This is something I wanted to write about because I made the decision to attend one of these universities and to be honest, I worry about the rising stigma associated with earning your degree online completely or attending a ‘hybrid’ university that has both online and ‘brick-and-mortar’ courses.
I just completed my Masters Degree in Education at Strayer University, and I also earned my Bachelors in Business Administration from there as well. Strayer University is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and contrary to popular belief the academic standards are comparable to (and sometimes more rigorous) than many mainstream universities.
As a graduate of such a school, I feel a great sense of responsibility to go out into the world and make some sort of difference, to prove to people that it isn’t the school you get your degree from, but what you do with that education once you are done. You can fail out of Harvard and still be respected because you attended Harvard, but graduate from University of Phoenix and you have to prove yourself. It takes the graduates of these universities to give them value and respect in the academic and professional world.
People have asked me why I didn’t go to a ‘normal’ school. There are several reasons that many adults choose these online universities. Most of us have families, full time jobs, are in the military or a variety of other reasons that make going to a traditional college either impossible or highly impractical.
Personally, I went to Strayer because ‘real’ colleges wouldn’t let me in. You see, I am a high school drop-out. I never took the SAT’s, and I don’t have a high school GPA. Even though I am now 40, applying for college means re-visiting high school and writing an essay about ‘what I want to be when I grow up’. When I first got out of the Army I applied to go to Temple University to try and earn a degree in journalism. Without high School transcripts or SAT scores, they didn’t even dignify me with a denial letter -even though by that time I had already earned my Associates Degree, my application was still ‘incomplete’.
Now it is absolutely true that these ‘for-profit’ universities will let anyone with a pulse and checkbook attend. They are, first and foremost a business. They do not have altruistic intentions to educate the masses; part of the business plan is to let anyone in and collect the profits from those who attend just a few classes and then drop out. However, to actually graduate from these schools it takes just as much dedication and commitment as it does at a regular university.
I can’t speak for other universities, but I can say that the academic standards at Strayer are fairly rigorous. Once you get past the ‘business’ part, and start with your studies – it is all just learning. I took the same core courses at Strayer, with the same textbooks as someone attending a State University. All of my professors were highly educated, often experts in their field (for the most part- I had one instructor that was a real doozy – but that is another post for another day), and have a genuine desire to educate. It takes hard work and dedication to graduate – just like any other school.
The entry level courses are the worst to get through. You see, since they let anyone in, your ‘freshman’ level courses are filled with people who do not have the skills or desire to graduate from college. However, as you progress, those people drop out and the atmosphere starts to change. My first couple of classes, I was having online discussions with people who couldn’t write a coherent sentence, but by the time I reached even just the ‘sophomore’ level courses, the students were more dedicated and you could see the difference between those who wanted to learn and make something of themselves and those who didn’t. By graduate school I was surrounded with some seriously smart people, who often worked in the field they were studying and offered valuable insights into what we were learning. Instead of learning just from the textbooks, we learned from each other – the life experiences of the students.
Have you attended an online university? Do you know someone who has? Are you an employer who puts aside resumes that include these universities – I heard about a recruiter at a job fair that said, “If I see “University of Phoenix” on a resume I throw it away.”
I know that I worked hard, studied hard, and learned so much with my education. The school I chose served my needs and allowed me to reach a goal that would not have been possible for me had it not existed. These schools afford opportunity for people like me, and for one, I am so glad they did.
From high school drop out, to a Master of Education. From no GPA, to a 4.0 GPA. My values changed as I grew up, and I am glad that there was a university out there that allowed me to prove to myself and the world that I am capable, that the choices I made in my youth don’t have to define my entire life, and that learning as an adult in a non-traditional way, has no less value than learning as an 18 year old at Harvard.