Full-time jobs eat up the day, and children need to be watched around the clock. Both situations can keep students from pursuing a traditional education on a college campus. Online degrees can be an attractive alternative. They’re certainly more convenient, and slightly more affordable, and bachelor’s degrees in business administration (BBAs) are among the most popular.
Online vs. Traditional
Online and in-residence undergraduates have the same educational opportunities, according to Karen Pollack, director of online undergraduate programs at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State World Campus). The difference is their lifestyles require a different method of accessing them.
The target group for Penn State World Campus is adult students who work full or part-time and may have family commitments or other responsibilities. The average online undergraduate is 32 years old, and Pollack said that when life gets in the way and people aren’t able to start or complete degrees earlier in life, online programs can offer them a chance to pursue that education while still maintaining their jobs and fulfilling family responsibilities.
“One anecdote that sticks out in my mind was when a young man, probably in his early thirties, approached me after his graduation celebration. He was so proud, and he wanted me to meet his dad and he wanted me to meet his toddler son. In front of his toddler son, he said to me ‘my dad didn’t think I’d ever get this done, and I want to introduce you to him. Now he can see for himself – I finished the degree, I finished what I started, and I set a good example for my son.’ And his father’s standing there and says ‘Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. I never thought he’d do it,’” Pollack said.
According to Pollack, faculty at Penn State reported that adult online students are often at the top of their classes, raising the bar for everyone, because they bring life and work experiences with them.
At Penn State online students may participate in the general commencement ceremony at the University Park campus, and Pollack said these moments are especially heartwarming and special.
“It kind of gives us those little tingles sometimes – when you meet these students and you know their stories, what they’ve had to overcome, and how far they’ve come – because being here, celebrating that moment, and participating in commencement is such a milestone for them,” Pollack said.
Upsides and Downsides:
With an option that works college around your busy life, the real question is: should you do it now? And of course, how will it change your career prospects? Online degrees are meant to help people move up in the workplace, and at the moment, employment opportunities for BBA students look good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts in its Employment Projections that people in business and financial operations will see a 12.5% growth in employment rates from 2012 to 2022. The bureau also reported in its May 2013 Occupational Employment Statistics that employees in this field make a median annual salary of $63,800.
Additionally, admission rates to online BBA programs can be very high at certain schools. The University of Florida’s Heavener School of Business offers an Online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration-General Business degree, and their website states that admission is guaranteed, provided that minimum requirements like prerequisite courses and a 2.5 GPA are met. Similarly, Post University actually allows students to begin taking classes while still working on the admissions process.
Though conveniences like high admission rates may lead some to believe employers will not see applicants with online degrees as equal to those who followed a traditional route, a 2009 Excelsior College/Zogby International Distance Learning survey reported that of 1,500 CEOs and business owners interviewed, 83% said they strongly believe an online degree is as credible and valid as one from a traditional campus-based school. Though this survey is now around five years old, the number of colleges offering online programs has risen and the technologies used have only gotten more sophisticated since then.
However, despite the convenience of online classrooms, tuition is still something students need to think about. The University of Florida has one of the more affordable programs: tuition for Florida residents is projected to be around $3,876 for the 2014-15 academic year. But other programs cost significantly more. At George Washington University, tuition for most distance-learning or online degree courses is the same as tuition for campus-based classes – $48,790 for a full academic year.
Apart from cost, there’s also the time commitment to think about. Often, online degree programs are pretty flexible, and though being able to take classes at home and around your work schedule saves time, it isn’t exactly a quick and easy process. At Penn State World Campus, students in online undergraduate courses are expected to spend around eight to 12 hours each week on assignments for three-credit courses. The school’s website estimates that most students take around 12 credits per year, which would be like taking on an extra part-time job each semester.
Picking a School:
Not all online schools are equal. Just like traditional campuses, online schools have rankings, and the U.S. News & World Report puts Central Michigan University and the SUNY College of Technology – Delhi at the top. For BBA degrees specifically, Education Portal lists Penn State World Campus and the University of Florida as top schools with online business bachelor’s programs.
Other than rankings, there is accreditation to consider. Some online business degrees are accredited, some are not, and some are accredited by unrecognized agencies. Lacking educational legitimacy can cause problems if students attempt to transfer credits to different schools, if they apply for MBA programs, or generally if they need proof of a degree. Accreditation is definitely something to inquire about before enrolling.
Even if a school is accredited, students should also check to see if the accrediting agency is legitimate. One resource for this is the U.S. Department of Education, which publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, as well as some regionally recognized agencies.
BBAs at Penn State World Campus:
Students should also pay close attention to the actual online experience, which can vary greatly by school. Who teaches the classes? How will students interact with professors and with each other? How will progress be measured?
At Penn State World Campus, undergraduate courses are based on a 12 to 15-week semester; the classes are taught by the same professors that teach in-residence students, and the degrees earned online are indistinguishable from those earned in campus classrooms.
Pollack said that online courses at Penn State World Campus are designed to be interactive, depending on a lot of collaboration between fellow students and between students and faculty members. Typically there will be an assignment due every week, and these assignments are designed to promote interaction — from participating in the class discussion via an electronic bulletin board to critiquing other classmates’ work.
“Students can typically participate at any time of the day, we like to say ‘any time any place.’ At the undergraduate level, students can progress at their own pace within the time frame of the 15-week semester,” Pollack said. “The interactions in the course are really based on the learning objectives, so a variety of media is used — there’s the electronic discussion and bulletin boards, threaded discussions, there are video portions — just really depending on the particular assignment and the structure of the activity.”
Testing is a little more complicated. In some cases students can identify someone near them who has been approved or authorized to administer exams. In other cases, there are web-based exams that are proctored online. Pollack did say, however, that recently testing has becoming more project based and that students are being evaluated more on the quality of their work than their scores on exams.
At Penn State World Campus, the bachelor’s of science in business is the most requested degree and one of the school’s largest online offerings. In fact, according to Pollack, the degree has been so popular that they are branching into more specialties, including a BS in finance and a BS in accounting that they recently announced. Within the next year, they also plan to open a BS in Marketing.
“It is our top-requested degree because it is one of the degrees that is most in demand in the workforce today. That was true yesterday, true today, and probably will be true tomorrow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projected job growth estimates for many fields of business, particularly accounting, finance, marketing, and general management, are high. It’s one of the top areas, so it has been a high priority for us to really fully develop that portfolio to make sure we’re offering the programs that the students and employers are looking for,” Pollack said.
She also said that many of the online BBA students go on to get MBAs, and that the online degree is designed so that students can easily move on to the graduate level.
“It’s never too late to start, and the sooner you start the sooner you finish. Our undergraduate business programs are basically open enrollment, meaning that students can begin their studies in the fall, in the spring, in the summer – they’re really designed to be flexible and students can start any time,” Pollack said.