why online universities will never take the place of real ones

GetEducated.com mascot and pet, Chester Ludlow, received an online MBA from by Rochville University—an online college that offers distance learning degrees based on life and career experience.

GetEducated.com mascot and pet, Chester Ludlow, received an online MBA from Rochville University—an online college that offers distance learning degrees based on 'life and career experience.'

according to a recent chronicle of higher education report by marc parry entitled, ‘unmuzzling diploma mills: dog earns m.b.a. online,’ a dog successfully received an m.b.a. degree from an online university.

GetEducated.com, an online-learning consumer group, managed to purchase an online M.B.A. for its mascot, a dog named Chester Ludlow.

The Vermont pug earned his tassles by pawing over $499 to Rochville University, which offers “distance learning degrees based on life and career experience,” according to a news release from GetEducated. He got back a package from a post-office box in Dubai that contained a diploma and transcripts, plus a certificate of distinction in finance and another purporting to show membership in the student council.

there are several issues here worthy of comment. for one, there is the problem of simply being able to purchase a degree from an online ‘university.’ while these ‘institutions of higher education’ have no credibility, prestige, or even accreditation, it does not stop someone with little-to-no integrity from paying $499 to obtain an m.b.a., bachelor’s degree, ph.d., or in some cases, a seminary degree and ordination from an online paper mill (‘paper mill’ defined as a so-called ‘educational institution’ that issues little more than a piece of paper). people who pay this money and enroll in these ‘courses’ are doing the same thing that more than likely caused them to avoid or drop out of regular colleges in the first place: they seek the easy way out and purchase a degree from an online paper mill. while these ‘degrees’ are utterly worthless to any and all members of the academy and most employers, it does not stop those who have purchased their degrees online from a bogus institution from listing ‘ph.d.’ or ‘m.b.a.’ after their names.

(excursus: here is a quick note to all of you complaining about the sbl affiliation with bibliobloggers. this is perhaps the most appropriate comparison to the straw man argument made by those who believe this affiliation to be a bad thing. it is true that even nutballs can theoretically claim to be a ‘biblioblogger’ by typing the word ‘biblioblog’ on their blog or creating a badge and affixing it to their site, just as it is possible for someone to ‘achieve’ a ph.d from an unaccredited paper mill (online or otherwise). but, possession of an online degree doesn’t make the degree worthwhile, the recipient legitimate, or one’s subsequent claims respectable. all it means is that one is claiming to be something, even if they are actually not what they claim to be. it is not the job of the government to tell people that their ‘degree’ is worthless (they have a right to buy a piece of paper with the words ‘ph.d.’ on it), just as it is not the job of the sbl or any biblioblogger steering committee to regulate, control, or otherwise sanction who is and who is not claiming to be a biblioblogger. this is the job of accrediting agencies. universities are governed by accrediting agencies. the government list of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs lists national, regional, and state accrediting agencies like the western association for schools and colleges, the new england association of schools and colleges, the north central association of colleges and schools, etc.  likewise, within the academy, ‘accreditation’ (i.e., worthiness) of individual scholars is usually based upon their academic affiliation (where they work/teach), their role within the academy (committees, contributions to higher education, etc.), or their record of publication (contribution of original research to society). at the intersection of blogging and academic biblical studies, this ‘accreditation’ may include one’s affiliation (with a university, church, or an organization of professionals like sbl, aar, asor, etc.), one’s role within the biblioblogging community (reputation, commitment to online resources and research, etc.) and one’s record and consistency of publication online (contribution to the online community). the same factors that weigh into decisions of accreditation or legitimacy of a university should weigh into the ‘accreditation’ or legitimacy of a biblioblogger, no more, no less. so, while anyone may claim to be a degree-granting university or a thought-dispensing biblioblogger, those that do so are judged by their peers on credible measures of reputation, publication, and contribution to the field, regardless of whether they have the word ‘university’ or ‘biblioblogger’ on their websites. but i digress…)

the MBA degree from Rochville University for Chester Ludlow, a pug dog.

The online MBA degree from Rochville University for 'Chester Ludlow,' a pug dog.

there is another serious issue for institutions of higher education that deserves comment. the fact is, many legitimate universities are now using various new technologies to offer more classes online, especially through extension programs. these courses are taught by vetted university faculty and are offered by fully accredited, brand name institutions. many of these online courses are being offered in response to the ever changing worlds of students. as more and more students use the internet for more and more aspects of their daily lives, and as more teachers are utilizing technology within the classroom, it is only natural for these very lectures to be recorded and uploaded to the web along with required readings, assignments, and assessments. with recent advances in technology, even interactive discussions can be facilitated online using message boards, forums, instant messaging, wimba, elluminate, second life, and live video conferencing.

these online courses are most effective at the undergraduate level for foundational courses that provide the bulk of raw data and facts upon which advanced ideas are developed via critical thinking and writing exercises. likewise, some courses like art history, religion, archaeology, and mathematics, which traditionally disseminate raw data via printed text books are more predisposed to being successfully conveyed digitally than other abstract disciplines such as philosophy, and rhetoric. however, advances in technology are allowing even these courses to be digitized so that exercises in logic, mathematics, and composition can be practiced online.

that is to say, there is a legitimate way to present online courses that maintain the integrity, responsibility, and accountability that is worthy of the tuition paid to an accredited institution. but established brick-and-mortar universities have been slow to adopt the technology used for online course offerings. just as many brick-and-mortar businesses reacted slowly and suspiciously to the rise of online retailers, many universities rejected online learning, maintaining that distance learning was the realm of smaller, less prestigious colleges. but with the rise of technology within brick-and-mortar university courses, distance learning has become a more acceptable means of disseminating information to students.

new, online universities now compete with smaller, lower-tier universities for courses in general education and vocational training. this is the market where students can pay less for an equivalent amount of online training and still receive good value. and this is where online educational firms will have the most success. however, while many online universities offer upper division courses and even graduate courses, online universities will most likely never capture any significant market share of these students because these online graduate degrees simply do not provide the desired gravitas for the tuition paid by students. that is, it is a better value to pay a little more to a name-brand institution and put in the hard work for a m.b.a. from a reputable institution than it is to pay a discount, online institution for a worthless piece of paper degree that no employer will respect.

online colleges will never replace traditional, brick-and-mortar, four-year universities. there is simply far too much experience to be gained by packing up the car, moving into a dorm, meeting new people from around the world, experiencing new thoughts, ideas, and cultures in person, meeting (and missing) real deadlines, making excuses, crying over lost girlfriends and boyfriends, protesting, cheering, staying up too late, drinking too much (root beer for those of you at dry campuses), and experiencing the real-life preparation for the real world. however, where they are done properly, with credibility and with accreditation, online courses can be an effective way to take in vast quantities of foundational information on a student’s own schedule. the critical thinking, writing, and public interaction is still better suited for a real classroom environment with a real instructor. but as real instructors at accredited universities begin to implement online tools for use in their real classes, the online universities will fade, their brief bubble will burst, and the hard work, preparation, blood, sweat, tears, and all-nighters of a real, technologically-infused university will triumph in the end.

like everything else in life, institutions of higher education are about credibility and reputation. respect must be earned and cannot be bought. and ultimately, one’s true education will manifest itself through one’s words and deeds, not simply through the letters at the end of one’s name.

3 Responses

  1. […] following was originally an excursus within an earlier essay on role of online universities. i have posted this revised and expanded […]

  2. […] online degrees worthless? Professor Robert Cargill, a noted bible scholar, blasted online degrees, calling them "worthless". As someone who is planning on enrolling for an online degree […]

  3. […] recently posted about the perils of attending online internet colleges. now, snl has joined in the fun and spoofed […]

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