor equal or exceeding offerings of other online providers interested in preserving and building an online academic reputation. Traditional schools entering the online education marketplace are painfully learning the hard lesson that competitively, students will not beat a pathway to their door without a considerable marketing effort and by in by existing faculty. As Peter Drucker suggested, time is running out for the laggards. 

As for the claim that all online programs serve only a single-minded profit motive and the very existence of online education questioned because of it, a first year college Marketing student may observe otherwise. It is demand that drives the market not the location, not the name, not the administration or the faculty. Online education demand is driven by convenience, cost and ease of access 24//7. Success, whether delivered by a for-profit or non-profit school, is based in large measure on the internal faculty charged with teaching the programs online.

Dr. Fred DiUlus - author, educator, and online education pioneer is the father of online college ratings and rankings, He is Director and CEFE Fellow at the Center for Ethics in Free Enterprise and the CEO and Founder of Global Academy Online, Inc., education consultants and university builders.