While total university enrollments continue to decline, online degree programs are becoming increasingly popular.
According to the Pew Research firm, 90 percent of public four-year colleges and universities and 60 percent of private educational institutions offer online degrees. Millions of people are fully enrolled remotely, while twice that many are taking one or more classes online. Research has shown that these students learn as well as those who go to classes.
It is possible to earn almost any type of degree, from a career certificate to a doctorate, by studying at home or in another remote location. Such students can more easily deal with life challenges like jobs and families. They don’t have to commute to an actual school.
Online students have a much more flexible schedule. They can study whenever their personal schedule permits. Some people work more effectively in the morning; others are at their best in the evening. Online programs allow them to work at their own pace.
An online education costs considerably less than attending classes because there are no room-and-boad expenses, and textbooks are often available on the Internet. Some courses are even free. Schools email lectures and other materials to remote students, and there are online discussion boards and chat sessions.
The average fee for one credit hour of online education is $282. So, for a full course load of 12 credit hours, the total would be $3,400 per semester. Fees range from $80 to more than $400 for one credit hour.
Accelerated programs can take as little as six weeks to complete. It doesn’t matter to many employers if a job applicant got a degree online. Some companies appreciate workers who show initiative in advancing their careers through online learning.
Here is a look at the 10 most popular types of online degrees. Sources for this information include the Successful Student organization, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Eduventures, The Best Schools nonprofit, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
1. Business Administration
This is the nation’s No. 1 online education category because it relates to careers in many fields, including manufacturing, technology, finance, consulting, health care and hospitality.
The most sought-after online business diplomas are a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an associate’s degree in business administration. In U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 rankings, Villanova University was No. 1 among schools offering master’s degrees in business. Arizona State University tied with Indiana University for second place, followed by the University of Texas at Dallas.
2. Computer Science and Information Technology
With a vast assortment of opportunities in programming, design, development and other fields, this is a rapidly growing field. There are jobs in information and computer systems management, software development, cybersecurity, application development, database administration and data analysis.
The University of Southern California has the top-ranked online computer information technology program. New York University and Virginia Tech are tied for second, with North Carolina State University next on the U.S. News list.
Because of an ongoing teacher shortage, getting a bachelor’s degree in education almost ensures employment as a private or public school teacher in kindergarten through 12th grade. Graduates who teach special education and English as a second language are particularly in demand.
These degrees can be fully earned online, but teachers also must get state certification. In addition to teaching in schools, graduates work in child-care centers and other settings.
Education programs available online include a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, a master’s in special education, and associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in early-childhood education. The best programs reportedly are offered by Clemson University, Creighton University, the University of Florida and the University of North Texas.
4. Health Care
Most careers in this field have promising futures due to the country’s aging population, technological innovations and other factors.
Many schools have online bachelor’s programs in health-care administration. Graduates qualify for entry-level positions in clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and other health facilities. They work as health-information managers, assistant administrators, assistant department heads and nursing-home administrators. A master’s degree in health administration can lead to employment as an administrator, director, department head, manager or analyst.
The top-ranked school for online nursing education is St. Xavier University, followed by Ohio State University, the Medical University of South Caroline and the University of Colorado.
On average, no bachelor’s degree results in a higher first-year salary than one in engineering. Some graduates become petroleum, chemical, mechanical, nuclear, electrical, aerospace and computer engineers. Others find employment in science, technology, math and other fields.
The best online engineering programs, according to U.S. News, are offered by Columbia University. Next on the list are the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.
6. Criminal Justice
The third-most popular type of online degree, this makes graduates eligible for jobs such as police officers, prison guards, crime-scene investigators, forensic scientists, probation officers and cybercrime specialists. Some of the most coveted positions are with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Sam Houston State University has the top-rated online criminal-justice programs. Boston University, the University of California at Irvine and the University of Nebraska at Omaha are also in the top four.
The fastest-growing occupation in the United States, psychology features opportunities in human services, criminal justice, business, marketing and other lines of work.
Bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree programs are available online. At least a master’s is necessary for most careers. The majority of students earn doctorates. Every state requires a license to practice psychology, and internships also are part of the educational process.
According to The Best Schools organization, the top online psychology programs are at the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida International University.
Public and private positions are available for students who earn bachelor’s degrees in this field. Graduates provide accounting and consulting services, as well as financial data analysis, for individuals, companies and government agencies.
Some accountants are tax preparers, auditors, financial ethics experts and regulatory-compliance specialists. Successful completion of several exams is required to receive certification as a public accountant, management accountant or internal auditor.
Colorado State University’s Global Campus and Old Dominion University are the top-ranked schools for an online bachelor’s degree in accounting. Auburn University and Capella University reportedly have the best programs for a business degree specializing in accounting.
9. Human Services
This is the type of degree needed for certain careers in social work, community services, health education, criminal justice, social policy and other areas. Among the options for specialties are public health, intervention, gerontology, child-protection services, and social and community services.
Some graduates become administrators or managers at facilities like nursing homes. Others work with disabled people, veterans, the homeless, immigrants or children. Job prospects are good, partly because of an expanding population of senior citizens and the nation’s drug-addiction epidemic.
Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, Western Washington University and Indiana Wesleyan University have the top-ranked online bachelor’s degree programs in human services.
Communications graduates are well-versed in language, sociology, psychology, information technology and other disciplines. They work in public relations, customer services and other fields.
Government entities and private businesses hire communications specialists. Among the job duties are writing documents such as speeches and press releases, and organizing constituency groups through social media. This degree can lead to careers in business, technology, law, education or media.
The University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida International University reportedly have the best online communications degree programs.