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Are Graduation Rates at Online College Lower Than at Traditional Schools?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 4/28/2014

Wondering how online and traditional colleges compare? When it comes to graduation rates, there are numerous factors you should consider.

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    Do online colleges have lower graduation rates? Graduation rates for online colleges may seem to be much lower than those of traditional higher learning institutions, and in some cases, this is true. However, the rates really depend on the specific school and the individual student’s goals. In fact, some online schools show only a slight decrease in the graduation rates and with so many people switching to online learning, these statistics often fluctuate.

    Is that really a cause for concern for those looking to complete their college degrees online? It may just be further proof that this type of learning is only suitable for some select students. Depending on the students’ learning and graduation goals, eLearning is not the right choice for everyone looking to obtain a college degree. So, who is online learning really for, anyway?

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    Problem with Graduation Rate Statistics

    One of the difficulties in comparing graduation rates among online students is understanding that they are not all taking classes to earn a degree. Many are attending to increase their education, learn a new skill or boost their resumes to look more attractive to potential employers. In fact, only nine percent of students taking online courses at Colorado Technical University graduated within six years, which is more than the six percent of University of Phoenix students.

    According to “Online College Students 2012: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences," the average online student attends classes part-time, lives less than 100 miles from the physical campus, is motivated by career advancement and prefers the flexibility of online learning’s schedule. These students want to increase their current salaries, change or start careers or simply to pursue personal advantages.

    However, it’s not that far of a cry from the 38 percent of traditional college students who are older than 25, a growing trend for brick-and-mortar schools. Like online learners, this group of students is often overlooked but make up a significant portion of students attending university.

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    Do Your Homework

    Those planning to enroll in an online degree program should heed a few points of caution:

    • Look at more prestigious public and private colleges and universities. Name recognition will go a long way when you take your degree on a job interview.
    • Consider your field of study. To employers, some degrees seem more legitimate. For instance, they may prefer an internet/new media degree over a marketing degree.
    • A master’s degree earned from an online institution is more valuable than a bachelor’s degree since most “degree mills" offer only the four-year degree as opposed to a post-graduate degree.
    • Employers often accept online degrees if the student is already in that industry. For instance, teachers who earn a master’s degree in education may be regarded more legitimate than someone not already working in the teaching industry.

    Those who are successful in earning an online degree are so because they choose to do so. They want to study online and are self-disciplined in their studies. It is not easier or less time-consuming to earn an online degree. Students who lack the discipline to complete the program may find a traditional, on-campus setting a better alternative.