Will online degrees become more legitimate?

A BBC.com article last week raised that question: With online programs becoming more popular, why do they still suffer from an image problem? Could the surge in programs because of the pandemic finally change that?

There are both advantages and disadvantages to online education.

The pros:

Accessibility. From a market efficiency standpoint, a superior degree is accessible by anyone globally, rather than the limited number of individuals who can physically attend the campus.

Cost. Online degrees are substantially cheaper than on-campus, given the lower living costs and the smaller administrative footprint of long-distance students.

User experience. As long-distance learning becomes standard at most universities during the pandemic, institutions are applying the discipline of online user experience, rather than simply transferring the classroom experience to a browser.

The challenges:

Rigor. In the brief history of online higher learning, there was a perception, if not a reality, of the degrees being less rigorous. That is changing rapidly, and more complex degrees such as data science being delivered virtually.

Campus experience. Missing the shared physical community dedicated to learning and growth is a factor. So are the opportunities for networking. Some people, as virtual workplace experiences have shown, simply do better or prefer the human interactive experience.

Perceived status. Ultimately, it will not matter much if a degree is completed online or in person. More important will be the rigor of the area of study and the brand of the institution. A rigorous degree from a quality institution delivered online could actually demonstrate a higher degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Impact on higher-ed field. Higher education is already in crisis, for example questioning the ultimate earning power of degrees vs. the amount of student loans needed.

What will higher ed look like in 5 years? Probably a lot fewer loans and small private universities, more gap years, more leveraging of community colleges — and much more online learning.

Twin Cities executive recruiter Isaac Cheifetz can be reached through catalytic1.com.