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Are Online Degrees Worth It?

a student looks at his computer while taking an online college class

The education landscape is rapidly evolving in today's fast-paced, technology-driven world. Attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college is no longer the only way to get a college degree. 

Enter the era of online degrees—a flexible, accessible, and often more affordable alternative to conventional education. But with this shift comes a pressing question: Are online degrees worth it? 

In this piece, we share what you need to know if you’re considering an online degree. We discuss their credibility in the job market, which online degrees could most benefit your career, and how you can benefit from an online program. 

How common are online degrees?

Before the pandemic, most colleges and universities did not offer an online education equal to the quality of a traditional, on-campus education. Some colleges offered courses online, but the most prestigious and popular degrees were rarely offered remotely. 

At that time, for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University offered the bulk of online courses.

Since the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the demand for online learning. This makes sense because the pandemic forced the rapid adoption of online learning modalities when social distancing requirements were in place.

Colleges have stepped up to meet the need for quality online education options. It’s now estimated that over 50 percent of American four-year colleges and universities offer one or more fully online degree programs, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

In addition, almost half (47%) of school administrators surveyed said their schools were increasing spending for online programs, up from the previous two years, when budgets were anticipated mainly to remain steady during the pandemic.

What does this mean in terms of student enrollment? In the fall of 2021, over nine million students were enrolled in an online education program, accounting for 61 percent of all undergraduate college students.

How happy are online college students? 

BestCollege’s 2023 Report on Online Education Trends revealed that an overwhelming majority of students surveyed, including 98% of current online students, said they would recommend online education to others. 

This year, 96% of all students surveyed said their online degree program has had or will have a positive return on investment, the highest percentage in the report's history. 

How do employers view online degrees?

In the past, there was a common misconception that an online degree wasn't as valuable as a traditional degree. Many hiring managers questioned online degrees due to publicity about diploma mills, lack of accreditation, and the perception that online students don’t get the same education as traditional students.

As more students graduate from reputable schools with online programs, the perception is changing. Now, employers are more likely to embrace an online degree from a school that offers traditional, on-site coursework in addition to its online offerings. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 92 percent of employers view online degrees from colleges with a brick-and-mortar school as favorable. In comparison, only 42 percent would consider a candidate with an online degree from a university that operates solely online, despite any accreditation.

Many employers surmise that brick-and-mortar institutions dedicate the same time and attention to developing online courses as they do for courses held in a physical classroom. Online and traditional degrees earned from these schools are often treated equally.

Why choose an online degree over a traditional degree?

Pursuing a degree online has certain advantages, and many students will thrive in this learning environment. Generally, you’ll enjoy benefits related to:


Flexibility is a significant benefit of online education. Online degrees offer the ability to study at one's own pace and schedule, which is particularly beneficial for students with full-time jobs. This flexibility allows students to balance their studies with work, family, and other responsibilities.


Every year, more universities offer online degree programs. Students aren’t bound to one geographic region but can take courses at institutions in different states or even countries. 


Tuition at an online university can cost as much or more than tuition for courses taken on campus. Attending classes online can, however, save money. You will save significantly on room and board and dining plan costs, along with other fees related to using campus services.

Learning style

The decision to pursue an online degree also depends on individual circumstances and learning styles. For self-motivated individuals who thrive in a self-directed learning environment, online education can be highly effective.

Technical Advantage

Students taking online courses become exceptionally proficient in using technology such as video conferencing and content management, which are valuable in the workplace.

Is an online degree worth it?

Online degrees have many benefits for students. Experts in online education advise parents and students to exercise caution when comparing the prices of online and traditional college courses and degree programs.

Sometimes, an online degree may be more expensive than a traditional one. U.S. News and World Report recently discussed the relative costs of online and campus education based on data from 300 programs. 

Some of their results point to statistics that might surprise parents and students as they confirm that credits are sometimes more expensive at an online college than at a traditional residential college.

On average, schools reporting data to U.S. News charge more for online programs than in-person programs. Among the 192 ranked public colleges that provided this information, the average tuition price of an online bachelor's degree for in-state students is $338 per credit for the 2023-2024 academic year. The average tuition price for on-campus, in-state students is $331 per credit among the 123 ranked colleges that provided this information.

While that difference in the cost of a credit is slight, we share it just to point out that tuition isn’t always less expensive for online degree programs. The cost can be higher because of the costs of technology, staff involved in creating and maintaining online courses, and tech support.

However, you can still save money in other areas, which we discussed above. Plus, the flexibility allows many students to work a full-time job, which is usually financially beneficial. 

Which colleges have the best online degree programs?

As explained earlier, colleges have recognized the need to provide education for a growing demographic of students: online learners.

Southern New Hampshire University, for instance, is a private, non-profit university with an 80-year history of providing a quality education. In 1995, they launched their internet-based distance learning program (SNHU Online). 

SNHU’s online degree programs now enroll more than 135,000 students, and a 300-acre campus in New Hampshire offers a traditional education to over 3,000 students.

Today's top-ranked online programs tend to be at public and private institutions renowned for in-person learning and research.

U.S. News and Education’s 2024 Best Colleges ranked the best online bachelor’s programs. Highly ranked programs have strong traditional academic foundations based on student-instructor access, graduation rates, and instructor credentials. They also excel at educating distance learners while offering career and financial support.

Bachelor degrees

The ten colleges that ranked the highest for online bachelor’s degrees are:

1. University of Buffalo-SUNY

2. University of Florida

3. University of Illinois-Chicago

4. Arizona State University

5. North Carolina State University

6. Oregon State University

7. Ohio State Online

8. Texas A&M University-College Station

9. University of Central Florida

10. University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Associate degrees

Starting with a two-year degree can save you money since community colleges typically cost less than four-year schools. With an online associate degree, you’ll also enjoy flexible scheduling and reduced travel requirements, allowing you to maintain a full-time job while completing your studies.

Forbes ranked the Best Online Associate Degree Options of 2024 based on credibility, affordability, student outcomes, and student experience.

The ten colleges that ranked the highest for online associate degrees are:

1. Murray State College

2. Rogers State University

3. God’s Bible School and College

4. Georgia State University-Perimeter College

5. Ohio University-Eastern Campus

6. Northern State University

7. Cayuga County Community College

8. Sussex County Community College

9. Valor Christian College

10. Jacksonville College-Main Campus

Online degrees offering high earning potential

If you decide to pursue an online degree, you’ll want one that leads to a well-paying career. According to, these bachelor’s and associate degrees offer you the best opportunity to land one.

5 High-paying online associate degrees

These online associate degree programs can provide career opportunities that match your interests and pay more than $59,000 annually.

·   Paralegal studies—Teaches courses like professional ethics, paralegal research, civil procedure, and contracts. (Related career: Paralegal $59,677 per year)

·   Graphic design—Common courses include illustration, portfolio design, user testing, and presentation skills. (Related career: Graphic designer $61,089 per year)

·   Medical office administration—This program builds skills in data entry, billing, scheduling, communication, and medical terminology.  (Related career: Medical secretary $64,239 per year)

·   Criminal justice—Learn more about court procedures, legal issues in criminal justice, law enforcement, risk assessment, and emergency management. (Related career: Police officer $65,804 per year)

·   Web design—Web development, computer science, coding, application development, and graphic design are courses you may take as a web design student. (Related career: Web developer $80,077 per year)

5 High-paying online bachelor’s degrees

If you want to get a four-year degree that leads to a high-paying career, explore these program options:

·   Accounting—Take courses like auditing, economics, financial accounting, and ethics in business. (Related career: Accountant $63,764)

·   Environmental Science—A general sciences foundation, plus knowledge of the different ecosystems and specialized expertise in sustainability and waste management. (Related career: Scientist $66,511)

·   Business administration—Take associated courses like business ethics, strategic planning, and resource management can bring a lot of diversity to your career opportunities. (Related career: Business manager $75,988)

·   Nursing-- Take science classes, which include a range of topics such as chemistry, anatomy, psychology, biology, and sociology classes, all designed to prepare nurses for treating and caring for their patients. (Related career: Nurse $94,643)

·   Engineering—Study subjects such as math and science, chemistry, management, and computer science geared toward specific careers. (Related career: Engineer $101,670)

Many students find online degrees worth it, offering benefits such as cost savings, flexibility, and accessibility. The value of an online degree largely depends on the quality of the program, the institution's accreditation, and the student's personal circumstances and learning preferences. 

As technology evolves and online education becomes more sophisticated, the gap between online and traditional degrees is narrowing. Ultimately, the decision to pursue an online degree should be based on carefully considering your career goals, financial situation, and learning.

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