The roster of college dropouts is an impressive one that includes folks like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. Warren Buffet dropped out of Wharton after two years and transferred to the University of Nebraska. His application for admission to Harvard Business School was rejected. No one would argue that these fellows did not have what it takes to graduate from the school of their choice, but rather it is obvious that the schools did not meet their needs.
These impressive men had ideas and goals that would not wait on the slowness of the traditional American education system that mandates taking a large number of courses that are of no specific value to a particular field of study. It is likely that all of these famous billionaires and innovators, who did not have the time to waste on the bureaucratic policies of many universities, would have fit perfectly with online education, had it been available when they were of college age.
While the gap is narrowing, online schools do have a lower overall graduation rate than traditional universities. The best ten online schools for graduation rates ranged from a low of 73% to a high of 87% while the ten best traditional schools had graduation rates ranging from a low of 89% to a high of 91%.
The lower graduation rate for online schools likely has more to do with the student body than it does with the online school. Key factors that can cause an online student to drop out include:
- The majority of online students have jobs and careers that compete for their time, while traditional on campus students are more likely to be focused solely on their studies. Online students are often older and have more obligations, such as a family.
- While at one time, online schools may have had an easier curriculum that is no longer the case and some students underestimate the difficulty of the work as well as the time commitment.
- Online schools often have lower admission standards than traditional universities and some student may simply not be ready for college level coursework.
Graduation rates do not reflect the success of MOOCs since those are course based and do not offer a path to a degree.
The critical decision factor for many students is how a current or prospective employer will perceive their online degree. Overall, Americans have a positive view of online education and see it as providing better options for getting higher education. However, according to a Gallup Poll in 2013 nearly half of Americans think that employers do not view an online degree as highly as a traditional degree. However, actual employers may not share that viewpoint. A survey by Vault Incorporated cited that 85% of business owners believe that an online degree holds just as much merit as a degree from a traditional college.
Many employers value the drive and ambition of those that take online courses, whether they are leading to a degree or taken for self-improvement. It demonstrates a dedication to growth and self-discipline that translates positively to the work environment.
The economy has gotten a lot of attention the past few years for its inability to generate enough new jobs for job seekers. While this may be true, at the same time employers struggle to find enough qualified employees to fill available jobs.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine writes of this issue and sees at least part of the problem being the slow pace of change in traditional educational institutions. Due to a variety of factors, including tenure and tradition, a college or university is slow to adapt to new technology. Much of today’s innovative learning is taking place online where the traditional educational model no longer applies and change can be instantaneous.
By carefully researching their existing or chosen career field, an online student can tailor a suite of courses from an online school or MOOC that are targeted precisely to their goals and the goals of their company. That takes much of the risk away from the employer of hiring someone who is not current in whatever field is desired, and it permits the employer to find those who have demonstrated their commitment to the job by taking the initiative to learn.
A recent segment on CNBC featured the advantages of online education to corporations. It noted that U.S. corporations spend upwards of $130 billion a year for job training and certification. Bank of America, AT&T, Intuit, Qualcomm, and Yahoo! are cited as companies that are embracing online education as an effective and inexpensive way to train their employees in the latest trends. Many of the skills acquired in college a few years ago are no longer relevant in the fast-changing business world of today, and companies value employees who strive to stay current in their field by taking online classes.
Employers find the flexibility of online learning attractive and cost efficient, but more importantly it produces almost instant positive results to the business, as employees are able to apply newly learned skills almost instantly.