If you have access to a computer, a phone line and a modem, you may be closer than you think to that master's degree. Welcome to the world of virtual education, or as those not so technically savvy call it, distance learning. With more dotcom sites than ever popping up on the Internet, colleges and universities are jumping at the chance to get their share of the action. According to a 1999 U.S. News and World Report, the number of accredited two- and four-year institutions with distance learning programs large enough to merit administrators has jumped 127 percent to 682 schools since 1994. A third of all colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, offer some form of distance learning.
Online instruction varies from one degree program to the next. Some classrooms are constructed through message boards, while other instructors prefer the use of videotaped lectures or teleconferencing. So without leaving the comfort of your living room, you could be on the path to earning a degree. But unfortunately, for many unsuspecting students there are plenty of shams in the world of virtual education.
According to Vicky Phillips, a distance education counselor who publishes the Virtual University Gazette, the key to finding a reputable online college is accreditation. Accreditation, explained Phillips, is important if you hope to have a public record of your learning that will be widely accepted.
If you find the college of your choice doesn't offer online degrees, don't give up pursuing an education from that school. Many colleges and universities offer virtual certification programs which let students earn certificates through distance learning. For example, students can receive a certificate in systems engineering and apply the credits toward a master of engineering degree.
Mathew Simond is a journalist and copywriter. He is also a webmaster of many websites including http://www.paralegal-degree.org and http://www.humanservicesdegree.net He aims to provide healthy information and advice on academic degrees.