ST. LOUIS – In recent weeks more than 450,000 students headed back to college, but not necessarily to the classroom, as a growing number of individuals are completing degree programs completely online. In fact, of those currently enrolled in colleges across Missouri, 55,000 of them – or 12 percent – are enrolled exclusively in an online program, and this number is growing every year. But while many find it more convenient to take classes remotely, many students are hesitant to remove themselves completely from the classroom due to common misconceptions about online education that still exist. WGU Missouri, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs completely online, has shared some insight, debunking the following common myths:
Many believe that online classes aren’t held to as high of a standard as traditional courses, but this is far from the truth. The previous stigma about online programs has mostly disappeared as the number of online students continues to grow. Employers are realizing that "online" is simply another way to learn, and historically respected universities have also seen the value in online education. In fact, most traditional universities now offer fully online degrees. As long as the degree is earned at a well-respected, accredited university, there should be no concern that employers and the academic community would not recognize it.
Having access to instructors and being able to communicate with them is vital to any student’s success. Many people fear that interaction is lost with online learning, but in reality, universities offering fully online degrees ensure students are fully supported. Instructors typically offer multiple ways to get in touch – including by email, phone, video chat or virtual office hours – and encourage students to ask questions. Some universities even assign each student a mentor to help guide them through the entire online degree program, ensuring that questions are always answered. Mentors are typically experts in the fields their students are studying and can help with education and career-related decisions.
While it’s true that taking courses online means students aren’t sitting in a large classroom or auditorium surrounded by other students, there are still many options to connect with other students. Online universities often create communities to encourage social interactions between students. These include virtual options like online student centers that allow students to connect with peers taking the same courses and degree path, as well as traditional options like social events that allow students to meet in person and interact and network with one another. Online students often find that this type of interaction gives them the fun, social element of college that they could otherwise miss.
While online courses offer nontraditional students the flexibility they need – especially if they are working full time or raising families – online courses are not considered easy by any means. Online courses offered by an accredited online university with a well-respected, challenging curriculum are very rigorous. Most students find them just as challenging as traditional courses, if not more so in some instances. Learning outcomes are just as good, if not better, with online education than in-person courses.
“Online learning in Missouri has grown significantly in the past decade, with more students choosing to earn their degrees completely online,” said Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Chancellor of WGU Missouri. “The stigma of earning a degree online that may have existed years ago is no longer there. Fully online, nonprofit universities – like WGU Missouri – are being embraced by employers, peers and universities of all types, as the focus is being put on educational quality versus whether a degree was earned the traditional way.”
As a fully online university, WGU Missouri graduates boast degrees that prepare them to succeed in their careers. According to a 2018 survey by Harris Poll of 300 employers of WGU graduates, 94% of all employers said they would hire another WGU candidate; 97% said that their WGU graduates were well-prepared for their jobs, and 97% of employers said WGU graduates meet or exceed expectations.
WGU Missouri offers more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the growing, high-demand fields of business, K-12 teacher education, information technology and health professions, including nursing. Its industry-leading competency-based education model allows students to move quickly through material they already know so they can focus on what they still need to learn. On average, it takes less than three years for WGU Missouri students to complete a bachelor’s degree, often while working full time and raising families. To learn more about WGU Missouri, visit missouri.wgu.edu.