The Distance Learner

Advice on earning a college degree through distance education

Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller

Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller

Despite the exponential increase in distance education programs across the country, there haven’t been very many books written about how to find and enroll in a good school. There are plenty of books for instructors that explain how to teach at a distance, but there aren’t many published resources for prospective students. There are some, however! One of those is Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller.

Brad earned his college degree in just six months (and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree program) through aggresive completion of a distance education course of study. Brad’s example is certainly not normative for the majority of students, but his book does outline how similar speed can be achieved by:

  • Earning college credit through exams and life experience
  • Using proven techniques to cut study time in half
  • Preparing and following a study plan

What’s great about Brad’s book is that he also provides solid advice on how to choose a fully accredited distance education program. This is the section of the book that’s likely to be applicable to most prospective students. Not all of us want to complete our 4 year degree in 6 months, but all of us could most certainly use advice on what we should be looking for when evaluating a distance education program.

Until there are more books specifically aimed at helping students navigate the waters of pursuing a degree through distance education, we have to use what’s already out there. I’d recommend getting a copy of Brad’s book. While some of his material may not be applicable to your situation, he does provide some invaluable and practical information that should be taken into consideration when making a decision about which school to attend.


2014 College Rankings From the Open Education Database

The Open Education Database has published their 2014 online college rankings. This is a great reference if you’re looking for a good distance education program. The top colleges are sorted by area of study (i.e. engineering, nursing, MBA, and so on). They even have a degree finder. Select a degree type and major and you’ll see the top ranked colleges in that category.

The metrics used are very practical and detailed. For example, they rank colleges according to the faculty-to-student ratio, retention rate, graduation rate, and job placement rate. The college you attend should help you achieve your academic goals. That’s why it’s important to “do your homework” ahead of time. OEDb’s ranking tool helps you do that.

See the rankings at OEDb

Is College for Everyone?

Here at The Distance Learner we advocate a non-traditional approach to the process of earning a college degree. It’s just not practical for everyone to attend a brick-and-mortar college or university, pay exorbitantly to live on campus, and run up an astronomical student debt that takes decades to pay off after graduation.

Distance education offers a cheaper, more practical alternative to this approach. But for some young people, college may not even need to be a consideration to begin with. This post from The Art of Manliness gives 11 alternatives to a college degree. These include starting a business, attending community college, and learning a trade.

For some professions – like many of those in STEM fields – college is absolutely the right choice. But for many, it ends up being a waste of time and money. For some, college even limits your career options, as you get strapped into thinking you have to go into a certain major (most often business) in order to be successful. That’s just not the reality, however.

Those who say every high school student needs to attend college to get a good job are either misinformed or lying. Any high school graduate can land a stable job with a healthy salary by pursuing their natural inclination or talent in a vocational school or apprenticeship. Similar to earning a degree through distance education, this is a smart and economical alternative to taking on student debt for that “magic” piece of paper.

Read the full article at The Art of Manliness

Attend College Overseas

Here’s an interesting alternative to the traditional American college experience: consider attending college overseas. Despite what you might think, it’s much less expensive to study abroad. Experiencing a new country is exciting. And earning a degree overseas can distinguish you from other graduates who didn’t bother to travel.

On his blog Sovereign Man, Simon gives examples of several foreign colleges that are less expensive than American options, yet consistently rank among the top schools in the world. If you’ve ever wanted to visit another country, you should seriously consider whether earning a degree at the same time might be a good option for you.

Read the full article at Sovereign Man

MIT Offers Free Online Education

In late 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched M.I.T.x, an online learning program that offers hundreds of courses for free. This isn’t a full degree program, but it does allow those who demonstrate mastery of a course of study to receive a certificate of completion.

This new program is a continuation of MIT’s original free online learning curriculum, OpenCourseWare. It’s very exciting to see a respected university like MIT offer additional distance learning options. The groundswell of online programs over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular. In the Forbes article linked below, James Marshall Crotty calls this new education initiative a “game changer.” I agree with his assessment.

Read the full article at Forbes

Plan B: Skip College

Distance education is a great alternative to attending a traditional college. For some people, though, choosing not to go to college might be a better route. A lot depends on how we define success. Is it a high paying job? A “secure” job (if that even exists)? A pension or lucrative retirement plan?

We are told again and again that attending college will virtually guarantee that we achieve these definitions of success. But that’s just not true. Internships, apprenticeships, vocational school, and self study are all viable options for entering a rewarding career field without having to finance an expensive college degree, as Jacques Steinberg explains in this New York Times article.

College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

Read the full article at NY Times

Think Before You Intern

As someone who began a career in software development with an unpaid apprenticeship, my personal experience has been that any internship, paid or otherwise, can be beneficial. But these statistics compiled by Online College Courses are nonetheless very interesting and may indicate a trend away from what I experienced 10 years ago.

Studies show that students who intern without receiving pay in return tend to learn less, perform more menial tasks, and be hired on full-time at a lower rate than students who are paid for their internships.

As with any aspect of your education and career, it’s important to evaluate whether a given opportunity will advance you towards your goal or just waste your time.

Read the full article at Online College Courses

Don’t Let College Interfere With Your Education

David authored this article for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy back in 2010. It remains relevant for those making decisions about where, or whether, to attend college.

I made a decision early on that college was about getting a piece of paper, not an education. My goal wasn’t to become a better-rounded individual, or even to gain a greater understanding of my major area of study. Rather, it was to gain the educational credential that employers now use as a screening device for most jobs. And my experience confirmed what I had expected—that post-secondary education today has only a lackluster ability to provide real value aside from that credential.

It’s critical to understand the true value of a college degree before embarking on an expensive voyage that may or may not get you where you want to go.

Read the full article at the Pope Center

Colleges Invite Dropouts Back

The Chronicle reports that colleges are inviting dropouts back in an attempt to boost their degree counts. But it’s not quite working for them.

Americans are already obsessed with postsecondary education. With the President’s 2020 goal of having the greatest number of citizens with degrees, college admission boards have very little incentive to turn applicants away. Re-enrolling students who make the conscious decision to dropout sounds like desperation to me.

According to proponents, the 3-year program, dubbed “Project Win-Win” and costing $1.3 million, has met with limited success:

McNeese State University, in Louisiana, points to a student who dropped out of college two years ago, when she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She had planned to earn a four-year degree in teaching but was recently awarded an associate degree because she had enough credits for that.

Still, one wonders why this student wasn’t awarded her associate degree immediately upon completion of the requirements instead of years later when someone actually noticed what she had achieved. The answer: a college bureaucracy that leaves far too much administrative responsibility to the student.

Another question that must be asked is: what value does a college degree actually hold if the student completed most of the work years ago? The awarding of a degree in these circumstances is akin to a paramedic who dropped out in 1995 being fully re-credentialed after taking a basic anatomy course.

On average, it takes 6 years to finish a 4-year college degree. The GPA required for graduation is a paltry 2.0. Academic standards continue plummeting. Why are we further diluting a credential that is already of questionable value?

To pump up degree counts.

Read the full article at The Chronicle

NIA: College Bankruptcy Is on the Horizon

The National Inflation Association has released their top 10 predictions for 2011. Second from the top is the expectation that traditional colleges will begin shutting down primarily due to (1) increasing debt from construction projects, and (2) tuition costs that continue surging upwards despite the recession.

NIA expects to see a new trend of Americans seeking to become educated cheaply over the Internet. There will be a huge drop off in demand for traditional college degrees. NIA expects to see many colleges default on their debts in 2011. These colleges will be forced to either downsize and educate students more cost effectively or close their doors for good.

As students continue moving away from the traditional classroom, the cost of online learning will drop and quality will improve. Colleges without distance programs will have incentive to start their own. Rising fuel prices will also increase the attractiveness of learning from home. This is good news for distance learners.

Read the full article at NIA